How Teachers and Staff Can Practise Self-Care over the School Holiday Break

As the 2018 school year draws to an end, some teachers and school staff may feel like they are hurtling towards the break while others may feel like they are crawling towards the finish line! As schools are integral in assisting children and young people to transition into the next phase of their educational and life journeys, it is a good time to think about teacher and staff wellbeing and how teachers and staff might use the summer break to recharge their batteries.

These last months of the year can be very hectic, with reports to be written, end of year events to plan and attend, sometimes staff career or life transitions to navigate – moving to new roles or new schools, preparing for 2019 so teachers and other staff can hit the ground running… and that’s just work! Often the personal lives of school staff are equally hectic at this time. Somewhere among all of this activity, so often focused on meeting the needs of others, it is important that school staff try to find time to attend to their own needs and self-care.

So What is Self-care?

Self-care is understanding how to enhance personal health and wellbeing and manage stress. This includes learning to identify activities and practices that support wellbeing as a professional and help to sustain positive self-care in the long-term.

A great analogy when thinking about self-care is the ‘oxygen mask’ analogy. Everyone has boarded a plane and heard the mandatory airline safety briefing. In this briefing, the oxygen mask is to be placed on ‘you’ first before assisting anyone else. Teachers and school leaders often feel guilty about looking after themselves and prioritising activities that will maintain or build their own good mental health. However, using the oxygen mask analogy shows the reason that school staff must find time to ensure that they take care of themselves first. After all, a healthy, fun and engaged teacher makes for a healthy, fun and engaged classroom.

A great way to reframe how school staff feel about mental health, wellbeing, and self-care is to apply the same thinking they have towards physical health to mental health. Many school staff prioritise time and money maintaining physical health through paying for gym memberships, purchasing matching active wear and sneakers, or finding a few hours a week to get out and be active. What if school staff were encouraged to do the same for their mental health?

Finding time and prioritising mental health is just as important, if not more so! Another thing for school staff to consider is how early they seek help when they are feeling wobbly or like they are not travelling okay in the world.  We often tell people around us about physical ailments, discuss them, and seek professional help within days or weeks of noticing the problem. Imagine if we applied the same rationale to our early mental health concerns. Evidence shows that the earlier school staff are encouraged to seek help for a mental health issue or concern the better the likely outcome overall.

headspace Tips for the Holidays

At headspace, we are very aware that looking after our mental health is crucial in enabling us to live our lives in positive and meaningful ways, and to cope with life’s changes and challenges.

For school staff recharging their batteries and getting back some balance, the best tips for the holidays include:

  • Sleep is the key: Find a consistent and healthy sleep pattern. Reduce light stimulus, use of screens before bed, and have a cool sleeping room temperature. Sleep is one of the most critical elements to maintain good mental health.
  • Get into nature: Oxygen, moving, fresh air, and activity are all perfect ways to regain your balance and improve your mood.
  • Connect: Being with other people, being a part of a club, or connecting with others just to check in improves our sense of belonging and connectedness and can help maintain positive moods or help shift lower or flat moods.
  • Consider what goes in your mouth: Sometimes when we have a flat mood we can make less healthy choices about what we consume. Getting a balanced diet and having an alcohol free day can help with finding balance over the Christmas and New Year festive period.
  • Switch off: The holidays are a great time to get away from screens, emails, social media, and switch off all devices. Be conscious of how much time you are using your devices and take a break to enjoy other things in life.

Another great tip we use at headspace is the “NIP- it in the bud process”.  It’s a simple process to check in with ourselves, or someone else, if we are noticing things aren’t okay.

We have found it useful to focus on three simple actions:  NIP = Notice, Inquire, Plan.

1. Notice: What have you noticed about how you are feeling, thinking and acting as the year draws to a close? You may feel relieved, excited about upcoming events, happy about opportunities to spend time with friends and family. But, on reflection, you may also notice that you have recently had difficulty sleeping, been eating or drinking in unusually unhealthy ways, been easily irritated for no particular reason, or been feeling unusually stressed or worried. If so, things you might notice may include:

    • a noticeable change in how you are feeling and thinking
    • feeling things have changed or aren’t quite right
    • changes in the way that you carry out your day-to-day life
    • not enjoying, or not wanting to be involved in, things that you would normally enjoy
    • changes in appetite or sleeping patterns
    • being easily irritated or having problems with friends and family for no reason
    • a reduced tolerance and coping threshold
    • finding your performance at work is not as good as it used to be
    • increased consumption of alcohol/smoking as a maladaptive coping mechanism
    • feeling sad or ‘down’ or crying for no apparent reason
    • having trouble concentrating or remembering things
    • having negative head noise, ruminating, or distressing thoughts
    • feeling unusually stressed or worried.

2. Inquire: You might ask yourself about the particular stressors that have impacted on your feelings and actions. Are any of these within your capacity to change?

3. Plan: Now is a great time to plan to address some of the stressors that you can change and to put in place strategies for self-care – both over the break and into 2019. Even though most of us are aware of the many positive things we can do to promote our health and wellbeing (get more sleep, exercise more, set aside time to do things you enjoy, quarantine some quiet time for meditation or relaxation away from emails, social media or binge watching etc) – it is often hard to do these things in the lead up to the holiday season!! Nevertheless, how can you build these strategies into your plans for next year?

Useful as these lifestyle changes can be, sometimes they are not enough. So the holiday period might also be a good time to think about whether you could do with some professional support in exploring issues that weighed you down during the year. Sometimes friends and family can be just right for exploring and addressing concerns. But don’t discount the usefulness of talking with someone whose professional work it is to listen objectively and help you consider strategies from new perspectives. This is not a sign of weakness, rather of strength and resourcefulness!

So let’s start planning!

  • What are three things you can do over the break to really nurture yourself and replenish your energy and vitality?
  • What are three things you can plan to do to continue to care for yourself physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually in 2019?

The Seven Tips for a Healthy Headspace – by headspace

Above all, as you approach the end of this year, be kind to yourself – reflect on what you have achieved, not on what you didn’t get done or what you still need to do.  Never underestimate the power you have to make a difference in the lives of those you teach and work with, including children, young people, their parents and your colleagues – and in your own.

headspace would like to thank all of the Australian teachers, school leaders, and staff for your hard work in 2018. Thank you for everything you do to take care of the children and young people that you educate and please don’t forget it’s just as important to take care of you.

For counselling or crisis support over the school holidays contact:

beyondblue 1300 22 46 36

Lifeline 13 11 14