5 Little Changes That'll Make a Big Difference In Your Self-Care
Updated: Aug 9
In last week's blog, we looked at why teachers were NOT looking after themselves and the terrible consequences that it had for your career & your life. I know, that was a really positive blog... 😜
In this week's blog, we are looking purely at solutions & the small changes that you can make that will make you feel richer than Jay-Z & Beyonce in Paris!
In this week's blog you will learn why:
Doing regular exercise has the same power as an anti-depressant drug.
Eating a salad rather than a hamburger can boost your brainpower.
Why having good relationships can help you fight disease & feel less pain...
Sounds good? Let's proceed!
TIP 1: Exercise A Tiny Bit More
I really won’t beat you over the head with this one. Everyone and their mother know that exercise is the key to good health and performance. You don’t have to run a marathon to get some exercise.
For the nerds out there (which includes me), here are some statistics that show the benefits of exercise by researchers Guy Faulkner and Adrian Taylor stating:
Exercise training can reduce trait anxiety and single exercise sessions can result in reductions in state anxiety
Single sessions of moderate exercise can reduce short-term physiological reactivity to, and enhance recovery from, brief psychosocial stressors
The anti-depressant effect of exercise can be of the same magnitude as found for other psychotherapeutic interventions1.
To simplify: exercise is good for your mind and helps you handle stress and other negative mind states such as anxiety and depression.
But let me make one thing clear: You don't have to be a fitness fanatic, going to the gym four times a week. (My six-pack disappeared around 2008 and hasn’t come back despite my desperate searches...)
You don't have to kill yourself. Try to do at least 10 - 20 minutes of walking every day and work up a sweat every once in a while. Walking is also great for helping you unwind and get some perspective.
If that's not your thing, then there are plenty of other activities that will help you work up a sweat & get your heart rate racing. A great resource is the NHS' 'One you' website - it's full of simple & practical tips that will keep you in tip-top shape.
Tip 2: Get More Sleep
Now, this is a point I will beat you over the head with.
We live in a 'work hard play hard' world where staying burning the candle at both ends & grinding is seen as a 'badge of honour.'
Well, not sleeping is probably the fastest way to a health crisis.
There have been hundreds of scientific papers that have warned us about the dangers of inadequate sleep on our mental & emotional wellbeing. In fact, Livescience.com reports that “inadequate sleep exerts a similar influence on our brain as drinking too much2.”
You wouldn’t stagger into your class, slurring your speech and passing out on your desk and expect to have a good lesson — as well as keeping your job, would you?
Well, every time you don’t sleep, you are doing the same thing. Get your daily seven to eight hours of sleep, try not to look at your phone in the middle of the night as this could disrupt your sleep pattern.
Try to wake up and sleep at the same times every day and try to “power down” an hour before sleep by doing something relaxing like meditating or listening to gentle music. The better the sleep you get, the better you can perform.
Tip 3: Eat The Right Food
Your eating patterns can also affect your performance. Apart from making Ronald McDonald happy, having big juicy cheeseburger every day will not only affect your gut but affect your brain too.
Our body relies on a sugary substance called glucose that gives us energy during our waking hours. Our stomach breaks down our food and the nutrients get released in the bloodstream.
But when you eat foods full of fat or carbohydrates this can cause problems for your thinking abilities.
As the Harvard Business Review reports heavy meals like burgers and french fries will “provide more sustained energy, but require our digestive system to work harder, reducing oxygen levels in the brain and making us groggy3.”
I am not a nutritionist or Joe Wicks - I am not going to tell you what you can eat or can’t eat. But if you do notice after breakfast or lunch, you are feeling a bit groggy or slightly out of sorts, it may be worth looking at having something lighter like a salad instead.
When I was working with the NEETs, I needed every advantage I could get to keep my mental and physical edge. Again there are lots of resources online about 'brain-food' - Use your Google-Fu to chase them down.
Try it and see what happens.
Tip 4: Talk To People That Make You Feel Good
Especially in the early days of your career, you may feel that you have to sacrifice certain things to get ‘ahead.’
You may put in the long hours at school, come home late in the evening to finish marking, you scoff down your ready meal, catch a quick episode of your favourite Netflix show and then bed down for the night. Rinse and repeat.
