Main Subject: open
Author: Sonia Mainstone-Cotton
Tired of being tired? Boost your morale and that of your colleagues with these instant wellbeing wins
Do you remember the last time you looked after yourself? Wellbeing is an ‘in’ term at the moment; we hear it about all the time. But do we really know what actions we can take day-to-day to improve our wellbeing, and that of our colleagues? As educators, we can be the last people to look after ourselves. If you are tired of being drained and want to arm yourself with some simple ways to enhance your colleagues’ wellbeing, here’s some ideas to get you started…
One of the items I’ve developed recently in my wellbeing practice is a nurture bag. This is a unique gift for the person you are making it for. I made one recently for a friend who was experiencing a very stressful time at both work and at home. In her bag, I put hand cream, a book and chocolate. For another friend who was in hospital I included warm socks, a tasty treat, and calming essential oils. This is an occasional treat and it doesn’t have to cost much, but it reminds the person you notice that they need nurturing right now. It shows them you are thinking of them and encouraging them to take care. Buddy Box (teacher5adaybuddybox.com) is a scheme set up by a teacher and allows you to send and receive a special bundle of goodies once a term. Alternatively, why not organise a similar scheme among your staff team?
This is an exercise that I use regularly in my work as a nurture consultant. I always suggest it to the teachers and teaching assistants I work with. It is such a simple activity, but one which can help us all to feel more relaxed. It only takes about five minutes. First, choose some hand cream that you really like the smell of. Carefully and slowly massage it into your hands, noticing how they feel. Are they rough? Gently massage each part of the hand, including your fingers, nails, creases between fingers, palms and upper side. As you are doing this, notice the smell of the hand cream and the feel of it on each part of your hand. Once you’ve finished, consider how you feel.
Many teachers have hand cream on their desk or in the staffroom. This is such a simple exercise but the act of taking five minutes to stop and be kind to yourself is a powerful tool.
Another good way to lower your stress levels is via meditation. There are many phone apps that offer guided sessions to help you get started – try Buddhify or Headspace. Why not start team meetings with a meditation?
When working in a team, we all have a responsibility for how we support our colleagues. This can be hard when you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed; thinking about other people can sometimes feel just too much. However, there is evidence to show that if we consider others and do something for them, this is beneficial to our own mental health, as well as theirs.
The act of supporting one another does not need to be costly or time-consuming. As part of the research for my book I asked a variety of early years practitioners and teachers for examples of how they supported their colleagues. Here are some of their suggestions:
There is growing research showing the benefits of spending time outside. If you can feel stress levels rising, take the chance to go outdoors. Being in mother nature can lower our stress levels. If you can, go for a short walk on your lunch break, or if it’s a sunny day find a quiet spot (probably outside the school grounds!) and sit for five minutes: enjoy the sun on your skin, close your eyes and breathe. If you can see a colleague is stressed, suggest they get out for five or ten minutes. Physically stepping outside and leaving the building can help us to breathe more deeply and relax a little.
There is a growing recognition worldwide of the importance of sharing acts of kindness. In Denmark for example, there is such a thing as the Happiness Research Institute. In 2017, its CEO, Meik Wiking, wrote a book about happiness. In it, he suggests ways we can feel uplifted and looks at examples from all over the world. One of the chapters explores the difference that small acts of kindness make to the lives of both recipients and givers. When you offer an act of kindness to a colleague, it shows them that you have noticed them and appreciate them. Being thoughtful of others can trigger a chain reaction, encouraging others to be kind also. We know this can be the case with children, and it’s just the same with adults. It can take just one person in a team to start intentionally being kind to others and this can start to change a workplace culture. Random Acts of Kindness (randomactsofkindness.org) offers simple ideas that can be used in schools with colleagues or children, or try some of these ideas today:
Sonia Mainstone-Cotton is an EY consultant and author of Promoting Emotional Wellbeing in Early Years Staff: A Practical Guide for Looking After Yourself and Your Colleagues (£14.99, Jessica Kingsley Publishers).