Lockdown Wellbeing

Lockdown Wellbeing

As I sit down to write this we are a week into lockdown 3.0 here in the UK and whilst I feel compelled to reach out to you, equally I know that many teachers won’t have time to be reading blogs at the moment. I’m hoping that you have found a new rhythm and are able to give yourself 5 minutes with a cup of tea or coffee to remind yourself how important self care is at times like this.

Firstly, let’s just get one thing straight. Lockdown is hard. Whether you are; working or furloughed, homeschooling or home alone, juggling everything or worrying you have been made redundant and have nothing to do, over eating or worrying you can’t put food on the table, everyone is struggling. 

Just because life is testing us at the moment doesn’t mean that we can’t take control of our lives in small and meaningful ways though. It is still possible to find pockets of pure joy and relaxation, even in the chaos of lockdown.

I can hear you shouting, “but I don’t have any time for pockets of joy, Kate!”

Yes you do, you just have to learn to find them and make yourself a priority for once!

5 minutes of lockdown self care can make all the difference… 

Perhaps you can find five minutes while the dinner is cooking. Maybe you grab ten minutes when the kids have gone to bed before you start working. You might even just offer to take the dog out (alone if possible!) to give yourself a little head space before everything returns to normal.  

Obviously everyone’s circumstances are unique and I can’t tell you where you can find your pocket of joy, but I can tell you that if you want to find one enough, you will. 

Here are a few of my favourite quick and easy self care activities to help you stay calm and sane during lockdown.   

1. Take a walk – even if you just walk around the block, getting some fresh air and moving your body will make you feel better. 

2. Call a friend or family member – Just 5 minutes talking to someone you love will make you feel calmer, happier and will help you to remember what is really important in life.  

3. Listen to your favourite music – Music is proven to alter your mood. Put on your favourite tunes, as loud as you can, and just listen and enjoy!

lockdown wellbeing

4. Have a hot drink – Warm drinks are comforting in themselves, but you can always combine this 5 minutes of lockdown wellbeing with one of my favourite mindful exercises, hot chocolate breathing. 

5. Read a book or magazine – Even if you only sit for a few minutes and read a page or two. Reading a book is so much more relaxing than scrolling through your phone. Resist the urge to check your emails and enjoy 5 minutes with a book or your favourite magazine.

6. Have a dance – Why not combine number 1 with number 3? Get up and get moving to your favourite music! 

7. Meditate – 5 minutes is more than enough time to meditate. Whether you find a short guided meditation online or just light a candle and stare at the flame. Meditation has so many benefits.

8. Tidy a drawer or organise something that has been frustrating you – when our outer world feels more organised, our inner world is more calm too. 

9. Eat something indulgent – A little bit of what you fancy does you good. Whether it is advisable from a biological point of view or not, the fact is many of us get a little lift from having something delicious to eat. Treat yourself, you have definitely earned it!

10. Have a quick shower – I’m not implying your are dirty and need a wash. Water is cleansing. Just standing under the flowing water calms your nervous system and helps you feel more centred. 

There are even more ideas to help you to care for your lockdown wellbeing in my free downloadable Teacher Wellbeing Checklist. You can access that and all my other free resources here.

The most important thing at the moment though is that you realise how important it is for you to care for your wellbeing. You cannot support your students or your family if you are exhausted or ill. Taking time to care for yourself and your emotional wellbeing is your duty. 

How to help an anxious child in your class

In my last blog I discussed signs and symptoms of an anxious child, which may help you to spot children in your class who were struggling. 

Being able to identify the issue is only a small part of helping the child while they are at school though. In this blog I intend to show you how easy it is to make school a calm and supportive environment. This is important for all children, but especially those struggling with anxiety.

The most important thing you can do for an anxious child

The single most important thing you can do to help an anxious child is to be as consistent as you can. I appreciate that we all have bad days and teachers are only human (although that is a revelation to most of our students, isn’t it?). The more calm and consistent you can be, the calmer your students will feel. They need to know what to expect from you, and more importantly, what you expect from them.

Routine is also a huge help when tackling anxiety. When we know what is going to happen, how and where there is a deep, instinctive security associated with that.  

In schools there will always be changes to routine because there is a celebration, a visitor or something unexpected has occured. As much as possible though, keep to a routine, especially on a morning and around certain key events. That way the children know that when x happens you expect y. It allows them to feel in control and there is no doubt for them that if they follow that structure you will be happy and they will achieve the desired result.