In the meantime, you may sacrifice time with your friends, colleagues and family. But over time, the lack of positive, non-work related contact can do serious damage to your health.
Positive Social Contact is any positive interactions with people who make you feel energised, safe and allows you to be yourself, warts and all.
What are we working for anyway?
My Mum used to say “show me your friends and I and will tell you who you are” but I would now say “show me your friends and I and will tell you how you are.”
Study after study has shown that positive social interactions with people who you like, love and respect helps battle anxiety, depression, recover faster from physical ailments and can even extend your life.
The Guardian Newspaper looked at the research link between friendship and pain tolerance and they found that when people were in healthy, stable relationships, their body produced endorphins that reduce pain and make you feel good too.
One of the lead researchers Katherine Johnson stated “at an equivalent dose, endorphins have been shown to be stronger than morphine4.” Morphine - the painkiller they give to you after you have major surgery — that is saying something.
Other chemicals like oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin can help flush out all the bad chemicals that are in our system after an emotional highjack and make us bounce back faster as a result.
I know that you want to work hard, but make sure that you get the chance to spend time with your friends and family. Being a better friend, husband, wife, partner, parent, son, daughter, niece, nephew (you get the idea) can ultimately make you a better teacher.
In our post COVID times, I know that meeting people is more difficult & stressful. But jump on the FaceTime with someone or meet in the park. I am not great at this either, but I know that once I arrange that virtual or IRL meet-up with some trusted compadres, I feel better - trust me & do it.
Never underestimate the power of friendship — the Care Bears didn’t and neither should you.
Tip 5: Have A Rest & Relaxation Schedule
You're really good at making appointments for your jobs & responsibilities - but what about arranging a meeting for yourself? How about you make yourself a priority for once?
One of the techniques that I used was what I called my “Rest and Relaxation Schedule.”
When I was NEETs Co-Ordinator, I used to prioritise all my work-related schedules & deadlines, often missing lunches, time with my loved ones & never having time to 'Netflix & chill.' I was always sick & miserable & I knew I had to change.
Nowadays, I have flipped that around. I will now look at my schedule and put all the things that help me relax like:
Time with my family/friends.
Time to exercise
Or just time with to do my hobbies,
and then I schedule all my work commitments around my RnR plan for the week.
You must also have what I call ‘non-negotiables’ in your schedule — things that you have put in your RnR schedule that you will not break under any circumstances.
My non-negotiable is that I have dinner with my wife and child every day — that means no marking, planning, emails or anything work-related. It’s family time. It’s a chance to connect with the people I care about the most and it helps me be a better teacher.
RnR time doesn't have to involve other people. It can be doing something that you enjoy by yourself like reading, painting, playing computer games, singing... The list is endless. The most important thing is that it replenishes you & makes you feel good!
As my partner can attest, I have been the greatest with this lately... Running a blog isn't for the faint-hearted! But I am mindful, that when I don't relax, I don't do my best work. And I am sure that's the same for you.
You don't have to go crazy. This week, schedule some time to do something that YOU really enjoy: catching that Netflix documentary, finishing off Candy Crush, finishing off that drawing AND STICK TO THAT PLAN. Having some 'you-time' works wonders for the mind! Try it!
OK, that's the end of that mini-series on self-care! I hope that it helped you!
If you want any more tips, tricks and guides like this, be sure to subscribe to my blog below. It takes less than 20 seconds & you can get all this bloggy-goodness straight into your inbox. You won't regret it!
Karl from actionheroteacher.com
1. Faulkner, G. et al 2005. Exercise, Health and Mental Health: Emerging Relationships. 1st ed. Oxon, Great Britain: Routledge
2. Samantha Mathewson. 2017. Here's What Happens in the Brain When You Don't Get Enough Sleep. Livescience.com [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.livescience.com/60875-sleep-deprivation-sluggish-brain-cells.html
3. Ron Friedman. 2014. What You Eat Affects Your Productivity. Harvard Business Review [ONLINE] Available at: https://hbr.org/2014/10/what-you-eat-affects-your-productivity
4. Nicola Davis. 2016. People with more friends have higher pain thresholds, study suggests. The Guardian [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/apr/28/people-with-more-friends-have-higher-pain-thresholds-study-suggests