Early on in my journey back to health a book called Stressaholic: 5 steps to Transform Your Relationship With Stress by Heidi Hannah came across my path and I read it in a few days front to back. Now when I say “came across my path” it wasn’t that whimsically synchronistic it was more like I manically searched the whole online catalogue of Richmond Tweed Regional Library until I found a book that I could use to fix myself because I didn’t want to “waste” my time off work (!!). But I do feel I was meant to read this book – I knew immediately that I was in fact a Stressaholic. I was living in survival mode and probably had been since the birth of my daughter 4 years earlier.
Heidi explains that ‘Stress is neither good nor bad – it just is. A life without stress would be stressful…’ because without stress we do not receive the stimulation that helps us to grow. This totally rang true as I recalled a time in my mid-twenties living in a surf camp in the idyll of Samoa, surfing pristine waves, giving massages to brawny surfers and teaching them daily yoga……I managed to make this into a stressful situation after a time but for someone with a brain that rarely stops it was stressful – I needed more stimulation. This book immediately made sense to me.
Reading these 2 sentences totally changed the way I had previously viewed stress – it was my current response to the stress in my life that was robbing me of my mental health. When I stopped seeing stress as “bad” and needing total elimination from my life but rather chose to see it as a necessary part of a productive and progressive life I could then work on the ways suggested in the book to balance my reactions to and recovery from stress.
The first strategy Heidi suggests is REST. This might seem ridiculously simple to some people but it was like I had instantly been given permission to switch off and let some things go because if I didn’t, the consequences were scary. I didn’t need to chuck in my career I just needed to rest when I was tired. Mind blowing. Although very hard to do – a little like telling an alcoholic to just stop drinking. I was so used to pushing through my tiredness because “I have to get this done….” and I know many teachers who are familiar with that way of being (and our “to do” list is NEVER DONE).
Rest is imperative (watching TV doesn’t count) because as teachers we use up a massive amount of mental and emotional energy every day at work. Most days we are on playground duty during breaks from class or catching up on work in the classroom. We might end up with 15 minutes if we’re lucky to scoff down some food (without even tasting it) and head back to the fray. We MUST schedule in times for rest to recharge our energy throughout the day and as Heidi makes clear ‘When things become more intense and therefore require enhanced energy and resilience it is even more important to create opportunities to take care of ourselves’.
So I ask you: Are you listening to your body’s signals that are telling you it’s time to turn off the computer or finish marking or are you constantly pushing beyond? Start to listen to your body and create a list of ways you can rest when you need to – at school , straight after school for 10 minutes, at home or in nature. Rest needn’t mean sleep – laying in my hammock has become a favourite pass time, a time to tune into me and my surroundings. How will you create regular rest periods in your schedule in order to recharge the mental, emotional and physical energy you expend daily?