Losing it in lockdown?

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The coronavirus crisis is creating a rollercoaster of experiences and emotions for us all and it is inevitable this will have an impact on you, your colleagues, and your pupils. Denise Barrows, Head of Education at BTS Spark, explores how our mindset influences our responses and looks at how teachers and leaders can prioritise their own wellbeing during these difficult times.

In challenging times like these, when our lives and routines have been completely shaken up and uncertainty is the new norm, we may feel that all we can do is to cope as best we can and wait for things to improve. In actual fact, it’s the very moment we are called upon to double down on what’s most important and take action to bring our resilience, kindness and courage to the fore.

Throughout the country, we are seeing amazing stories of kindness, generosity and courage, not least amongst those working with vulnerable SEN students. But how many of us are taking the time to boost our own resilience?

Human beings are hardwired to resist uncertainty, and therefore, this unpredicable time leads to greater stress. Those of us that are currently working  in comparative isolation are extra vulnerable because of the unsure nature of our situation. During this crisis, it has become even easier to forget about our own needs. We can boost our resilience by regularly practising ways to build and maintain our own wellbeing, so that we can be fully present for those in our care and bring our most resourceful selves to our personal and professional lives.

Mindset matters

We all know that sleep, nutrition, and exercise are  key components in maintaining a positive attitude. Sleep in particular resets our brain and our body’s health each day, but mindset is also of crucial importance. Our internal narrative has a direct impact on our emotional and psysical wellbeing. Understanding how our thoughts and mindset affect our overall state and how we can choose our response can be the most powerful way to build our resilience and helping us to be at our best.

Many of us operate with an implicit belief that external factors cause us to feel and respond the way we do. Yet something that may lead to frustration on one day, such as a demanding email from a parent of a request for the latest student data, may not ruffle us at all on a different day. It is not these external triggers that wind us up, but how we interpret them.

For many of us, our days can be a succession of trigger events or thoughts that seem to drain us of our energy, impact our mood and lead us to respond in sub-optimal ways Even if we feel fine or OK, we are probably still in this comparatively unresourceful state, feeling flat and unmotivated and often with lowered expectations of ourselves and the world around us.

In contrast, we will all be able to think of times when we have felt at our best – alive, full of energy, clear-thinking and confident.This is our most resourceful state. None of us are at our best all of the time and in fact these moments are probably the exception rather than the rule.

But we can all learn to notice when we have lost our resourcefulness and, with practice, we can manage our emotional and mental state so that we are better equipped to deal with challenging situations.

Three steps to regaining your resourcefulness

  1. The first step in this process is to notice the trigger events and / or our change of state so that we realise what’s happening.  The best way to do this is to pause and notice your feelings – both your emotions and the reactions of your body.  
  2. Then notice what you are telling yourself about the situation. Watch out for two common patterns of self-talk that kick in when we are triggered. Our ‘Judge’ will make sweeping judgements about the situation or people involved (“You idiot!”, “I’m a fool”, “He’s just lazy”). Our ‘Pessimist’ will immediately focus on the negatives of the situation (“She’s not going to change”, “There’s nothing I can do that will help”). This negative self-talk is always characterised by being overly dramatic and exaggerated.
  3. If you recognise that you are in this unresourceful state the next step is to tap into your more resourceful self. Pause, and breathe deeply. Deep breaths slow the heartbeat, stabilise blood pressure and lower stress. Step away for a moment, if you can, into a different physical space, and consider the story you’re telling yourself. “Is it really true? What are the facts? What can I control? What is out of my control? What can I choose that will empower me now?” Take time to reflect on the range of choices you have and commit to the action that reconnects you to your personal power and resilience.

It’s important to note that this process is not about simply thinking positively, but about gaining a more balanced and accurate picture of your situation. This will  open up a more helpful range of choices for dealing with the situation. 

Practise this process, either in the moment or by reflecting after a stressfull situation.Notice the patterns and the types of situations and things that trigger you. Practise with the small everyday things that wind you up, and you will find yourself more capable of choosing a measured response  when life presents you with the unexpected.

Boosting your resilience

Of course, there are a whole range of more familiar strategies that we can also use to change our mental state and make us more resilient.

Play – Play is an excellent mood booster. It promotes brain functionality, releases endorphins and improves our ability to plan, organise, relate, and regulate emotions.  Have fun and laugh, at home and online with friends and colleagues.

Focus on gratitude – A daily gratitude practice is good for the mind and body. It reduces stress, helps you sleep better and gives a well-being boost.

Create a routine – A routine brings a feeling of order and gives a sense of control. Set a few manageable goals and choose a schedule tailored to your needs that works for you and your family.

Virtual connection – Reach out to people you care about. Stay close to loved ones. Call up old friends. The more you stay connected, the better you feel.

Keep your mind and body active – Listen to guided meditations, play music, dance, start a new hobby, build something, or create fun workouts or challenges. Invite others to join you.

Limit news consumption – It’s important to stay up to date but limit the amount of time spent looking at news, as it negatively impacts your wellbeing. It’s okay to unplug.

Seek support when you need it – If you are feeling overwhelmed, reach out to someone you trust. There are also several organisations offering support online for school staff.

Healthy habits – Eating right can boost your energy and help you sleep. Sleep is the ultimate rejuvenator, so take steps to create the right conditions for you to sleep well.

And to those who are leading teams, you’ve got double duty. Be kind, be compassionate, practise self-care and stay-informed. You may not know what is causing your team stress so it’s important not to assume what is hard for them. Three great questions to ask are; How are you doing? What do you need? What could we be doing better?  The coronavirus is a real disruption to our schedules, and the end is unknown. Let’s grant each other grace to feel whatever we feel in the midst of these chaotic times.

BTS Spark is the not-for-profit education practice within one of the world’s leading coaching and leadership development providers, and has worked with over 10,000 teachers and school leaders. Its work often focuses on helping people to stay resilient and at their best even under the most difficult and stressful situations.  BTS Spark is currently offering free coaching for school leaders to support them through the COVID-19 crisis. Find out more at bit.ly/2X0GZCD or email spark.uk@bts.com

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