Three Minute Breathing Space

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Sometimes, life can get so busy that we function on automatic pilot just to get through our day.  But wouldn’t it be great if we had a reset or a “clear” button, like the kind you find on calculators, just to wipe the slate clean and view our world with fresh eyes?  After all, if you don’t reset your calculator prior to running calculations, the results will be off.

Here’s a quick exercise called the 3-Minute Breathing Space, adapted from psychologists Segal, Williams & Teasdale, to help you quickly reset:

Step 1: Find a comfortable seating position. Sit up straight, but not overly rigid, in a chair or on the floor.  Close your eyes.  Now, ask yourself:

  • What is my experience at this moment?  
  • What are my thoughts?  
  • My feelings?  
  • My physical sensations?  

Just acknowledge and notice your experience, without attempting to change it in any way, even if it is unpleasant or unwanted.

Step 2: Gently direct your attention to your breath, perhaps noticing the sensation of the air as it moves across your nostrils for each inhale and exhale. Use your breath as an anchor. You will likely find your mind wandering, and this is normal, just continue returning your attention to the experience of your breath in this moment.

Step 3: After doing this for a minute or two, expand your awareness beyond your breathing: examine your sense of your body as a whole, your posture, your facial expression.  Perhaps visualize yourself seated in the chair in the room.  When you are ready, you can open your eyes and carry on about your day.

The task is not to see how long you can stay focused on your breath, but rather to repeatedly return your attention to the breath if the mind wanders. And trust me, it will wander.

Doing this exercise once daily, or even just now and then when you really need it, will help you to have more clarity and approach your day with greater awareness.

Remember, you can’t find the right answer if you haven’t first reset your calculators!

Source: Segal, Z. V, Williams, J. M.G, & Teasdale, J. D. (2002). Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for depression: A new approach to preventing relapse. The Guilford Press.

 

Teaching As A Marathon, Not A Sprint

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I recently received the following in an email from an alumnus who stayed to teach for a third year:

“I am very interested in finding a way to create a sustainable, healthy lifestyle as a teacher. I want to both be an excellent teacher and to have a healthy, balanced personal life – I figure that is the only way I can succeed as a teacher in the long term.”

This is a great goal. Teaching is an incredibly difficult profession. As a first and second year teacher, I remember feeling like there was always work I could be doing. If I let myself, I could literally work around the clock and I still wouldn’t be able to accomplish everything that I felt needed to be done.

In order to make teaching a sustainable pursuit it’s important to approach teaching as a marathon, not a sprint. Coping with non-sustainable strategies is self-defeating, they simply cannot be maintained. For example, when I was teaching, one strategy I adopted was to stay up late working on lesson plans. As a result, I would get very little sleep. I quickly realized that I was actually performing worse in the classroom because I was not getting adequate sleep. I had to force myself to adopt the habit of making sure I got at least seven hours of sleep each night. Taking time to set up good habits now can help you handle the stress and pace of the school year.

Consider the analogy of preparing your classroom for the school year: you take pain-staking care to set up your classroom just the way you want it before the first day of class, building a tone in your classroom to create organization and structure that will help you to be successful.

Similarly, you need to take care to set up a structure that will allow you to manage the stress of this school year. If you set in place healthy habits and a workable routine now—such as eating right, exercising, finding time for yourself—you’ll be better able to maintain that routine when it’s “go time” during the semester.

I make few guarantees because I know better, but I will guarantee you this: taking some time out of every day for your own self-care will make you a more successful teacher.

How you set up your life for success is really for you to decide. Whether it’s hanging out with other corps members, going for a run, finding a spiritual/religious community, meeting someone not in an education profession, napping, checking out your Facebook newsfeed, taking a moment to just stop and breathe, or watching reruns of Modern Family, the important thing is that you make time for self-care. This is a marathon, not a sprint, so plan to take care of yourself in the best way you know how.

To answer the question posed by the alumnus who emailed me—in order to create a sustainable lifestyle as teachers, we must make time for activities and routines that rejuvenate us.

How do you make time for self-care during the school year?

 

Your Relationship with Alcohol Part 1: Defining the Problem

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(Photo Credit: rogue3w)

Over the last several years, as Chris and I have worked together on TFA’s National Mental Health Team, we have fielded a number of questions related to alcohol and substance use in the corps. These questions generally center around: what is the difference between being a low-risk social drinker or a high-risk drinker? After all, not all drinking is bad. One of the biggest challenges in dealing with concerns related to alcohol is determining whether or not a problem exists.

Let’s start by looking at the difference between low-risk drinkers and high-risk drinkers.

Signs that you may be a low-risk drinker:
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends:
o   Women have one drink per day or seven in a week.
o   Men have no more than two drinks per day or fourteen in a week.

 All of the above recommendations are based on standardized definitions, where one drink equals:
o   12 oz. of regular beer
o   5 oz. of wine
o   1.5 oz. (a shot) of 80 proof liquor.

Signs that you may be a high-risk drinker:
o   Are you finding that during the weekends you often binge drink at a party and spend half the weekend trying to recover?
o   Have you started to rely on a few beers at night in order to calm your nerves?
o   Do you ever find yourself driving after having a bit too much to drink?

