Boost your wellbeing: Five simple steps for school staff

Written by: Dr Pooky Knightsmith | Published:
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These are great tips - some of which I practice but not always. For me the biggest challenge is ...

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The pandemic continues to take a heavy toll on the wellbeing and resilience of school staff. Dr Pooky Knightsmith explains five simple steps to boost your wellbeing when things feel hard


In a recent tweet, I asked: “Is anyone else feeling generally (even more) overwhelmed at the moment?” It garnered hundreds of likes and responses and I realised that I am far from alone at having hit a bit of a low at the moment.

While it is unsurprising during these darker months, mid-pandemic, that we might not all be feeling tip-top, that does not mean that there is nothing we can do about it.

So I turned my mind to a few simple things that we could all try to give ourselves a bit of a boost. I hope these help you or a colleague a little – I will certainly be leaning into them in the coming days and weeks.


Block your time

I have recently discovered time-blocking, which is a simple strategy geared towards productivity. In its purest sense, we block periods of time out in our diary and we focus on getting those things done in the allotted time. Where it really makes a difference though, is when we also block time for family and leisure.

Making a commitment to pay our undivided attention to our personal life, to give it our all with no thoughts of work or the world even just for a few minutes can make a real difference to how connected we feel to the people and pursuits that matter most to us. Diarising downtime might feel a little contrived, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.


Revisit your sleep routine

Sleep is the most important thing. When we are well rested we are more able to cope and thrive and things feel just a little bit better. We cannot magic extra hours in the day, but we can help ourselves get better sleep by revisiting our sleep routine.

Making a commitment to sleeping and waking at regular times and thinking about what activities we do or do not engage with as we are readying for bed can make a big difference to how quickly we fall asleep.

A cool, dark room which is a place of solace and rest (work and play elsewhere if you can) is also conducive to sleep, as are clean, comfortable bedding and pyjamas.


Do things just for fun

Things feel very serious right now and the pressure on us to keep calm and carry on can wear us down, so try to take a break from the day-to-day by doing something purely because you enjoy it. Now is the time to rekindle an old hobby you have not practised for years. Maybe you used to enjoy painting or singing or knitting or gaming or playing piano.

No matter your level or skill or commitment and no matter what the activity is, giving yourself time to indulge in something that you’re doing purely because it puts a smile on your face is time well spent; it is a little respite from life the universe and everything and might give you a much-needed boost.


Practise gratitude

Each evening, I try to share #3GoodThings on Twitter – this is a simple practice inspired by the godfather of positive psychology Martin Seligman, who found that people who reflected on three positives each day experienced a sustained lift in mood. I’ve done it for years and many people join me each day.

They are often very simple things and sometimes I specifically look for the positives in adversity – a traffic jam might mean I got to enjoy my audiobook for longer for example. Sometimes I’m grateful for people or experiences or sights or smells – it can be anything.

But stopping and taking a moment to be grateful is a practice I find to be hugely helpful. It is most helpful on the darkest days, when it is hard to think of anything. Those tiny chinks of light in the darkness shine the brightest.


Stop and breathe

Taking a moment to stop and reset a few times a day can really help us to get through the most difficult days. I think of myself as being like a computer character with an energy bar that gets depleted by different activities – but which can also be repleted with simple actions which, if taken often, can prevent me from running on empty.

Taking 60 seconds to watch the clouds pass by, to practise a little mindfulness or simply to breathe can make a big difference. Building a routine of these mindful moments can be the difference between managing and not.

And if you don’t have time to stop, consider how you can do the things you are doing anyway in a slightly different way that gives you a moment to yourself. Can you walk between classrooms with your focus on the feel of your feet on the ground and the breath in your lungs rather than on the thoughts rushing through your head? Or can you take 60 seconds to write or doodle aimlessly and imagine the feelings flowing out through your pen before you settle down to your marking?

A minute or two dedicated to self-care can make the next hour or two feel that bit more manageable.


Conclusion

I hope these ideas help a little. Please look out for one another if a listening ear would help. Remember that the wonderful people at Education Support, a charity dedicated to improving the wellbeing of the education workforce, are always happy to listen (see below).


  • Dr Pooky Knightsmith is a passionate ambassador for mental health, wellbeing and PSHE. Her work is backed up both by a PhD in child and adolescent mental health and her own lived experience of PTSD, anorexia, self-harm, anxiety and depression. You can contact Pooky via www.pookyknightsmith.com and for her previous articles in Headteacher Update visit https://bit.ly/33ma5xY

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Comments
These are great tips - some of which I practice but not always.
For me the biggest challenge is when I make a commitment to myself by time blocking to then stick to it when other priorities arise - especially as I am a business owner. These personal commitments need to be maintained as loyally as any with other people.
Funnily enough, after feeling super stressed recently my wife suggested I take a day a month off (I haven't had any time off this year at all as a result of cancelled holidays and endless working from home) to do something just for fun. The last Friday of every month starting in January 2021 will be my fun day! And yes I will also take time off over Christmas to recharge too.

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