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Beyond Yoga and the Refrigerator, Ideas for Stress Management & Self-Care

by Kelli Cooney, Data Manager/ Literacy Liaison

Syracuse City School District Adult and Continuing Education

Stress Management and Self-Care are buzz words on the professional trainings docket now more than ever before. Instead of being seen as a luxury or a perk, they are becoming essentials for staff success.

Some tips on pandemic stress relief gleaned from our Adult Ed Staff in Syracuse:

· Plan regular brain breaks

· Talk with colleagues and students about stuff besides school

· Get outside for fresh air (when there isn’t a Nor’easter!)

· Interact with pets

· Walk, do yoga, exercise

· Practice faith

· Sing or listen to music

· Play games or do puzzles

· Limit consumption of news and technology

· Make the bed every day!

· Purge closets

· Polar swimming??

· Stress Comfort Gummies

· Triple dose of Vitamin D

Recommended apps: Calm and Headspace

They also recommended these books:

Please try any and all of these, but additionally, I’d like to direct you to the Dec/ Jan issue of Educational Leadership (EL) Magazine, “Mental Health for Educators”. The publishers have made this issue available for free to all educators and our team has found it very helpful.

Some of my favorite take-aways from Senior Editor Sarah McKibben in the Reader’s Guide:

  • In these extraordinarily challenging times we must extend each other grace. No educator—or really anyone for that matter—can perform at 100 percent capacity while juggling so many stressors at work and at home mid-pandemic

  • Production timelines can change—but taking care of people cannot

  • People are hurting. Educators are hurting. Students are hurting

  • We need to assume people are struggling; colleagues, students

  • We’re not OK and that’s OK

  • If 2020 has taught us anything it’s that we have to take care of each other

  • CHALLENGE: Reach out to someone and ask how they’re doing, no, how they’re really doing and listen with compassion to their response

Another very practical article introduces us to Cognitive Distortions and how they undermine our well-being. Author, Chase Mielke, claims there is more to self-care than Apps or Laps or Naps and encourages us to address cognitive distortions (styles of thinking that individually undermine our well-being and collectively destroy civility).

Mielke points out:

· This year has demanded so much effort, innovation and googling

· We are often mistaken in thinking that self-care is selfish

· We can only give our best when we are at our best

And gives us this recommendation:

· Be selfish to be selfless

So, as he puts it, if we want a better world- unified, intelligent, tolerant- we have to do the hard work of starting from within. Are you ready?

New #1 on Self-Care list: Improving our Thinking

1) Polarized Thinking

What is it? Mentally categorizing everything into a polarized extreme.

What does it sound like? Either “That lesson was perfect” or “I’m a terrible teacher.” “Professional development is either mind-blowing or a waste of my time.” Maybe we can imagine it in other areas of our lives these days, too?

How do we overcome it? Use the “acknowledge + however” combo: There were elements of that lesson that went horribly wrong; however, students really did well with their written responses. There's a lot from this PD that doesn't apply to me; however, I did learn a few things that will make my job easier and more effective.

2) Emotional Reasoning

What is it? We feel a strong emotion and then reason that it must be true of us.

What does it sound like? I feel bad, so I must be bad. I feel despair, so I must be a hopeless person. Or I feel angry at my students, so I must be a terrible teacher.

How do we overcome it? Recognize that emotions are temporary. I'm feeling ___. I accept how I'm feeling now, but I know this will pass. This emotion does not define me. I'm feeling defeated because that didn't go as planned. It's OK to feel bad because it shows I care. I can try again.

3) Mind Reading

What is it? Jumping to conclusions, especially negative ones before getting clarity.

What does it sound like? My boss wants to see me. There must be something terribly wrong. They didn’t do their assignment because they’re lazy. They didn’t try my lesson because they hate my ideas.

How do we overcome it? Get direct clarity. What would you like to see me about? I'm worried about you since you missed the last couple assignments. What's going on? I noticed our lessons didn't align the other day. I want to make sure my ideas are helpful. What feedback can you give me?

4) Pervasiveness

What is it? Attributing one experience to an overall condition.

What does it sound like? Students say, “I hate reading” and then check their text messages. We say, “Society is evil” or “Staff meetings are a conspiracy to crush our happiness.”

How do we overcome it? Use a just because/doesn’t imply reframe. Just because this text is boring to me doesn’t mean I can never enjoy reading. Just because there are some moments of cruelty doesn’t mean that everyone is evil. Just because parts of that staff meeting were painful doesn’t mean we didn’t receive some valuable communication.

5) Permanence

What is it? The belief that a state or experience will last forever.

What does it sound like? This pandemic isn't ending soon, so it's going to last forever. Society will never change. That student will never change. I'm always going to be tired.

How do we overcome it? Edit the absolutes. Root out these words: Always, never, every time. This remote teaching is lasting longer than I thought, but we are making a lot of progress in learning how to still effectively teach our students. Today isn't forever. This student has had A LOT of challenges, but he'll get there; he just needs extra modeling and support. I’m tired right now, but this too will pass.

Check out this article for more details or any of the others:

Coping with Change and Uncertainty

Opening Up About Mental Illness

Breaking Through the “Burden of Strength”

The Mental Balancing Act for School Leaders

Fueling Teachers’ Passion and Purpose

The Resilient Educator/ The Lowdown on Burnout

And many more!

I know it’s hard to imagine, but this won’t last forever. In the mean time we do need to help ourselves, our students and our colleagues come out sane and maybe even a little better on the other side.

Remember the Editor’s Challenge:

"If 2020 has taught us anything, it's that we have to take care of each other." I would encourage you to reach out to one person today—a family member, a colleague, a student, your child. Ask how they are doing—no, how they are really doing—and listen with compassion to their response. There's always more to the story.

And if all else fails, take a Quick Stretch and stay safe out there!

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