Have you measured your tank lately? This week I did and noticed it was low!
But I have grown so much.
Instead of having a debilitating meltdown, I took a day off to prevent one. I recently noticed a sub on campus (finally!). When I felt the onslaught of obligations leading up to an energy crunch, I called in for support. Luckily, I got it. It’s true that preparing for a sub takes a lot of work, but it was worth the effort. I gave myself a little more breathing room, took care of some important things I had put on the back burner, and made sure being mentally drained did not lead to physical illness. Because I have definitely done that before.
Around the country, teachers report feeling stretched to the max, and schools are suffering as a result. I kind of remember feeling this way this time of year pre-pandemic, but the additional pressures of ongoing COVID-19 protocols and staffing shortages are now leading towards crisis. It is not clear how districts, unions, and school boards should and will respond. We will continue to see waves of retirements and exits from the profession this spring. As my aunt used to say: stick a fork in that turkey. It’s done.
Meanwhile, whatever is happening on the global, political, or economic landscape, we MUST take care of ourselves. No one is coming to save us. I am so grateful that REST has become part of the cultural conversation (are you following @napministry yet?!). It finally feels like an option. Maybe the pandemic and quarantine gave us experience and permission to take things down a notch, but addressing stress at its first signs has the potential to save lives. Three years ago, I was diagnosed with Grave’s Disease, an autoimmune condition that causes an overactive thyroid. The resulting symptoms and treatments can be pretty scary, but mine is now under control through mild medication and a bunch of lifestyle changes. I am certain this disease was a result of stress, AND that my improved health is primarily a result of taking steps to ease stress.
This year I have discovered simple ways to unwind with meditation, crystals, candles, essential oils, light filled windows, soft sounds, and time to write. Other people might crave an adrenaline rush, the outdoors, or cooking up a new recipe. Whatever it is that brings you peace and maybe a little more joy, PLEASE INDULGE. I am starting to see signs of a backlash against “self care” as selfish and part of a capitalist agenda, but I refuse to feel guilty or apologize for putting my mask on first. When we as individuals are hurting, we are more likely to harm our community with harsh words, thoughtless actions, and dangerous policies. When we understand ease, we support the ease of others. We are more able to pause, then respond instead of react. We are more likely to offer grace. Being at peace opens us to more compassionate interactions and gives us the ability to help. Community care starts with self care. We can’t pour from an empty cup.
Here are a few of my favorite soothing sources:
This is my favorite meditation app and a terrific podcast. The courses and meditations are well curated and produced. The teachers are diverse – I found most of my teachers of color through either the app or the podcast. Dan Harris is definitely on a journey to understand his privilege, but he is more transparent about that these days, and in my opinion, his expertise as a journalist leads to excellent interviews. Also I am featured on the second episode of Twenty Percent Happier, which is currently available as in-app podcast. If it becomes available more widely, I’ll let you know. It was a great conversation with teacher Matthew Hepburn, whom I hope to work with again.
Another podcast I love is Being Well. Forrest and Rick Hanson are an adorable father-son duo, and they offer such clear sound advice on psychology, meditation, Buddhist thought, and other related topics. I always learn something, and usually end an episode feeling more positive about tackling difficulties at work, at home, or in my head.
My friend, artist, educator, and writer, Thu Nguyen recommended Wintering by Katherine May to our book club last year. It is a heartfelt and honest exploration of the effects of winter, and the ways in which we culturally prepare for it, or don’t. I recall how on an autumn day, when we worked in classrooms right next to each other, I stopped in to complain to Thu about feeling tired. She sagely told me to look around. The light was changing, the leaves were falling, the plants in the school garden were dying back. The whole world was getting ready to rest, and here were the stupid humans not getting the memo. This book deepened my understanding of the wisdom in listening to the rhythms of nature and following its cues. I’m re-reading sections now as a reminder.
I love collecting crystals. They are beautiful, and holding something tangible helps me set and keep intentions. This Black owned online shop also has a physical store in Florida. Check out the chakra sets and prescriptions if you are new to rocks. It’s nice to have a variety on hand for whatever emotions or situations come up. My go-tos are rose quartz when I need to give myself a hug, black tourmaline when I want to offset any negative vibes, and carnelian for a burst of creative energy.
I like a lot of music, but finding sounds that are both soothing and motivating is hard. The Beatstrumentals Playlist from Apple Music strikes that balance and provides a smooth bop whether I need to grade a stack of student work, clean out my closet, or hit my NaNoWriMo daily word count. Doing work CAN feel good, and play CAN be productive. Balancing better is my new jam.