I love a good metaphor. In fact, humans are naturally drawn to metaphors. They help us make sense of a messy world and understand complex things. I’d like to share three metaphors that have helped me understand the importance of prioritising my wellbeing, despite many competing demands (e.g. raising a family, teaching, caring for elderly parents, the whole shebang!), and in a way that keeps it front and centre of my mind and my daily actions. I hope they inspire you to look after yourself now and long into the future.
Fix your roof in the summer
In 1962, about a year after the United States emerged from a recession, President Kennedy
addressed Congress and said, “Pleasant as it may be to bask in the warmth of recovery… the time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.” What’s this got to do with wellbeing? Well, throughout this academic year your wellbeing will have naturally suffered due to not just the strains and pressures of teaching but also because of all of the other challenges that come with life. No doubt you’ll have experienced some highs and many positive moments along the way but most teaching staff get to the end of the year exhausted. You crawl into the summer holidays and ‘bask in the warmth of recovery’. The summer holidays are here and they belong to you!
However, as JFK goes on to say, the best time to repair the roof is when the sun in shining. What I take from this is that now is the best time to start to put into place the healthy habits and routines that will not only help you rest and recover from another year in teaching but that will also support you when you go back in September and beyond.
Weave your parachute daily
I’ve never done sky-diving. It’s never really appealed to me but if I did, I’d make sure my parachute was packed well before I got into the plane. As mindfulness expert, Jon Kabat-Zinn wrote, “Make sure you weave your parachute every day, rather than leave it to the time you have to jump out of the plane.” Of course, he wasn’t really talking about sky-diving, he was talking about how important it is that, as part of our preparation for each day, that we do things that are good for our wellbeing before we encounter all of the challenges that life throws at us.
It is why mindfulness experts recommend meditating first thing in the morning. It may help you mentally prepare for everything you’ve got to do that day. But it doesn’t have to be meditation – it can be anything that helps your mind and body be ready for what lies ahead. Whether that is exercise, a quiet, morning cup of tea alone in your favourite chair, or reflecting in a journal. Whatever constitutes you ‘weaving your parachute’, the main point is to do it daily and before jumping out of the plane. You’ll have a much more enjoyable descent and a softer landing.
Brush your teeth, brush your mind
Do you brush your teeth every day and every night? My bet is that the answer is, ‘Yes’. Why?
It’s probably because from a very young age, it has been drummed into you how important it is to prioritise your dental health. If you do, you’ll go to the dentist fewer times, you won’t get gum disease, you won’t need as many fillings! Neuroscientist Prof. Richie Davidson said that, ‘If we gave the same priority to our mental health as we do our dental health, the world would be a much happier place.”
If you think about how we maintain our dental health, it’s actually doing small things throughout the day – brushing teeth in the morning, making sure we don’t consume too much sugar in the day, and brushing our teeth in the evening. On top, we might use mouthwash, floss (the string kind!) and visit the dentists once or twice a year. It really isn’t that onerous. I have yet to meet a person that got to the end of a day and said, ‘I was so busy today, I didn’t even have time to brush my teeth!’. We always find time to brush our teeth because it is so damn important and we’ve made brushing our teeth part of our daily routine (I bet you brush yours at the same times every day!). So, Davidson’s point is that we need to take the same attitude to the things that support our wellbeing. When we do small things that are good for our wellbeing and we do them consistently, they build up to make a big difference.
So, what’s the moral of the metaphors? Definitely kick back and rest this summer. You’ve earned it!! But also take this time to establish the habits and routines that will nourish you, re-energise you and increase your sense of perspective. Fix your roof this summer while the sun is shining. And when September comes around, keep these habits and routines going by weaving your parachute daily. Finally, treat your mental health the way you do your dental health and do small things throughout the day that make your body and mind shine.
Have a great summer!
Adrian Bethune is a part-time teacher and his new book Wellbeing In The Primary Classroom 2nd Edition is out now!!!