I’ve recently spent some time with fellow educators and health care practitioners in order to find solutions to an all too prevalent issue. Burn out, stress, compassion fatigue or empathy fatigue; whatever you call it, it is a reality for those in caring professions like teaching and health care. The room was filled with women from all over the province. Although our stories were different, we were all exhausted, overwhelmed, and consumed by feelings of guilt and inadequacy. We had a common purpose for coming together; to find ways to put mindfulness and stress reduction into our daily living.
The most common excuse that people use with regards to self-care is that they don’t have enough time. I used to say the same thing. Then I realized that if I have had enough time to watch two episodes of something on Netflix, I had enough time to go to the gym or cook a healthy meal. As I have learned more about mindfulness and meditation I have realized that it doesn’t have take a huge amount of time and it really doesn’t take a whole lot of effort. You just have to start.
I’m an “all or nothing” kind of person and a perfectionist. I used to set lofty exercise, meditation and healthy eating goals for myself and then quit when I haven’t met these unrealistic expectations. Now, I start one thing and do it, slowly and simply. I try to adopt Nike’s “Just Do It” advertising campaign as my mindset towards mindfulness. I have to remind myself to be patient, kind and compassionate around my mindfulness practice. I forget, I get distracted and I feel disappointed in myself sometimes. The most important thing that I try to remember is I can always begin again. I can begin again every moment. The judgment that I have about missing days at the gym or on my meditation cushion is my own. There is no one that works at the gym that will berate me when I come through the door. They will welcome me and I have never left the gym or my meditation cushion wishing that I had done something else with my time. I thought it might be helpful to share some simple and quick ideas that can easily become habits in order to become more mindful and practice self care.
1. Begin each morning by spending three or four minutes lying in bed awake before getting out of bed. Pay attention to your breath and set your intention for the morning rather than shutting the alarm off and immediately swinging your legs to the floor. It seems like such a simple thing, but it can make a positive impact on how you face the day.
2. While doing any mundane task such as washing your hands you can simply pay more attention to the task. Don’t try to multitask and don’t be on “auto-pilot”. Be aware of what you are doing and do it slowly. Actually enjoy the simple task of hand washing. It may take you a few seconds longer but it gives your brain and body time to become more grounded. Pay attention to your breath. Are you holding your breath? Are your shoulders tense? Let the warm water flow over your hands and be grateful for the water we have. Lather the soap and feel it squish through your fingers. Dry your hands completely, taking the time to appreciate the act. We know in the teaching profession how important the act of hand washing for our health and we do this many times a day but how often do we wash our hands mindfully? Take these few extra seconds, breathe, be aware and be grateful.
3. Each morning before exiting your car at work take a few minutes to check your breathing. Be grateful for the day, be aware of your intention for the day at work. Try to do a quick body scan to see if you are holding any tension and let it go. If you aren’t really looking forward to the day, force a smile. The silly act of putting a smile on your face on purpose while alone in your car will often produce a genuine smile!
4. Be mindful about your cup of tea or coffee. Over the years we have become accustomed to having our tea or coffee “to go” that we are no longer mindful about drinking it. In fact, we have adult sippy cups to ensure that we don’t spill it and companies that put warnings on the side of cups to remind us that the contents might be hot. As a society, we have become pretty mindless about drinking hot beverages. Our coffee and tea have become caffeine that is fuel to be consumed rather than a comforting and tasty beverage to savoured and enjoyed. So take the time when drinking your hot drink. Take the time to smell it, feel the warmth in your hands, to really look at it and to enjoy and be grateful for it.
For more information about “Tea” Meditation and mindfulness visit Tea Meditation – Plum Village
5. In order to incorporate mindfulness practice into your work life, practice it with your students. Each day I have a morning meeting with my class. I use a singing bowl to draw attention to our practice and we sit in a comfortable position. We only do this for a few minutes each day but we pay attention to our breathing, we close our eyes or choose a spot to land a soft gaze. The students have said that they can feel the energy in the room become more calm and peaceful. I do the practice along with them. I have grade 4 and 5 so we also talk about mindfulness and what it means. It works hand in hand with self regulation. If students are mindful about their behaviour then it becomes easier for them to practice self regulation strategies.
I do not claim to be any kind of mindfulness or meditation guru. I have not painstakingly researched the positive effects of mindfulness from a scientific perspective. I’m just an elementary teacher and mom trying to bring balance to my life, one moment at a time.