Do you ever find yourself postponing a break until the next thing is done?
With the intense demands on education staff, intensified by the pandemic, it is no wonder that day after day involves driving relentlessly from one task to another.
In addition, as educators and carers, many of us have a habit of putting ourselves at the bottom of the ‘to do list’. Does that sound familiar to you?
On top of that, when pressures are high, and we are conscientious, it is often the nourishing activities that we let go of, to make more time for the ‘to do list’.[i] ‘I’ll just . . ….’ is one of my favourite phrases and it doesn’t serve my health or wellbeing.
Rest is not just for holidays, it needs to be woven into everyday life. With winter coming, prioritising physical and mental health is essential. In the UK if you are working both sessions of a school day you are entitled to a ‘reasonable break’, twenty minutes at least.[ii] Making time outside work to rest is important too.
We need to take care of ourselves in order to take care of others.
Doing nothing is hard. When life is busy it takes time to slow down. I sometimes feel like a mechanical wind-up toy that keeps whirring away long after it’s stopped moving.
Rest doesn’t have to be doing nothing and mindfulness can help. Mindfulness isn’t stopping what we’re doing, it’s knowing what we’re doing and having our mind and body in the same place at the same time. It’s how we do things as much as what we do.
When you eat lunch, can you just eat lunch? What’s it like to sit down, engage your senses, notice textures and flavours, rather than squeezing in more tasks with lunch on the side?
If you have a warm drink what’s it like to pay attention to the warmth, weight and texture of the cup, the light reflecting in the liquid, the smell and flavour of the drink?
This ‘single-tasking’ in itself can give us a break.
Dr Saundra Dalton-Smith is a medic and a parent and specialises in helping people with their work-rest balance which, let’s face it, for many of us, involves a massive rest deficit. Dalton-Smith names 7 types of rest that we all need. Physical, mental, sensory, creative, emotional, social, spiritual.[iii]
Mindfulness maps onto all 7 areas:
Physical rest – Mindfulness is an opportunity to listen to your body and respond skilfully to its messages. Many people notice sleepiness during practice, which can signal a need for rest and be a letting go. Sleep is a vital form of rest. Physical rest can also include gentle stretching or a massage. Can we make kind choices to take care of our body which does so much for us and others?
Mental rest – When we’re constantly busy ‘doing’, the chances are the mind is busy too. Switching off is hard and this can impact physical rest and sleep. The great thing about mindfulness is that we’re not trying to stop thinking. Stopping our thoughts is impossible and just creates struggle! We are learning to change our relationship with thinking, to step back from our thoughts, give them space and release their hold on us. Can we build regular times into the day, even a couple of minutes at a time, where we can take a break and just be?
Sensory rest – We are constantly receiving and processing information during the school day, and outside through continued connection to devices. Switch them off for a while! There is no need to switch off our senses though. With mindfulness practice we choose what we take in, how we take it in and rest in our senses, receiving their messages without searching or striving. We might lower our gaze or close our eyes, to reduce visual input. We might sit and receive what we see, colours, shapes and textures. The switch is from doing to being. Easier said than done but that’s why it’s called mindfulness practice!
Creative rest – You may find this in nature or knitting, painting or cooking or just choosing things you enjoy looking at, make music, listen to it, dance round the kitchen find whatever works for you. And can you, just for this moment, enter fully into the experience?
Emotional rest – Working in education, with so many who need care, involves holding how others are and holding back how we are. Mindfulness is self-supportive. It enables us to be a friend and mentor to ourselves, to recognise, acknowledge and care for how we are and our needs.
Social rest – We need people we trust, can be ourselves with and who lift us up rather than drain us. Mindfulness helps us notice the effect people have on us and make skilful choices in response. It helps us choose how we relate to others including setting boundaries.
Spiritual rest – What gives you a sense of connection that enriches you? A walk in nature? Community engagement? Spiritual rest nourishes us, connecting us to something beyond ourselves. It doesn’t have to be anything big. Can you find beauty in the little things? Notice colours, sounds, scents of the changing season? Appreciate the journey the food you are eating has made from field to fork?
Which form of rest would you find most nourishing today?
If there are activities you are already doing; could you reframe your approach, give them your full attention and rest in the process?