Hello there and Happy August!
From where I sit, I’ve just wrapped my first week back to work. It’s hard to believe it’s been 5 months since I worked in a building outside of my house! This whole situation is strange and stressful, even as I’m excited to be back with my students. Even when we’re not starting school in the midst of a pandemic, the first few weeks back are always some of the most stressful. There’s so much to get done – finalizing caseloads, finding schedules, scheduling (and rescheduling and rescheduling….) with teachers, getting together materials…. – that it can be immensely difficult to take a break. I find myself breaking my own rules, bringing work home and getting extra things done on the weekends. Now, is this a “bad thing,” perse? Not necessarily! But there is no sense in doing more than we have to do and leaving no room for ourselves, even in the busy season. And it’s still definitely necessary to make time for yourself! Happy educators make for happy students!
But, TIME! It’s short right now, isn’t it? That’s okay! Today, I’m going to share with you 10 of my favorite ways to refresh in the busy seasons. These happy little habits are easy to work into your daily routines, allowing you to find a few minutes of calm. Do one a day, double up on a couple, or work something in whenever you need a moment! The choice is yours. But, I must confess: easy to do does not necessarily mean easy to do. Does that make sense? Yes, they require little and they can squeeze into small moments. BUT, they require intention and mindfulness in order to be effective? So, are you ready?
1 | Take a bath.
We all have to get clean, so why not take the opportunity to make it a relaxing bath instead of a quick shower? I’ve even thought through the timing. On a day that I need to wash my hair and shave, alongside the normal washing, and combined with the time it takes to give my face some TLC, I’m easily looking at a 30 minute process. Conveniently, washing, shaving, and skin care can be completed while lounging luxuriously in a lovely soak. Or, take advantage of fill time to love your face over the bathroom sink before hopping in. Combining these necessary activities with an indulgent one reduces the time you may feel you’re wasting through self care.
2 | Light a candle.
Our eyes and heads get so tired from being exposed to overhead lights (especially those school fluorescent ones!) and definitely the blue lights from our phone, tablet, and computer screens. They deserve and even need a rest every now and again! Once it gets dark, take a few minutes to light a candle and turn down, or at least dim, the other lights around you (though I would highly suggest turning screens completely off). Even if you only have 10 minutes, sit with yourself in the flickering light. Candle light is naturally relaxing and soothing – there’s a reason they’re used for both classic self-care rituals such as massage and traditional, religious rituals. So give your mind what it needs.
3 | Read a favorite book.
This is one of my favorite de-stressing activities and the one I practice most habitually – in fact, I do this nearly every night! The keyword here is favorite. Now, I’m all for reading new things! I’m constantly reading new fiction, spiritual and self-help works, poetry, articles, and more. But there’s something about rereading an old favorite that is so soothing. Why? I think the answer is two-fold. First, you know exactly what to expect. There are no major surprises awaiting you, so you won’t need to endure a sudden assault on your senses or emotions. In fact, I sometimes stop reading one book and grab another when I know something is coming up that I don’t feel like dealing with again (for example, I recently stopped reading The Order of the Phoenix a couple of chapters before Sirius’s death because I just couldn’t go there again). Revisiting these favorite stories is a bit like coming home, to a place where everything is just where it’s supposed to be and everyone is friendly, welcoming, and known. Second, there’s no time pressure, because you’ve already read it. My favorite time to reread is just before bed. I keep my favorites on my Kindle, so that I can practically fall asleep with my favorite stories. Because I know them so well, there’s no “just one more chapter” kind of pressure. I read until I’m sufficiently relaxed and ready to sleep.
4 | Go for a walk.
Make it as long or as short as you need! Always be prepared to end up going farther than expected though! Research proves time and time and time again how amazing getting outside and walking is for you both physically and emotionally/mentally. You don’t need me to rehash all of that – do a quick search and you’ll find plenty! The lovely thing about walking is that it really doesn’t have to take long! Sometimes, all I need is a quick loop around the block. It’s just enough to get some sunshine and get my wheels turning. One suggestion: go without audio sometimes. Yes, I totally get that walking is a great time to catch up on podcasts or audio books. But sometimes, walking with just your thoughts is seriously just what you need. You know that feeling when you’re trying to meditate to just kind of “be” with your thoughts, but because you’re sitting in your house, surrounded by all of your to do’s, it’s super hard to concentrate? I find that happens far less when walking. I’m moving and I’m out of the house. I can’t teleport back to my dishes or my computer, so I just take the time, however long it is, to be. Normally, I get back home ready to take on the world.
5 | Do some yoga.