Celebrate failures. This is a challenge for many of us. We all want to succeed. To be the best we can be. But if we only ever do things we know we will succeed at we limit our potential. There will always be times when we have to stretch our comfort zone and try something new. By showing the children that you don’t get everything right all the time, that you make mistakes and that’s ok. Better than ok, it’s great. It means you were brave, you tried something new and challenging and that is how we learn and grow. 

Sara Blakely, CEO and founder of SPANX, says her father used to ask her and her brother every week at the dinner table; “what did you fail at today?” and if they had something to share he would celebrate it.

If you haven’t watched it before this is a great video about the importance of failing. It is only 4 mins but is a real eye opener if you have always been worried about failing – as so many of us are. 

Unnecessary pressure

Unnecessary pressure can be a real issue in schools. I appreciate that we are all trying to get the best out of the children in our class. We want them to succeed, to be the best they can be. Putting pressure on an anxious child though is going to have the opposite effect. It may only be a throw away comment but it can impact a child for years. I heard recently about a child who had had a prolongued period off school with anxiety. They struggled to return but did, and not just that, did brilliantly in their mocks. They then fell ill and emailed their teachers to get the work they had missed. 90% of their teachers were great and either gave a small amout to catch up, or told them not to worry. One teacher though responded by saying “It’s good to see you are finally taking your studies seriously!”. This child was a high achiever and it was the pressure to succeed and to be the very best that was causing their anxiety. This one comment put them back several steps.

Yes, test results are important, exam results matter, but they are not the end of the world, and certainly not worth sacrificing the mental health of any of your students. Exams can always be retaken.

Be mindful of how much pressure you are placing on your class. Comments such as “last year’s class did brilliantly, but I know that you are going to do even better” may be motivating for some children, but paralysing For an anxious child.

If a child is struggling, the quickest way to calm them down is to ask them to do some breathing exercises (there are lots on my social media accounts and in my free downloads).

Time out 

Allow them to step away from the task, maybe go sit and read quietly for a few minutes. Give them a mental health break. Why not have a soft toy who is a special calming friend who they can talk to and cuddle when they are feeling anxious (You could add a few drops of lavender essential oil every week so that when they have a cuddle it helps calm them down even more?).

Many children will feel calmer if they move around. Why not have dance breaks during stressful times, such as the build up to tests? Giving the children 2-3 minutes to dance, and inevitably laugh too, will calm their physical body and provide a fun distraction. 

Children are unique

Most importantly remember that they are individuals. They may not respond the same way another child you have taught did, and that’s ok. Talk to them. They may not understand how they are feeling, depending on their age, but they might know exactly what will make them feel better.  Make sure you use positive language and nurture their self confidence and self esteem as much as possible. The more confident a child, the more able they feel to cope with stress. 

No two people are the same. We all react differently, we all respond to events differently. Some children love tests because they like a challenge. Others become a nervous wreck at the mention of the word. Some children will enjoy doing some exercise to calm down, but others will just want to sit quietly.  

Watch how they respond. If a child is really struggling, tailor the way you respond to suit them rather than the whole class. An estimated 1 in 8 children under 19 having a diagnosable mental health condition in the UK. This is not something we can ignore. You may have 4 or more children in your class who are really struggling with anxiety, depression or other mental health issues. Remember those are just the children who are severe enough to get a diagnosis. Many more will feel anxious before an exam or during a stressful period either at home or school. 

Mental health issues are no longer things which are rare and often dealt with outside school. All staff need to have a good understanding of the impact this can have on children in school. There must be consistency across the whole school environment.

 

For more help and advice on this subject:

Young Minds

Barnardos

NHS

 

 

How to spot anxiety in students

Anxiety in students is probably the biggest issue in our classrooms at the moment. 

With 1 in 3 of our teenagers diagnosed with anxiety disorders and 7% of 3-17 year olds struggling with anxiety this is not something we can ignore.

 That means that if you teach primary aged children (3-11yrs) statistically our of a class of 30 you will have at least 2 children in your class with anxiety. If you teach secondary (11-18yrs) that increases to 10 in every class of 30!

Just take a moment to let that sink in.

Do you know which of the children in your class might be struggling?

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate that as a teacher you are already juggling so many observations and responsibilities that the last thing you need is to be adding mental health officer or counsellor to your job description. 

Here’s the problem though.

We can’t learn when we are feeling anxious.

 If we don’t identify the students who are feeling anxious we may be sabotaging those all important results as well as letting down our vulnerable young people. 

