Life is changing rapidly and unpredictably, which can be unsettling for us all. Yet while there are many unknowns and risks to manage, there are also encouraging examples of individuals, communities and institutions pulling together. Below are some thoughts about how to prioritise your mental wellbeing and support your students during this time. From keeping up with the routine to managing anxiety, we can pull through these challenging times together with the right tools.
Self-care is really important, as this situation may persist for several months. While many are taking on additional work or stepping in for colleagues who are ill or self-isolating, we do need to look after ourselves to avoid burn out. Sleep and nutrition affect both physical and mental health. Exercise is likewise essential, so try to keep as active as possible. Run, cycle and walk if you are able to go out, or do on-line exercise videos if not. You cannot look after others if you’re exhausted yourself.
Routines are soothing, so try to keep regular hours. Allocate work or teaching / learning and relaxation to separate days. Have a schedule and stick to it as much as possible.
Social distancing and self-isolation need not equate to no social contact. Loneliness is a key factor in poor mental health. Connecting with others is essential, particularly for young people, so find ways to stay in touch that do not involve face to face contact. Be aware of those in your school who might be more isolated and reach out. Helping others often also benefits the helper’s well-being, and many of us will need additional help over the coming weeks.
Rest & relaxation
Rest, relaxation and fun are important to recharge; ensure that your schedule involves things you enjoy. These things are often the first to drop out in stressful times. Perhaps there are books that you always wanted to read, household improvements that you always wanted to make or films you wanted to see? Could you take up a new hobby or learn a new skill?
Dealing with anxiety
Be gentle on yourself and others. Some degree of anxiety is to be expected with so much uncertainty. Focusing on what you can do to keep yourself, colleagues and family as safe as possible will help reduce anxiety as our physiology simply cannot keep the adrenaline pumping indefinitely.
Anxiety will pass, and consciously slowing your breathing down while thinking of 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things that you can hear, 2 things that you can smell and 1 that you can taste is a useful technique to speed it on its way. If others are anxious, listen to their concerns, check for misconceptions and encourage them to focus as described above.
Explain this to your students and encourage them to do the same.
For more from Tamsin on students’ mental health and wellbeing, check out episode 11 of our Brighter Thinking Podcast.
Tamsin Ford is a Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge. As well as being an internationally renowned Child Psychiatric Epidemiologist, Tamsin researches the effectiveness of services and interventions for children and young people’s mental health.