We’re getting active! Yoga is my other favorite physical activity and what I adore about yoga is: (1) some form of it can be done almost anywhere. Yes, really! Once you’ve learned a few stretches and poses, you don’t even need guidance. Some mornings, I stand in my kitchen in a forward fold while my tea brews. Some nights, I settle into bed with a reclined cobbler’s pose or a seated forward fold to get the kinks out. Many days, I pause between progress reports or IEPs to do neck rolls and seated cat-cows. Seriously, guys – yoga is transformational and can be so easily implemented all throughout the day. Of course, actual practices are helpful as well! I can’t recommend Yoga with Adriene enough. Pop to her channel and you’ll find just about anything you need – yoga for when you have less than 10 minutes, yoga for when you need a full 50, yoga for when you need to really get out some angst and build energy, yoga for when you feel like doing nothing other than laying on the couch in a fetal position. You name it, Adriene’s got your back. If you happen to be a Christian, I would also recommend Carole Williams Yoga, both her free channel and her membership site. There’s not as much variety here, but when it comes to moving my body and connecting with my spirit, Caroline’s videos are fantastic. Stretch your body. It’ll thank you and so will your mind.
6 | Savor your favorite beverage.
My tea habit is pretty laughable. Many days, I’ve had 3 -4 cups before lunch and have at least that many afterward. Recently, I cut my caffeinated cups down to just 1 in the morning. What I found was enlightening: the caffeine was in no way a contributing factor to how much I loved and drank my tea. Decaf Earl Grey and a myriad of herbals were just as satisfying and delightful as copious amounts of PG Tips. What did that tell me? As J put it, “you really love the ritual.” And that I do. I find having a glass of wine to be similar (though not as free or health effects): you’re hard-pressed to rush through a hot drink or a good glass of wine. That’s the thing. It makes you slow down. So brew yourself a cup, whether it’s tea, coffee, or even cocoa or cider. Put away the to do list, the phone, the computer for a bit, take yourself outside or curl up with a blanket in bed, and, for the time it takes you to drink mindfully, see what you notice.
7 | Breathe.
We all do every day, right? But unfortunately, how we breathe matters and most of us are breathing just to survive. How about breathing to thrive? Here are my recommendations. First, make sure you know how to belly breathe. I tried and failed to understand this all through grad school while working on fluency techniques. It wasn’t until I started doing yoga that I got it, and now I can’t forget it. Second, count. Focusing on belly breathing is one way to, well, focus, but sometimes it’s not enough. Incorporating a simple counting exercise is an easy, effective way to keep distractions at bay. How high I count depends on the day and how particularly easy I’m finding breathing to be. But the basic is this: choose a number (say, 5); inhale for 5, pause for 5, exhale for 5. Repeat. I sometimes do a little math beforehand to decide how long I’m going. So, if I wanted to breathe for 2 minutes, I would repeat that 15 second breath sequence 8 times. I normally just tap the rounds out on my fingers. And often, I notice I go well past the designated number! This is a good little practice for before bed, but can also be easily tucked into a busy day. Just pause for a few minutes and see how it goes.
8 | Write morning (or evening) pages.
Morning pages are a suggestion of Julie Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way (which, disclaimer, I have not read, but have heard of often). The basic premise is that you just write stream of consciousness. One way to do it is by setting a timer. Give yourself 2 or 3 minutes and just empty, empty, empty, it all out. It doesn’t even matter what you write! My thoughts will jump from to-do lists to memories to what I’m looking forward to to deep emotions. The point is to get it out. “Better out than in,” as Hagrid would say.
9 | Do something creative.
Just this morning, I read this:
“What I had to say to you, moreover, would not take long, to wit: Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow. Seriously! I mean starting right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives.”Kurt Vonnegut
We’re not all artists. I won’t at all pretend to be. But I enjoy writing bad poetry, decorating my house, and taking pictures. You might like to cross stitch, knit, doodle, or display a lovely meal. Whatever it is that lets you embrace your creative side, take a few minutes to enjoy it. Maybe go with the morning pages idea and set a timer: 10-15 minutes to just unloose. Don’t even think about sharing it to social media or turning it into a side hustle (we’re all guilty, right?)! Do it just because you like it. Smile when you’re done. Throw it away if you want. But do it.
10 | Spend time with someone you love.
There’s nothing quite like being with your people. But let’s be honest, when you’re knee-deep in a to-do list and in “productive mode,” it’s hard to want to be with them! Let’s do it anyway. Take a few minutes to call your sister. Have an intentional text chat with your bestie. Sit down, without your work, and have a meal or even just a cup of tea with your partner. Each day, connect with someone who has nothing to do with your working life. Take time to listen to them. Take time to talk to them. Laugh with them. Cry with them. Whatever you feel like doing that day, just be with them. Like walking, yoga, candlelight, breathing, or any number of other self-care suggestions, spending time with people you love is well-documented to improve physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Don’t neglect your people because of your work. Nothing is worth that.
I hope you’ve enjoyed these ideas. There’s nothing here that’s revolutionary in and of itself – the revolutionary part is you taking the time to do them. Only we can make the decision to care for ourselves. Only we can choose to make that a priority. So, I cheer you on, raising my tea cup to you, as you make strides to become a happier educator and a healthier person!