Why is anxiety on the rise?

There are many reasons, I’m going to list the biggest in my opinion:  

  • Greater access to information
  • Inability to escape from peers due to social media and mobiles
  • Too much screen time
  • Not enough time outside
  • Academic pressures
  • Diet
  • Sleep deprivation 

I’m not going to go into these in detail but rest assured all these factors increase anxiety levels dramatically in most people and a combination of all of them is truly toxic.

There is precious little, as teachers, that we can do about these causes of anxiety. What we need to do is to spot the signs, and of course give our students strategies to reduce their stress levels and anxiety.

What are the signs of anxiety? 

  • Feeling sick and light headed
  • Sweating
  • Needing the toilet more frequently than usual
  • Crying
  • Sore or upset stomach 
  • Blushing
  • Headaches and tense muscles
  • Teeth grinding
  • Loss of appetite or over eating
  • Trembling
  • Trouble sleeping

I know what you’re thinking. Most of these symptoms are either impossible or difficult to spot as a teacher. When you then factor in the fact that many children become incredibly skilled at hiding their symptoms, because having people knowing that they are struggling may add to their anxiety, it becomes almost impossible.

Many children develop elaborate coping mechanisms, for example “acting”. A child may create an elaborate character who is a competent student who is confident and calm and act that way at school so as not to draw attention to themselves. 

Often a child will make themselves “invisible” so that they aren’t called on to speak or demonstrate anything in class. 

Ultimately our mind is very accomplished at protecting us from anything that is threatening or scary. It keeps us safe. 

We could be crying inside with every muscle in our body so tight it feels like it might snap but we can often still paint on a smile and convince the world that we are fine. 

How can we spot those students who may be struggling with anxiety? 

Keep an eye out for students who are resistant to being seen. Those who really don’t want to read aloud, shy away from any tasks that involve being seen or scrutinised. 

Be aware of the perfectionists. Those children who always want to re-start work because something didn’t quite go as planned. Who are never happy with their finished work (if they ever finish).

Look out for the children who appear to be daydreaming a lot. They may be daydreaming (which can be an escape mechanism) but they may also be feeling lightheaded with the pressure of all the learning going on.

Spot the very physically tense children if you can. The ones who clench their jaw or who have very tight, high shoulders.

Notice patterns in behaviour: those who ask to go to the toilet more often than average, the ones who complain of a headache or stomach ache a lot. 

The children who are always tired, despite seemingly having sensible bedtime routines.

None of these are exclusively symptoms of anxiety, but they may be, and if those same children are then underperforming in tests or bursting into tears unexpectedly or over reacting to seemingly small situations, you may do well to check on them.

Most young people won’t tell you that they are feeling anxious or scared. They will communicate their need for help in other ways; they may act out, ask you to play with them, tell you their tummy/head hurts, they are tired. They may constantly ask for help understanding things. This can be a combination of struggling to focus due to the anxiety, tiredness and wanting to let you know that they are struggling.

I appreciate that this is a lot to look out for and a lot to take in. So I am going to break this blog into two parts, the next part will be giving you more advice and giving practical ways to help your students who may be struggling with anxiety.

Other blogs you may find interesting:

Anxiety in Teenagers 

Academic Anxiety

 

You can COUNT on Mindfulness

When we are asked to introduce new things into the classroom there is often an assumption that it is going to mean lots of preparation, lots of work and generally big stress! 

This really doesn’t have to be the case with wellbeing and in particular mindfulness. There are so many very simple techniques and minor adjustments you can make that will have a huge impact on your wellbeing and that of your students. 

One of the simplest techniques you can use is counting. This is particularly brilliant if you teach young children who are newly confident when counting because it reinforces their maths learning too. You can also differentiate the activity so that you count in 2s, 5s, 10s etc to make it more complicated for older children.  

How do we count for mindfulness?

It’s really very simple.

Simply explain to the children that you are going to start counting (it can be in 1s, 2s, 5s, 10s, forwards, backwards, etc whatever is relevant to your class) but tell them you are going to continue to count quietly in your heads after the first 3 numbers. They can close their eyes, use their fingers, whatever they need. You give them a target number to get to and once they reach that number ask them to silently raise their hand. Tell them you want to see if you can all get to the number at the same time. 

You can practise this many time with different target numbers, using times tables etc.

You can even use the alphabet, songs or nursery rhymes. The important thing is that they are focused solely on the one task in hand. They can’t be thinking about other things, messing with their friend or their shoe, because if they do they won’t be able to reach the target at the right time.  

