How I look after my wellbeing | Education Support Partnership

How I look after my wellbeing

For secondary school teacher Bonnie Harrington, managing her wellbeing is a termly, weekly, daily priority. If she waits until she is struggling before implementing these tips then it's too late.

The nights and mornings are lighter, the exams are within a whisper of being over and summer is in the air. Typically, this time of year educators are in good spirits, so we might be forgiven for forgetting about “wellbeing”.

Not me though. Managing my wellbeing is a termly, weekly, daily priority. If I wait until I’m struggling before I implement the tips below, then it’s too late. I need to keep on top of feeling good. Whether or not you have a diagnosed mental health condition, no one can deny our job is as difficult as it is wonderful. Working in a demanding vocation will have an impact, regardless of how experienced, supported or enthusiastic you are. It’s normal and natural for things to sometimes get on top of us. Matt Haig, author of “Notes on a Nervous Planet” tweeted:

Increasingly I feel like even my anxiety is best in understood as an injury that flares up when I am not doing the right things - sleeping well, eating well, exercise, yoga, stressing - physically, mentally - about work.”

I relate to Haig’s point here; our mental state is manageable by “doing the right things”. So, what are the right things for you? Mine range from the frivolous to the fundamental, but here are five things I do to manage my wellbeing.

Sleep

Who doesn’t struggle without sleep? I aim to be in bed at 9pm but I am never actually in bed at 9pm. I’m usually pottering around, sorting lunch for the next day, doing a bit of tidying, watching the end of a TV show. By setting this deadline it reminds me to stop and get myself upstairs. Generally, I’m asleep for 10pm. If I don’t make this conscious effort to manage bed time, I’ll still be pottering at midnight. If sleep deprived, I will definitely get a cold or a bug. I’ll be impatient, grumpy and sluggish the next day. By ensuring I’m sleeping well I’m rarely ill and naturally optimistic. If sleeping is a problem for you, invest in some good ear plugs and blackout curtains, they’re lovely.

If you find yourself in an anxious/stressed cycle and sleep is evading you, or you just can’t wind down- usually how I feel the night before going back to school after a holiday- I recommend using a relaxation app. Works for me every time.

Exercise

I am not a fan of exercise. I am a fan of biscuits. I am a big fan of snuggling under a blanket with a book. Perhaps you’re a super star who can just go for a run- well done! I salute you! (From the sofa.) For me, it’s usually the first thing I get rid of if I’m stressed or tired, telling myself I don’t have time or energy. The thing with exercise is, it makes me happy when I do it. If I go to the gym before school, I WILL have a good day. No matter what the day throws at me, I just cope with it. The problem is always actually getting myself to the gym. To overcome this, I’ve done something a bit crazy and signed up to walk the Great Wall of China. By getting myself mentally and physically prepared for China, I’m also getting mentally and physically prepared for school. A bonus of all the exercise is I get to eat cake at all the bake sales I’m doing to fundraise!

If you’re not a gym bunny, and you don’t fancy a big challenge like the China Challenge, I’d recommend a big walk on the weekend somewhere natural to give you a boost. Perhaps you could join a dance class, or cycle to work, get involved with a sports team or volunteer to walk the dogs at your local dog shelter. Getting physical is a guaranteed way to help your wellbeing, and making it fun possibly the only way to keep you motivated. (Telling everyone you’re doing a crazy charity challenge will do that too! What have I done?!)

Sparkly nail varnish

Bear with me on this one. If you like painting your nails you’ll know that “put together” feeling a fresh manicure can give you. I personally feel like I can take over the world every time I look at my colourful, perfect, immaculate fingertips. It gives me a little boost of positivity and it feels like a proper treat when I get them done. Is there something you can do which makes you smile every day? A special fragrance, crazy coloured socks, a song you can blast in your car on your commute, or a piece of jewellery or a tie which someone special gave you. ANYTHING which brings you joy is important. Of course, glittery nail polish isn’t going to tackle the marking pile, or deal with the planning, or the parents, or bottom set year 9 on the last period on Friday, but it will give you a little lift. It might remind you of feeling good and it could switch a negative moment into a positive one. If you’re having a particularly tough time with your mental health those little touches are important to hold on to. They’re what make you, you.

Setting boundaries

This one’s trickier, but I’ve been getting better at it. You need to work out when you’re most productive. Are you better in the mornings? Can you be in school at 7am and work right up until the students arrive? Great- then make sure you leave by 4pm. Every day. No excuses. Go home, and do no school work. If you’re like me and mornings are not your friend, perhaps you’d rather have a leisurely morning, with a delicious breakfast and a slow commute, but you’ll happily stay til 6 and work at school. You might work well in the evenings, but never on the weekend. It doesn’t matter when you work, it matters when you don’t. This a job. An important one, yes, but it is a job. The system of accountability in teaching can be backbreaking, and so often we do things because we have to prove we’re doing them. Ask yourself- do you need that lesson on a PowerPoint? Are emails on your phone helping you, or is school actually encroaching on your relaxation time? Can you use tutor time for silent reading, meaning you can quickly catch up on emails? Can you use whole class feedback to cut your marking pile? Whatever will make your working day manageable- do it. Outside of school, make sure you have clear, distinct and separate down time. Enjoy it, you’ve earned it.

Good things to look forward to

This one is my favourite! My wellbeing is typically better when I have something fun or exciting to look forward to. Ideally this ‘something’ is a holiday, so I always try to have one booked. I’m not a secret millionaire! A “holiday” to me means camping, or visiting a friend in another part of the country. Previously I’ve forgone a “big” holiday for weekends in European cities peppered through the year. Obviously, this will be dictated by your budget and commitments, but there are some cracking deals to be had. If you hunt the internet and can be flexible with dates within holidays, or if you’re prepared to leave straight from school on a Friday and get home late on a Sunday, then the world’s your oyster. Counting down the days brings a fizz of happiness. You get to plan what activities you’ll get up to, or soak up some important vitamin D, and enjoy the pictures afterwards.

If a holiday is out of your grasp for whatever reason, it doesn’t mean you can’t fill up your time with positive things to look forward to. What do you like to do? A spa day from Groupon, an afternoon tea one Saturday afternoon, a weeknight gig, a day trip to a nearby tourist attraction, tickets to a rugby match or a play. Get good things booked and get looking forward to them.

You can also look forward to free things. Every Wednesday I draw a very hot, very deep bubble bath and submerge myself for a while. On Tuesdays I think “ooh, bath night tomorrow!”. If baths aren’t your thing (WHY?) how about cooking your favourite meal on Wednesdays, or ordering a takeaway. Perhaps you could enjoy a wine, or do some baking, or play video games, or go to the cinema. Having it right in the middle of the week gives you something to anticipate from Monday, and then right after Wednesday its practically the weekend.

There you go, tips you could adopt to help your wellbeing. Adapt them, ignore them, just do whatever works for you. Don’t get that glittery manicure if you’d rather be at the footy! They might be tiny ideas but they work. And remember, you deserve it.

Get support when you need it 

There may be times when your mental health and wellbeing is being negatively impacted by any work or personal issues. When this happens I urge you to get support when you need it 

The counsellors at the Education Support Partnership helpline are fantastic! Their free and confidential helpline is available 24/7 throughout the UK on 08000 562561.