Having worked in and with the educational world for many decades now, I know just how tirelessly committed to their students teachers are – and how much stress they take on. After our Summer Intensives, more than a few would comment on how much they needed the self-care that we love to model in those trainings.
So one year, we decided to offer teacher wellness workshops to help them rejuvenate and support their personal self-care practices.
No one showed up.
It seemed that learning how to help others, to be of service, was okay, but taking care of oneself? That was a lower priority. But as we all know, you can’t help others when you, yourself, are depleted.
Of course, this phenomenon isn’t exclusive to teachers. Many parents find themselves in the same boat. The sacrifice is understandable. It’s considered the noble ideal to which parents and helpers should aspire. Too often, though, it comes at the expense of their own health and well-being.
When helpers can’t help, everyone loses.
Self-Care Isn’t Selfish
One of the most important lessons we’ve learned so far through this pandemic, notes Tara Parker-Pope in a recent column for the New York Times, is that self-care isn’t selfish.
During Covid-19, we’ve learned that we are all connected, and that taking care of ourselves — staying safe and staying well — is a way to care for our community. Taking precautions is a way to keep ourselves, our loved ones and our neighbors from getting sick and avoid overwhelming our health care system.
Similarly, keeping ourselves strong, healthy, and resilient through self-care enables us to be there for others who need us.
“One of the things that you come across all the time is the idea that ‘I can’t invest in things that are good for me, because it’s taking away from my ability to be a good parent or do what I need to do at work,’” said Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University. “Wouldn’t it be great if we learn to lean in to our interdependence, and that we can actually take some kind of joy in knowing that when I take care of myself, I often am also taking care of others?”
Self-Care & 5 Keys to Health
Many a blogger has commented on the common idea that self-care is all about bubble baths and chocolate cake. Such indulgences can be fun, for sure, but they’re not really self-care – in the same way that a Snickers bar isn’t a meal. They can tide you over. They can temporarily soothe. They can provide a brief escape from stress and tension. They can get you through a rough patch.
But real self-care sustains us – and it starts with supporting five keys to health: diet, sleep, exercise, social affiliation, and connection to nature.
Diet: We need real food for the nutrients and physiological building blocks our bodies need both to engage in daily activities and perform the daily repair work that goes on while we sleep.
Sleep: Getting enough quality sleep is vital to physical and mental health alike. As said, it’s an opportunity for our bodies to recover from the wear-and-tear of daily living. It’s a time when memories are consolidated in our brains – and when toxic waste products are flushed from them.
Exercise: Science continues to show that exercise supports healthy brains as well as healthy bodies. After all, our bodies were designed to move, and our brains developed to function at their best when we’re moving. Physical activity is what we were born for. If work keeps us sedentary, it’s vital that we embrace all the opportunities for movement that we can each day.
Social Affiliation: One reason why the lockdowns have been so challenging is that they’ve forced us to find new ways to nourish our connections with each other. Group activities are a way of acknowledging and reinforcing the bonds among us. Humans are social beings, after all. Community allows us to thrive.
Connection to Nature: Research bears out what various cultures have long taught about the restorative power of nature – the Japanese tradition of “forest bathing” (shinrin-yoku), for example, or the Scandanavian practice of “free air life” (friluftsliv). Nature is our original home. We belong to it. Lacking regular time in nature is akin to foregoing community. These things fuel and enrich us as much as the food we eat.
A Foundation for the Pillars
All the practices we teach through Yoga Calm – the physical yoga and social/emotional processes, mindfulness, and TRE tools – can support these five pillars of health. They provide opportunities for exercise and sustaining community, for instance; for becoming aware of our feelings and needs – physical, cognitive, and emotional – so we can choose effective ways of meeting them; for releasing the tension of current stress and past trauma alike, so we can be more present in our present.
They can serve as the very foundation of the self-care we should all practice for our own sake, as well as the sake of our children, our students, our colleagues, our neighbors, friends, and family.
All it takes to start is extending the care we feel towards them toward ourselves.