INTO advice on wellbeing and staying well

There was no memo at the start of 2020 to inform us of what was to come this year, but teachers, as always, stepped up to the mark and delivered. Much praise has been extended to our frontline workers and their trojan work during the current crisis. Teachers are among the heroes, without whom the education of our future generation could not have carried on. Teachers’ creativity and compassion for their pupils knows no boundaries – to quote An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar “the limit does not exist!”.

Schools play a vital role in the promotion of wellbeing through a broad spectrum of activities and approaches that support not alone the academic achievement of pupils but physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual development. Through this most turbulent time, teachers have continued to provide learning opportunities for the children in their care, whilst promoting and nurturing wellbeing. The last few months have seen a sudden change in methodologies, ways of working and ways of living and teachers have invested a considerable amount of time adjusting to new modes of teaching and communicating with pupils. Stress and anxiety come hand in hand with change and uncertainty. Teachers are renowned for their caring nature and volunteerism and looking after themselves may not always feature high on their agenda. However, it should! Our mental health is critical and through a healthy mind comes a healthy body.

Follow these Ten Commandments and keep the sunny side up.

  1. Stay Safe (and wash your hands!)

As the summer season approaches, teachers cover many safety topics with their pupils including lessons on water safety, farm safety, sun safety etc. but don’t forget that these apply to you too! Summer months with long bright evenings and warmer weather are ideal for outdoor gatherings and adventures. Do ensure that you heed safety measures whilst adhering to social distancing guidelines (and make sure that those burgers at the barbecue are cooked thoroughly!).

  1. “Eat what nourishes your body. Do what nourishes your soul.”

There are many known links between exercise and mental health, and an added benefit to exercise in green, open spaces. The nature of our environment can impact on our feelings of well-being and happiness, so peaceful, scenic surroundings will positively influence our mood. Stressful situations or a significant change in routine can cause disruption and when we tend to snack more, often turning to convenience foods and this in turn can result in feelings of lethargy. By eating plenty of fresh, wholesome food we will feel better in both body and mind. Utilise those improved culinary skills to prepare homemade dishes and home-baked goodies which be healthier and more nutritious than processed, packaged foods.

  1. Make sure to get your Vitamins!

As well as being essential for bone and muscle health, Vitamin D is important in the prevention of acute respiratory infections and research has suggested that it will be of benefit in the COVID-19 pandemic. Vitamin D is produced in the skin from 10-15 minutes of sun exposure per day – so that’s another good reason to get outside and about to catch some rays (but don’t forget the sunscreen!).

If you are lucky enough to be near water, you can stock up on some Vitamin ‘Sea’! The therapeutic properties of sea water are widely documented.

  1. Get creative, try a new skill

Creative juices have been flowing for those who have been working from home or on reduced schedules. Many people have unearthed new passions for cooking, needlework, painting, and writing. Across the country we have seen top-class penalty takers, brilliant banana-bread-bakers, and magnificent music-makers. (There will be fierce competition in the next series of Super-Garden as those with green fingers had a chance to spend time tending to their surroundings creating meticulously manicured lawns and gardens!). Continue to tap into your creativity for their your own benefit, and perhaps even develop a new talent!

  1. Slow down, lessen the pace

The nature of the online word is instant and intense. Resources and information can be accessed at the press of a button. No sooner are emails sent than messages come flooding back. The last three months have been a challenge for everyone with strict lockdown measures enforced. Now that much of our normal routine is returning (as evident from significant increase in traffic in the last couple of weeks) and the finish line is in sight, it is important not to get too caught up in the hustle and bustle, stresses and strains of our regular fast-paced society. Take the time to cool down. Just like our bodies need time to recover after exercise, so too do our minds. Do not set timeframes that are overly ambitious, don’t put pressure on yourself but savour the opportunity to slow down to a leisurely pace “what is this life if full of care we have no time to stand and stare(W.H. Davies).

  1. Enjoy the journey – not just the destination

Remember those initial days of lockdown when we were confined to within 2 kilometres of our home. We yearned to go for a drive, wished for a walk through the forest, longed for a breath of sea air or even to just go that extra mile! Now that restrictions have been lifted go do all those great ordinary things. Take in the beauty around you as you travel, whether it’s the cows in the lush green grass, the birds singing, the flora and fauna – appreciate mother nature!

  1. Keep it simple and no need to spend too much!

Whilst some of us may rue a missed opportunity for a trip abroad, use summer 2020 to explore the Emerald Isle.

Music enthusiasts will be disappointed that concerts have been cancelled and festival goers will have a vacuum in their summer schedule. Sports fans too will feel deprived, as their wait for tournaments such as Tokyo Olympics and Euro 2020 is extended and match days in Croker are a little while away yet!

Covid-19 lockdown has taught us all that often the best things in life come free. Without fine dining in lavish restaurants, hotel stays, expensive entrance fees to events. shopping sprees or trips to the cinema we found other sources of entertainment and ways of connecting with friends. Those for whom gym sessions were a staple of their daily routine realised the unparalleled joy that can be found in the great outdoors!

  1. “Write it down and treasure the memory forever”

Courtesy of An Post, another common practice in recent months has been reverting to the trusted pen and paper! Whilst technology has served us well, allowing work to continue and people to connect with family and friends, sometimes the simple art of letter writing, or personal diaries is lost. A good idea is to keep a journal of positive thoughts. Choosing uplifting quotes, songs or even taking note of a special moment can boost our mood. Articulating an inner thought (either verbally or in writing) reinforces it and makes it more effective. This will be a valuable resource to refer to and look back on when this time passes.

Another interesting idea is to get involved in the Covid-19 Oral history project co-ordinated by DCU. This initiative is led by Professor Theo Lynn and Caitríona Ní Cassaithe who is a former primary school teacher now working in the role of lecturer in history education at DCU Institute of Education. The project aims to create a repository of oral and written histories about COVID-19 that will be made available to researchers, historians and the public as an open source digital archive.

  1. “Distance means so little when someone means so much”

For many, the Covid-19 lockdown encouraged us to communicate with friends or extended family members who we had not been in contact with for some time. In times of need, the support of others is invaluable and reminiscing on happy memories and sharing stories helped to escape from the stresses and strains of a difficult situation. Over the coming months, try to keep in touch with those who may have reached out to you in our time of crisis.

  1. Stay informed

With public health advice changing in line with research and developments, keep your finger on the pulse and be aware of the guidelines, but stay away from unreliable articles. Only read information and advice from reputable sources. Social media most certainly has its merits, but often the dissemination of inaccurate information leads to untold damage and exacerbates the stress levels of those who are already fearful. Avoid unfounded reports and articles and do not share links with others that you cannot confirm to be true.

…agus ná déan dearmad do lámha a ní!

As the curtain falls on another academic year, teachers should ensure that self-care features in their fortnightly plan and the learning outcomes should be a knowledge, understanding and appreciation for life and its simple pleasures.

Early on in this pandemic, An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar promised us as a nation that if we made temporary sacrifices and abided by rules, we would return to somewhat normal living. As we continue to fight against the Coronavirus, we must remember to obey public health advice, maintain strict hand hygiene, keep the distance, and wear face coverings when necessary. Together we can weather the storm and in the words of Seamus Heaney, “if we can winter this out, we can summer anywhere”.