August is National Wellness Month. This takes on a new significance with the presence of COVID-19, determining what this school year will look like and many of the other firsts we are facing. We, especially teachers, often operate at breakneck speed and do for others, at the detriment of our own wellness, but this fall, let’s take care of ourselves first and focus on self-care to enable us to be present for those we love, strengthen our immune system, and give ourselves a greater capacity for others!
Here are 10 things that will lead you toward flourishing:
1. Be present. The majority of our daily thoughts are in the past or future. Bringing yourself back to the present moment enables you to enjoy the here and now, especially with your family. This is the best way to live life with the fewest regrets!
2. Focus your mind. Think about what you’re thinking about. We all have between 50-70,000 thoughts per day, the majority of which are negative and repetitive. This awareness alone can help you focus on the positive which can positively impact your mood and your influence on those around you.
3. Practice mindfulness. Being still, for even a few moments a day, helps bring ourselves back to baseline in an overstimulated world. This enables us to shift the part of our brain that is responding from the mammalian to the prefrontal cortex where logic and reasoning reside. I don’t know about you, but that is where I want to be making decisions from on a daily basis!
4. Breathe. Breathing is something we don’t often think about but when we are stressed it becomes shallow which can cause further anxiety. When we take a few moments each day to breathe deeply it can help us relax. I remind myself by putting one hand on my heart and the other on my stomach to feel the breath go in and out (rather than from the shoulders which can actually increase anxiety) and breathe slowly for a minute. I feel good and it helps me focus.
5. Move. I often find so many things on my plate that it’s hard to get away from my kitchen table (now my office desk) to exercise. Sometimes I deliberate whether I should take a walk or check another item off my list of things to do. Research, however, shows that frequent breaks help us remember things, re-focus,and actually help us to be even more productive!
6. Practice courage. Courage is the most important of all character values because we need so much of it every day. Most people think of courage as in extraordinary acts, but there are mostly everyday things that need courage, like being kind when someone isn’t kind to you; speaking up; and facing our fears instead of resisting and avoiding them. Doing a brave pose is my favorite way to cultivate my courage. Before I do something challenging I stand with my legs apart, arms wide and chin up, like superwoman, to get my endorphins flowing and to feel brave!
6. Practice positive affirmations. We all have a critical inner voice. It’s there to keep us safe but we’ve let it bully us. We can turn this voice into our biggest cheerleader and best friend with positive statements, such as: “I am strong.” “I am courageous.” “I can do whatever I set my mind to do!” These statements actually help rewire our brain to think more positively which in turn has a host of benefits — physically, mentally and emotionally.
7. Be grateful. We can only focus on one thought at a time even though we have tens of thousands of thoughts that go through our head on a daily basis. That means we can only focus on a positive or negative thought at once. We can use gratitude to shift our minds from negative thinking and there is always something to be grateful for!
8. Forgive. There are many misperceptions of forgiveness. Forgiveness is actually a gift that you give yourself. It can cut the cord that attaches you to pain and free your mind from angry and resentful thoughts. One of the researched benefits of forgiveness is healthier relationships. Healthier relationships have been identified as the key to happiness per a study by Harvard University!
9. Practice compassion in action! We need each other. In fact, Darwin’s research found those that were ‘the most sympathetic to the others were the ones that survived.’ Compassion is identifying the needs of others and then acting to help. We know that all the ‘nurturing healing love’ we give to others comes back to us, in spades!
10. Choose Love! Love happens to be a choice. We can’t always choose what happens to us in life, but we can always choose how we respond. When we choose love in our response we make the world a better place.
Perhaps the most important thing we need to do is ‘have a lot of fun!’ When we make time for fun we are less stressed, cope better, have better sleep and improved relationships! Play helps stimulate our brains and boosts creativity. When we’re having fun we learn and practice social skills, our energy is increased, and it regenerates our minds and bodies. Most importantly, having fun gives a fresh perspective on our lives and what is truly important.