A Balanced Life Means Making Yourself a Priority
The shift from vacation to school usually happens quickly for me. One moment I am lying on the beach reading a novel and the next minute I am hitting every Target and Michaels sale in the city, shopping for new flair pens and school supplies. I mentally decorate my class, create needed classroom lists and pacing guide to start the year, and begin practicing the names of my new students. Zero to 60. It doesn’t seem to slow down either until June.
Many of you can relate to this. Our minds quickly become consumed with our dedication to our students with countless hours creating, planning, and providing for their emotional, physical, and mental needs. As we should; our students deserve it. Now add our personal lives of being parents, grandparents, and/or having a second job on top of it. It becomes a balancing act of wonderment.
How can one person juggle it all? We just do. We’re teachers. But are we really balancing it? Something has to give and that something is usually ourselves. Our wellness takes the backseat in our everyday busy lives, and stress seeps in disguised as being normal for a hero multitasker such as ourselves. We push our needs to the side once again and continue to do it all. However, as the saying goes, “you can’t pour from an empty cup.”
We need to replenish ourselves in order to be the best for those we love and care for. For this reason, we need to be more mindful in caring for our own emotional, physical, and mental needs.
Start by asking yourself what do you need to be your best self? We need to know ourselves and our needs before we can provide the right care. Each of us is unique and what will work for one, may not work for another.
I jump into something because others are loving it and find myself falling off the “Care Wagon” quickly because it wasn’t a fit for me. A great example of this is going to the gym. I got the lifetime membership at a gym near my house, so I could wake up before work (like my friends) and get my workout in before the day even started. Here’s the problem… I am a sleeper. Terrible idea for a girl like me. And come to find out I don’t really enjoy working out in front of strangers so, needless to say, the membership went unused.
Finally, I stopped and asked myself that ever important question. What is it that gives me that grounded feeling and helps me breathe that sigh of relief? How can I find relaxation in my busy life?
I know I only have about 10-15 minutes of undivided attention each day. For this reason, I choose to practice mindfulness. According to mindfulness and leadership expert Laurie J. Cameron, author of the National Geographic book, Everyday Mindfulness, she states that “Mindfulness is life-changing. It is a superpower that allows you to deliberately direct the beam of your attention instead of being tossed around by racing thoughts and turbulent emotions. It empowers you to choose your mindset and to shift how you relate to your experience so that you have less stress and more joy.”
Mindfulness improves the immune system, strengthens memory, focus and thinking process, and helps reduce fear and anxiety. I give myself the 10 minutes I have to think of nothing except my breathing. I clear my mind of all things and live in the moment. I must say this is still a challenge for me. My mind wanders quickly, so I use a mantra that helps me maintain my singular focus. These 10 minutes a day has changed my life. I am more joyful, grateful, and less stressed at work and home.
After seeing the improvement in my life, I started teaching mindfulness in my classroom last year. I have seen a rise in anxiety over the years in my students, along with their minds on rapid fire and their attention span becoming shorter and shorter. Having my students practice mindfulness has really helped lower their stress and anxiety. We spend 5 minutes after lunch with the lights dimmed. Using a chime, we empty our minds and focus on our breathing.
These 5 minutes have decreased their anxiety, increased their focus and happiness. I love hearing that they use mindfulness outside of school when they are feeling anxious, stressed, or upset. I call it the “Power Tool” for students. It is very empowering for one to take back this time and develop mindfulness.
There are many other ways to put our self-care first in our lives. If practicing mindfulness is not focusing your attention, here are a few other options you may want to try.
Yoga. Yoga is often used in the practice of mindfulness. In yoga, your whole body enters a state of peace and wellness.
Calming your inner voice. Our inner voice can often be our worst enemy. What words run through your mind? Words have power. We tend to believe what we think and say, so choose words of affirmation and love when speaking about yourself. This is not bragging. This is loving you.
Give yourself a break. We can be our hardest critics. We must give ourselves a break in thinking we have to do it all. In this profession, being a workaholic seems to be the norm. Teachers work around the clock always planning and thinking. We also say yes to many extracurricular things. I love this, but we need to know when to say NO! Give yourself a break. You need it. You deserve it.
Leaving work on time. Teachers often spend hours after work cleaning, grading, planning, and the list goes on. Set one to two nights a week that you leave on time. I can speak from experience in staying late every night and the correlation to feeling burned out. Leaving two nights a week gives our mind the break needed to be the best we can be. On these days, if possible, do not take anything home with you. Set these night aside to separate yourself from work. It is needed.
Exercise. The research on the benefits of exercise are endless. Exercising releases endorphins in your mind that sends positive feelings through your body. Honor Whiteman, states in Medical News Today, “The benefits of exercise are not just physical. A number of studies have shown that exercise can boost mood and help to alleviate anxiety and depression.” Find what works for you and enjoy the benefits!
One day a month is your day. This is one day you call your own. Set a date with yourself or with friends. It is to help remind you that you deserve time for yourself. Being a giver is wonderful, but don’t forget to give to yourself as well. Enjoy it without guilt.
Reflect on the day. As your day ends, pause to reflect on the positives of the day. Giving gratitude to the day makes for a more grateful heart. It clears our minds and sets us for a restful sleep. Keeping a journal is a way of keeping track of all the beautiful things in our lives and a tangible reminder of our beautiful lives.
As we begin the new school year, I challenge you to put yourself on the list of things that need your attention. There is only one you. Take care of yourself. Love yourself. Know that you deserve self-care.
Fill your cup daily, so that your wellness will spill into someone else’s cup.