That education has acknowledged a problem with mental health and wellbeing among teachers is undoubtedly a good thing, but not everything that has come out of it has been positive, or easy to interpret. For many teachers, the advice offered to keep yourself healthy is overwhelming, off-putting and conflicting.
This is a shame, as the truth is: there’s no need for a dramatic lifestyle overhaul. Small, subtle changes often yield big results and ones that you’re much more likely to maintain.
Here are some of the small lifestyle ‘hacks’ that have been making me happier over the last few years.
If you’re working, keep your phone on but out of sight
I keep it on vibrate so that I'll hear work calls, but my brain is no longer being pulled in different directions by social media or untimely personal messages.
Take some time to prepare food the night before
Even with the best of intentions, chances are that if you leave food prep to the morning rush, you’ll end up with a packed lunch of hot-dog salad. Making extra portions of dinner, roasting a batch of veg or freezing batches of healthy soup are all simple ways to make this a super-quick evening job. (check out these healthy packed lunch ideas, too)
Look for opportunities to be active in your day
If you’re struggling to fit gym time into your busy schedule, don’t sweat it! Instead, set yourself a secret fitness mission to move as much as possible through your day. Take the stairs, walk the long way around, make the journey to the staff room at break. Download one of the many free pedometer apps if you’re keen to occasionally measure your progress or check out these exercise ideas you can do in the classroom.
Have a water bottle nearby
I’ve lost count of the number of days I intended to drink my 2.5 litres of water, only to finish a lesson-packed day crawling towards the nearest water cooler. I simply forget. Having a full bottle nearby has reminded me to hydrate more often, resulting in fewer headaches and more energy.
Working at home? Stick to the same room
Restrict work (and work-related items and reminders) to just one area of the house – preferably not the lounge or bedroom. Having a clearly defined workspace can help you to ‘switch off’ along with your laptop.
Notice noticing your thoughts
Before you listen to your thoughts, add a little distance between you and them by inserting the words "I notice" into your head. For example, “I notice that I’m thinking that I have X to do when I get into school; I notice that I’m feeling a little anxious about Y this afternoon.” The more I’ve practised this, the more I’ve found that I’m much less phased and more accepting of work-life stress.
Explore what relaxation is to you
Just because it’s called downtime, doesn’t mean you have to spend it lying down aided only by a family-sized bag of Doritos and a show about Hoarders. Get curious about what makes you tick. You might just find that playing sports, writing a blog or practising an instrument offers you exactly the headspace and relaxation that you were looking for.
Jo Steer is a teacher and experienced leader of SEND interventions and wellbeing strategies