Last year a dear friend of mine suffered a major brain injury: memory loss and brain damage. Self-inflicted. Tragic. Devastating to those of us who know her to be a happy and bubbly human. There really are no words to describe the effect that this had on me.
Almost a year after this devastating event I was walking through the Toronto Christmas Market with my friend who was then still recovering from her brain injury and still putting the pieces of her memories back together. We stopped for dinner and I began telling her my own struggles. I told her that I had taken a partial leave from work due to my mental stress and exhaustion. I told her how work stress was ruining my emotional well-being and affecting my home life and relationships with loved ones. She stopped, put her fork down and looked me square in the eyes. She said, “Work is the reason that this happened to me you know? I was under too much pressure, I took on too much, I said yes to everything. It was partly my fault for taking on so much, but also partly my work’s fault for letting me.” And then she floated in and out of memories as she sometimes does, exercising her synaptic networks but still wondering and questioning whether or not she is connecting the dots.
Tears welled up in my eyes at her honesty and insight.
Is this what it's come to? That our work rules our lives over passion, dream seeking, and joy? To the point of literally running ourselves to near death?!?!?!
I had a feeling that this would be my mission somehow before she spoke those words. But when those words formed on her lips – the precious lips of my friend whom I almost LOST FOREVER because of work stress – I just knew that this would become my driving force – selfishly for my own benefit, but also for the good of others feeling the same way.
Work- Life Balance.
That’s it. That’s my mission. How do I find it and how do I inspire others to find it also?
Last week my colleague and dear friend and I presented at the school board office. Our main focus was how to safely be authentic as teachers (and as students). We recognized the difficulty of bringing our whole selves to the table in our profession – in any profession, without somehow being met with judgement, guilt or fear...all of which then led to stress.
“She works so late – doesn’t she ever see her kids?” (judgement)
“She leaves right after the bell goes to get her kids – and she wants a job next year?”(judgement)
“I used to coach sports after school until I had kids” (guilt ensues)
“I hate coaching sports after school because I miss seeing my own kids” (more guilt ensues)
“My family complains that I never spend time with them because I’m always marking or prepping at home” (guilt)
“I’m an LTO I need to do everything perfectly” (shame, pressure, stress, guilt)
“I’m exhausted, I need a break.” (guilt)
"Ya but you get the whole summer off" (weird guilt and trying to justify)
I hear you.
What we found to ring most true throughout the research of our project (which led us to our presentation at the school board) was that authentic communication is a must.
We must learn to speak our truths and hear the truths of others while at work. This takes practice and grace. We must also therefore learn to deeply listen to each other, accept, not judge and still continue to collaborate. We must not forget the human aspect of each other and our students and alleviate our expectations of achievement. Yes it has its place, but so does seeing each other as humans with flaws and room to grow. This - many teachers said - is key to alleviating work stress.
"I wish I could help you out but I am swamped and cannot safely and effectively take anything else on right now." (firm boundaries met with acceptance and non judgement)
Yes, teachers thought about their workloads and benchmarks for reading, but most teachers that I have spoken to have been more concerned about the stress that has come through the lack of clear communication, lack of training and perceived lack of support. All of those factors contributed to work stress.
It is my wholehearted belief that Teachers (like Parents) must be allowed and trained to take care of themselves fully. I believe that we as teachers must learn to put the proverbial “oxygen mask” on before we can adequately assist and teach others. I firmly believe that we have a duty to ourselves, our families and our students to de-stress and live in a state of wellness. But we need support to do so.
I feel as though I am only just scratching the surface here, which is why I have designed a workshop that deals with these subject s and also gives you techniques to de-stress and to work through becoming grounded in your practice therefore lessening the effects of real or perceived judgement (PS often we judge ourselves and put pressure on ourselves more than anyone else does).
After all, we got into this profession to teach little humans, to see their light shine and reflect our own beautiful light in return. We can't do this if stress is clouding our vision!
So if you need a little boost to help with stress and get your through the next few months join us at Tone Yoga on May 1, 2016 from 3 – 5:30pm for Emotional Fitness for Teachers & Educators. Learn to relax, use breathing and yoga postures to deeply restore your body while lowering cortisol levels to combat stress.
Lastly, I can’t post something of this nature without mentioning that if at any point you are having any kind of thoughts of self-harm, or are feeling like you are drowning in an overwhelming amount of stress – PLEASE I beg you to reach out, call a friend, make a doctor’s appointment, write an email, ANYTHING, but don’t do it alone. We need each other when things are tough.