I’ve spent the last several weeks conducting professional development sessions with educators (and even front-line workers at a local health department) on self-care and social, emotional and mental health. Some sessions have been in person and others virtual. Regardless, the level of stress and exhaustion people are feeling now is palatable. (I’ve felt it myself as my travel schedule has been unrelenting recently-I definitely lost my “travel sea legs” during the last year and a half). Things can feel overwhelming and suffocating for those working in this field. “There is never enough time” is a consistent message I hear (and again, feel myself at various times). Time to focus on self is easily deferred for later. There are numerous other tasks that can seem to take priority over any wellness activity (including just saying “no”). It can be hard to stop the fast pace, concentrate on yourself and what you need, vs what everyone else needs. It is hard but not impossible.
I’m convinced that opportunities to SLOW down and attend to yourself exist. It may not be an extended vacation to the Bahamas or whatever your idea of a “break” looks like (some of you may be saying, “gosh just a day not crammed with back-to-back meetings would be delightful” I hear ya!). But during my own person whirlwind of travel, I have been intentional about watching for and capitalizing on any opportunity that presents itself to me to just go SLOW. Sometimes it may just be a couple of minutes before a presentation to sit quietly, connect with myself and breathe. Or maybe a meeting ends early and I can get outside for a quick break and some fresh air. I have to be mindful to look for those chances to take a brief self-care moment. I’ve also learned recently that how I decide to interpret or perceive the moment can make a difference in my self-care. What story am I telling myself about the current situation?
To elaborate on that, take this example. On one of my recent trips, a colleague and I had a 3.5-hour drive to a conference. I was scheduled to give a presentation immediately upon our arrival. We planned our departure based on those factors. However, she had a meeting run late so therefore was late to meet me, at our departure location. As I sat quietly waiting for her, determined I was not going to freak out. It was all going to be just fine. We finally got underway and had JUST enough time to make it there with very little wiggle room. Yet, within our first few minutes on the road, we were caught in traffic. There was an accident. We were stopped, not moving for about 15 minutes. Historically, I would be a nervous wreck. However, this time, (and probably for one of the first times in my LIFE), I was at peace. I was grateful we were healthy and safe. I sent up prayers for those in the accident and re-determined I was going to stay at peace regardless. There was nothing I could do about it. So, I surrendered, told myself the story that all would be well. That is a much better place to be than one of panic. I reserved my energy for my session. And as is usually the case, the universe worked it out and I walked in with time to spare (20 mins!). How validating!
This year I celebrated a milestone birthday. Therefore, several of my childhood friends are also celebrating with a planned weekend event. Unfortunately, I live two plane rides away from the festivities. The travel schedule plus my work commitments would only permit me to attend the weekend for about 36 hours. I wrestled for weeks, trying to decide what to do. Push through and attend? Stay home and rest? Miss out on a time of love, laughter and memories or take a much-needed reprieve and regroup? It weighed heavy. But again, I had to choose the story I was going to tell myself. Instead of all I may miss out on, I am prioritizing my wellness. And as many of us have done over the last 18 months, I will zoom or FaceTime in for some of the frivolity without adding wear and tear to myself. Like I said, self-care can be hard but not impossible.
What difficult situations are you facing? As I’ve spent time with hundreds of professionals over the last several weeks, the stories and experiences recounted to me feel heavy and difficult. There is so much hurt, concern and discomfort occurring in the lives of students and those who work with them or on their behalf. Times are hard, but they are not impossible. Self-care is possible. Look for ways to take care of you. They are there if you look for them!