How can you know whether you are a low risk social drinker or possibly a high risk drinker?
  First, it helps to know the real number of “drinks” you consume. Want to know how many “drinks” are in that cosmo or screwdriver? You can use the drink calculator to find out.
o   If you are unsure how your alcohol consumption stacks up, this tool from the NIAAA helps you size up your level of risk based on your alcohol consumption habits. Plug in how much you drink and how often, and it can help you determine whether your drinking pattern is no risk, low risk, increased risk or highest risk.

If you are concerned that you or someone you know might have a serious problem with alcohol:
o   Check out the following guidelines on what qualifies as alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence: http://www.wright.edu/rsp/Security/Eap/Alcohol.htm. If these guidelines apply to you or someone you know, you might consider reaching out to a counselor or making use of AA resources within your region.

Tune in next week for “Your Relationship with Alcohol Part 2: Self-Care.” In this post we will discuss sustainable ways to incorporate positive coping habits into your routine to avoid feeling the need to rely on maladaptive coping, such as excessive alcohol consumption.

How’s Your Sleep?

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(Photo credit: Frits Ahlefeldt-Laurvig)

Getting enough sleep can be extremely challenging. For most people, two conditions must be met before we can fall asleep: 1) we must be tired and 2) we must be relaxed. As teachers, the feeling of being tired is probably not the problem. I bet you are exhausted! Instead the challenge to your sleep may be due to factors that hinder you from being able to relax. Such factors include stress (feeling like you should stay up working), anxiety (worrying about a particular student), and daily habits (drinking large amounts of caffeine). Your level of relaxation at bedtime is something you can influence. Here are some tips that should help you relax so that you can get to sleep:

  • Go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day — I know this is a tough one, but it creates an expectation and habit for your body that will really aid in your ability to sleep
  • Bed is for sleep (and sex)…and that’s it — You want your brain to have an association between the bed and sleeping. Don’t confuse your brain by grading papers in bed, watching TV in bed, eating in bed, or reading in bed. All of those activities should be done elsewhere.
  • Don’t consume caffeine or nicotine past the mid afternoon — This really varies from person to person, but if you’re having difficulty sleeping, making this change can really help.
  • Avoid alcohol at night. — Yes, having a drink does slow the system down and can actually bring sleep on, but alcohol also has a tendency to disrupt sleep patterns, and usually doesn’t contribute to a full restful night’s sleep.
  • Don’t go for a run and then dive into bed– Exercise is fine in the evening, but ideally you should finish your exercise routine a couple of hours before you are ready to go to bed. This will result in your body being more tired.
  • Establish a bedtime routine that incorporates relaxation– Relaxing at bedtime is half the battle. Create a routine that incorporates relaxation. Take a warm bath at night. Spend 10 minutes reading for pleasure. Avoid activities that activate your brain or make you tense.
  • Don’t toss and turn in bed– If 15 minutes have passed when you are lying in bed, get out of bed, do something relaxing, and go to bed again once you feel tired. When you toss and turn in bed, your brain is associating your bed with not sleeping, which is the opposite association you’re trying to create.
  • Don’t watch the clock! If you do, you’ll just think, “Crap…it’s already 1:30am and I AM STILL NOT ASLEEP,” which doesn’t help you to feel relaxed. Cover or turn around your clock.
  • Don’t worry in bed — We all worry. It’s a normal part of life. But try not to worry in bed (remember, bed is for sleep). If you find yourself worrying in bed, try writing down the things that you are worried about and give yourself permission and time to worry about them the next day. In bed, simply tell yourself, “I will give myself some time to fully worry about that tomorrow.” If that doesn’t work, and you find yourself continuing to worry in bed, get up and worry somewhere else.

I challenge you to set a sleeping goal for the next week. This goal might address the number of hours of sleep you plan to get each night, it might involve incorporating two of the tips listed above, etc. It’s up to you. But give something a try and see if you notice a difference in how you feel.

New School Year, New Health and Wellness Posts

63/365: They're back

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Being a new teacher is tough. Trust me, I’ve been there. So my colleague Chris Bronson and I are happy to start writing metal health and wellness posts again on TeacherPop this year.

I am Janna, and I was a Delta ’07 corps member. After my time in the corps, I joined the doctoral counseling program at The University of Texas at Austin. My career plan is to become a therapist and to participate in various endeavors related to improving the mental health needs of our society. My collaborator, Chris, is a ’93 LA CM. Chris is a licensed psychologist, the director of The University of Texas Counseling Center, and the National Mental Health Consultant for TFA. Chris and I are both grateful to have the opportunity to take our knowledge of mental health and apply it to the TFA corps experience.

Our goal is to you give information that will help you tune into your wellness needs. As corps members, you spend a lot of time working for others—your students, your colleagues, your communities. But we’ll often challenge you to spend some time taking care of yourself—taking time for self-care, listening to signals your body may be sending, taking steps to get help if needed, etc.

We have a lot of fun brainstorming ideas for posts, however, we are also very interested in learning about what you may wish to hear about. If there are certain topics you would like us to write about, or if you have specific questions related to mental health and wellness, please send these our way. We will do our best to devote a post to your request. You can submit requests by emailing me directly (jannavmiller@gmail.com). If you would like your request to be anonymous, just say so, and we will be sure to honor your wishes.

So be on the lookout for our posts each week. We are very excited to be back!

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