Saturday, July 8, 2017

The importance of down time

People say we are "lucky", us teachers, because we get a two week break every ten weeks.  I don't think luck has anything to do with it. By the end of a ten week teaching term, teachers are exhausted, anxious and often ill, as they head into their term break.
I am.
During my two weeks "off", I know I will mark over 60 assessments. I will go to work and plan for my first week back of term three, and I will catch up on admin jobs that my normal teaching day does not allow time for.  I will sleep in a little, might drink a glass or two of wine and may even be able to escape for a few days out of town for a break. But I will always be thinking of things that I should be doing. This is the expectation that comes with being a teacher.

I will also be trying to get over this heavy chest infection I now find myself with. When I left work on Friday, many of my fellow work-mates were sick. It's what happens at the end of a high-stress, fast-paced term.  We fall flat on our faces. Teaching requires we give, give, give of ourselves constantly. Term break should be a time to pull back, relax, take in some down time, but so often it simply isn't.
Down time is vital for our body. A constant push-push elevates stress hormones in our system and we exist on a day-to-day cocktail of cortisol and adrenalin. This is not sustainable in the long term; it also carries health consequences such as increased blood pressure, heart palpitations, sleep issues, and could at its worst and with enough exposure, even lead to cancers. 
Never ever under-estimate the physiological power of stress.
So this term break, for me, is about pushing the reset button. Eating well; getting more sleep; getting some sunshine (teachers get very little of the highly important D3's available from UVB sunslight exposure as they're always indoors); doing some exercise; catching up with friends and family; experiencing things that make me happy. Getting myself well enough to go again for another frantic ten week term.

Down time is valuable for everyone - that's what weekends are for - if people are lucky enough to get one. Finding moments to take some down time in amongst a busy, frenetic lifestyle, can be challenging at best. Here's what I recommend:
  1. If you have a lunch break, find a sunny spot on a sunny day and spend 10 minutes with the sun on your face. Even more so in winter. The power of the sun is transformational. 
  2. Stretch
  3. On a weekend - leave town for the day. Find a place to walk in nature - a beach or bush track. Have a picnic; sit in the sun; just be.
  4. Get to bed earlier than usual.
  5. Practice some form of mindfulness - being in the moment. Find a quiet place and sit for 5 minutes. Take in the sounds around you - notice them.  Let thoughts come and go. Use your breath to keep you present. If your thoughts stray, just let them go but come back to the breath.
  6. Read.
  7. Connect with people who are uplifting and good for your soul. Leave the anchors in the water. 
  8. Eat well.
  9. Take up a new activity, learn a new skill, do something that forces you to focus only on that activity.
  10. Smile.
There never seems to be enough time in the day to focus a little attention on ourselves. Before we know it, our life is whizzing by, gathering momentum with each year as if clattering towards some tumultuous event. It can almost seem out of control at times like a runaway train.
Don't be that runaway train. Take control. Take ownership of down time. Claim it.

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