I was staggered to see a recent Teacher Tapp poll shared this weekend which asked people how much they prioritised their own wellbeing when in school last half term.
18% of the almost 8000 respondents said they never prioritised their own wellbeing. 51% said they only managed to at the weekends. Almost a quarter said a few times a week and only 5% managed it daily. This is staggering to me but, equally, unsurprising given that in the Teacher Wellbeing Index 2020, 74% of education staff said they experienced behavioural, psychological or physical symptoms due to their work.
But I wonder if another reason so many people said that they weren’t able to prioritise their wellbeing regularly was because they misunderstood what the term means. As one tweeter, @cs_kube put it, “I found that question strangely difficult - to the point I can’t remember which answer I gave - but I think ‘prioritising’ seemed like a ‘big thing’ and always putting that first”.
What does prioritising your wellbeing actually mean?
I wanted to share a definition of prioritising your wellbeing which I hope is not only helpful but also shows you just how manageable it is to do so.
Prioritising your own wellbeing simply means you do small things everyday that support your wellbeing, that you give priority to.
This is, I believe, what the 5% of respondents do, who answered that they prioritise theirs daily. They won’t be doing triathlons, meditating for hours on end or practising all the yoga asanas at lunchtime. They will just be making sure that everyday they do a few small things that they know help them cope with the pressures and challenges of daily life. This approach to our wellbeing is open to all of us and not just 5% of teaching staff. We can all manage this but it partly requires a shift in mindset (that these small things are important and need time set aside to do) and also an awareness of the small things that nourish us.
What small things work for you?
As luck would have it, a Tweeter called @amyjeetley posted this morning about the small
things she does to support herself during term time. Sleep, physical activity, boundaries for work and home, meditation, focused work and letting go of unhelpful guilty thoughts and feelings were her small actions to helping her find balance.
It made me reflect on the small every day and weekly things I do to look after myself:
· Short morning meditation
· At least 8000 steps a day
· Healthy food (with the odd treat here and there!)
· Lunchtime walk around the block
· Thursday night football
· Weekend run with my best mate
· Quality family time in evenings and weekend
· Limiting use of devices in the evenings (still working on this one!)
Mine and Amy’s list show some similarities but they’re unique to us. And your list of small things will look different still. But take a moment and just jot down several small things that you currently do (or you would like to do) that you know will help you maintain your levels of wellbeing, especially during tough times.
Small things matter
A favourite positive psychologist of mine, Dr. Tal Ben Shahar, said that a key to improving our wellbeing is ‘Doing small things, consistently’. He said they really do build up to make a difference. He even said that when he experiences stressful periods he actually increases the number of small things he does to help rebalance his life. It reminded me of another lovely graphic I’d seen shared by tweeter @Mr R Physics - T&L Tips :
I think this is the moral of the story. Prioritising your wellbeing during term time is about the small things you do regularly that help maintain and nourish your health and wellbeing. From the dog walk straight after school, to the seeking out that colleague who you have a proper laugh with. When we do these things often, they help us cope with the hard times, and thrive in the good times. And now more than ever, we need to make the time for them*.
*What about if you work in a toxic school?
Some school cultures really do sap the life out of staff and bullying is not uncommon. I would say that in those situations doing small things that protect your health, wellbeing and sanity are even more important than if you work in a stressful but supportive school. Ultimately, if you work in a toxic environment, if there’s nothing you can do to improve your situation where you are, you need to leave. But please know, deep down, there is always something you can do, even if it feels really hard to take those small or larger actions. Make use of the free support offered by Education Support (Their 24/7 free helpline with trained counsellors on hand is 08000 562 561), and seek the support of your Union, your colleagues, your friends and family. Don’t suffer alone – reach out for support!