Tag Archives: Mental Health

Well-being in a Single Word

Photo by Sebastian Pichler on Unsplash

I would be a whole lot more effective in my job without Ofsted looming.” – anonymous (obviously) words from a wonderful headteacher I work alongside. Sometimes the observer negatively affects the quality of the very system they hope to improve, simply by observing it. Or threatening to, at 24 hrs notice.

However, this post is not an Ofsted critique. Plenty of time for that later, believe me, it’s coming. No, this is about a single word for managing the stress and anxiety which, for many of the professionals I know, is embodied in the anticipation of inspection; is compounded by impotence in the face of external judgement; and is amplified by 18 months of pandemic disruption.

But things are what they are. Let’s not use our precious energy pushing back against systems that won’t budge and histories that will never change. Let’s put the uncontrollables aside and choose to focus on our valuable selves.

Compassion starts in the mirror.

One-Word Well-Being

Well-being only needs a glance. A Glance. G-L-A-N-C-E = a memorable summary of six actions to protect mental health and well-being (NEF, 2008). You’ve most likely heard this before; maybe tried it, forgotten, tried again, moved on to something else. But it’s the one I return to; a different aspect helping each time; a gift that keeps on giving.

A simple theme connects the six ideas. I’ll share that later and tell you about a good friend of mine who combined them all, to save herself, to pull herself out of a dark pit she’d been pushed into.

G. Give

Give authentically and the gift you receive back is relief from your own struggles. When attention rests on another’s needs, yours pause. You face outwards rather than in; absorbed in someone else, not yourself.

I learnt this as a heart-broken, navel-gazing under grad. A week-5 break up and my following mega-sulk was transformed by a friend, J, who invited me to volunteer with her. Riding for the Disabled (RDA) taught me humility and generosity, and prompted regular work with MENCAP and Gateway for the rest of my university days.

Give a smile when someone needs it; a word of praise or support or kindness; an unexpected visit; give time, a minute of full attention, ten, fifteen, whatever, it’s not the quantity but the intent.

L. Learn

We know how learning works. It’s our business. But do we recall the joy of discovery, of finding out, of mastery? When did you last feel good about learning?

When I first went freelance – leaving safe and secure employment behind – I had a bit of time on my hands. A lot of time on my hands. I taught myself to juggle. It took 14 days. But the feeling, the feeling when the third ball stayed up with the first two, and stayed up over and over and over again, round and round. I still remember that 20 years later. Excitement, empowerment, joy; I could think of nothing else but that achievement. That’s what learning feels like and, surely, it’s what we wish for our pupils.

And for you? What will you learn? Where will you find that joy?

A. Be Active

If you laid out, end to end, all the research papers citing the health benefits of being outdoors, then walked their length, it would be a good thing.

Trees release phytoncides which boost immune systems; walking protects joints; exercise reduces the risk of major illness; and simply being in nature protects our mental health.

I’m so grateful to live near trees, near nature, near ancient tracks and woodland and paths that lead for miles across chalk downs. And when I’m working in cities, I choose to walk. Even in the crowds, fizzing and surging with power and noise, there is peace in the rhythm of walking.

Advice abounds for exercise. How active are you? What might you gain by being more active?

N. Notice the moment

The past is gone and usually mis-remembered; the future is not here yet, and often skewed by expectation and bias. There is absolutely nothing to worry about in this moment now. Hold up your hand. Notice nothing else. Look at the detail, the skin, the finger prints, the nails, scars, marks, jewelry. Notice only your hands in only this moment. Give the same kind of attention to cooking, walking, eating. Be mindful of only your moment.

Anxiety is fear of a future that has not happened; regret is pain for a past long gone. I’ve been saddened to work with people who desperately want their past to be different, struggle to let it go. It’s a privilege to work with them as they begin to release their hurt, and start ‘living in the moment’. Catch yourself noticing a moment, maybe just before the lesson starts, or when it ends, as the room falls silent and your valuable work is done.

C: Connect

In my last post, traits of the introvert and extrovert were noted. Both need other people but in different ways. Relationships offer connection, esteem and networks to keep loneliness at bay. ‘Aloneness’ can be frightening and debilitating and we have varying tolerances to it.

We’ve missed other people. As we begin to re-connect, feel the power they give to you and know that you are giving back just as much. The mental and cognitive boosts we get from others are fuel to an engine, wind to a sail, sun to a flower.

E: Edit

Give, learn, be active, notice, connect. Mix them up, edit them as you wish. Experiment with one or more as time and energy allow. You are the one in charge of your well-being. It is one thing that you can control.

My good friend NK has recently reached the end of a devastating, complex and costly divorce. For 4 years she navigated hell in courts and counselling rooms, with friends, family and later, out of necessity, online. It’s settled now. There’s resolution and stability again. By accident rather than design, NK found herself taking strolls in nature with her daughter who was struggling at work. Giving her time, coaching her, walking with silence and tears, noticing the moment, reconnecting. She learned that the relationship with her beautiful girl could completely transform. NK herself found peace once more. She stumbled on well-being.

Glances seize the moment. They place you and the people around you into a now that transcends anxiety, overlooks fear and weakens the power of painful pasts and worrying futures.

Photo by Colton Duke on Unsplash

A New Variant (of Tiredness)

Finally. Finally I am back working face to face. Training, teaching, coaching, mentoring. The school landscape has changed over 16 months. Or rather, what’s underneath the landscape has changed. People are tired; tired in ways they’ve not known and in ways they struggle to describe or understand. I do my best to help them.

Here’s a thought to make sense of it:

March 2020. Chaos. The unknown, the unexpected, the overwhelming. The wicked. I wrote about that, here. We rallied, pulled on our reserves, created, adapted, struggled and (kind of) got there.

When I realised what COVID-19 actually meant to my work and my livelihood, I did three things:

  1. Wept
  2. Contacted my mentors
  3. Went against my style

Weep

I did. We did. The loss, the stress, the uncertainty. It didn’t fix anything but it released something.

Mentors

I’m lucky to have (and, professionally, insist on having) a mentor, a supervisor and two go-to colleagues. I’m lucky. 4 people who have my professional back. They didn’t fix anything but helped me to see something different.

Style

Hello. My name’s Mike and I’m an introvert. Don’t confuse the person you see in the training room, or at Zoom School, or in the conference hall or classroom with the one who needs to be alone at the end of the day.

Extrovert or introvert is about where you get your energy, not whether you like parties. I love being with people but I recharge alone. Extroverts refuel with others. We are not limited to one style but gravitate to our preference for rest and recovery.

So COVID came and what did I do? Hide away? Disappear? Go inside myself? ‘Introvert’ myself? No. The opposite. I reached out, made new contacts, started Zoom School, rekindled old connections. I went 100% extrovert. I went ‘outside my style’.

Why did I do this? Survival. The psyche goes, ‘You’ve got introvert covered off my friend. It’s your thing. You can do that. Extrovert? Needs work. Not your speciality. And this is a threatening time. All bases need covering, so address the imbalance. Get out there and extrovert!’

And I did. I loved it. But it was exhausting. Staying too long out of style without returning in style for nourishment had a cost, to health, to wellbeing and to my ability to do what I do best.

Maybe, right now, by accident or design, you’ve been ‘out of style’ for too long? Maybe your environment demands this of you. Maybe just knowing why you might feel like you feel – a new variant of tiredness – will go some way to helping.

New things need naming. Do you have, ‘out of style tiredness’?