I told you it was simple didn’t I?

 

If you want to discover many other simple wellbeing strategies why not check out my FREE Resources page.

Children in Need


I love Children! 

There’s no hiding it. I loved children when I was no more than a large child myself. At 14 years old while my friends were raving at the school disco I was looking after the teachers’ children in the foyer. (I know, I sound so sad, but I was a teenager in the time that good taste and good music forgot, I could not do acid house!). I also love Children in Need. When it comes to charities, I have always prioritised children’s charities. I have sponsored children and done all I can to help our most vulnerable and precious citizens.

A couple of years ago I thought it would be lovely to create a mindfulness lesson plan to help our children to live in the present. To help them to notice and appreciate the world around them. If we are not careful, on days like Children in Need where we intentionally shift the focus away from the upset and heartbreak of the people we are raising money to help, it is easy for the message to get lost in the fun. 

Mindfulness is proven to help improve concentration and behaviour, even test results, as well as reducing anxiety and stress. What a wonderful gift to our children on such a magical day. 

The lesson walks the children through an imaginary morning for Pudsey Bear on the day of the big BBC Charity fundraiser programme. As he goes through his morning the children explore very simple mindfulness techniques.

 

The lesson comes in the form of a simple to follow script. All you need is a little time, a little space and your fabulous voice to help your class to stay calm and focused.

If you would like to download this special mindfulness lesson plan to share with your class on Children in Need Day just click here. It is only £3.00 and 100% of the profits from the sales go to Children in Need. Because the purpose of this lesson plan is to raise money for charity this lesson plan is not available as part of any of my subscriptions. 

Autumn Wellbeing

The clocks are changing this weekend here in the UK.

For a few days at least the mornings will be slightly lighter but the evenings will draw in quicker too. Your Autumn wellbeing becomes a focus.

Autumn is a challenging time of year. The shorter, greyer, damp days, drain us of joy and leave us missing the sunshine of a few weeks ago. We tend to spend more time indoors and even our diet changes dramatically during the colder months. 

All of these factors can create a lethal cocktail of mental ill health if we’re not careful. This can spiral if we then fall into the self medicating trap of trying to cheer ourselves up with comfort food, sweet treats and alcohol.  

What can we do to maintain our Autumn Wellbeing?

In no particular order, why not try these easy wellbeing tips to help you beat the Autumn blues:

Drink hot drinks

We naturally drink more warm drinks in colder weather but scientists have now proven that drinking a warm drink has the same effect on the body as a hug. It calms your nervous system and reduces anxiety. Maybe the old British stereotype of putting the kettle on in an emergency isn’t as daft as we thought!

Get outside

I am as guilty as anyone of looking out at the drizzly, grey weather and talking myself out of going for a walk, but when I make myself I know I always feel better. My daughter and I have been going for a walk a couple of nights a week, only for about an hour, but we have both noticed how much better we feel, physically and mentally.

Get moving

If you don’t want to go outside at least get moving. Go to the gym or just dance round the kitchen. Anything to get your body moving, the blood pumping and release all those happy chemicals! 

Embrace the Hygge Life

There is a lot of talk about hygge at the moment. In short it is that cosy feeling you get when you are snuggled under warm blankets with a cuppa and the fire on. Embrace this beautiful feeling by lighting candles, snuggle under big soft blankets, grab a good book and a cuppa and spend a few indulgent minutes in this comforting state.

Eat well 

It is easy to slip into comfort eating at this time of year. That’s fine as long as you choose healthy comfort food. Choose casseroles, curries, stews and lots of green vegetables over take aways, fatty and sugary foods.We are what we eat and this is particularly true in the colder months because our body stores more energy.

Read more  

Screen time is known to affect our wellbeing. Switch your screens for a good book and watch how much better you feel. There is nothing better than snuggling under a blanket with a good book either is there.   

Have a long soak   

A warm bath is a great way to relax your muscles and calm yourself down too. Why not add some sea salt and lavender to really cleanse and calm your body and mind?  

Laugh  

Laughing is proven to improve your mental wellbeing so find a good comedy on Netflix and enjoy a really good giggle. 

Spend time with friends and loved ones

There is nothing quite like spending time with people who make you feel calm, happy and loved. So much the better if they also make you laugh or encourage your to dance!

What changes can you make to ensure this Autumn is sparkly and happy? 

Other relevant blogs: 

Life is better when you live in the moment

Mindful Planning

 

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