Despite the trappings of modern life, it turns out our brains are still largely animal-like in the way they respond to stimuli. Consider when you recount an unsettling event and suddenly feel anxious all over again. As stress hormones are released into your bloodstream, your nervous system interprets the memory as a current experience. The result? Off you go to stress city.
Mindfulness, on the other hand, means purposefully paying attention to the present moment—without judgement. It’s the opposite of being on autopilot, where we react to each stressor and are carried away by emotions. For many of us, mindfulness is a skill on our “to learn one day” lists—but really, we should promote it to Number One. The thing is, mindfulness has a list of benefits: from reduced stress, anxiety, depression, and blood pressure, to increased self-awareness, emotional intelligence, memory, and happiness. Here are seven of the best tips we’ve picked up for more mindfulness in your teaching life.
Whether through a guided meditation or your own practice, the benefits of meditation are praised by professionals of all disciplines—and with good reason. Meditation helps control anxiety, lengthen attention span, boost happiness, promote sleep, and generally change our brain for the better! If you’re unsure, remember that just 5 to 10 minutes daily can have tangible benefits. And if you need moral support, encourage a few colleagues to join you with a regular guided morning tea or lunchtime meditation (there are countless apps and websites available). Doing this will provide an additional motivation to meditate and also cultivate healthy mindfulness and reduced stress across the staff.
2. Notice and name
Mindfulness at its core is being present and aware in each moment, without worrying about the future or ruminating about the past. At school, practice taking time to really notice each task you are engaged in. This means, if you’re photocopying handouts, you’re photocopying handouts. If you’re correcting work, you’re correcting work. While learning to practice mindfulness some people find it useful to name what they’re doing to bring back their mind if it starts to wander (“I’m cutting my toast,” “I’m walking down the hall”).
3. Identify your senses
If you find yourself becoming anxious about an unmotivated student or uncomfortable conversation, try this technique: Name five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can touch, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. Get in touch with your senses anytime by noticing how an object you are holding feels, the temperature of your coffee, or the background sounds around the school.
This is a quick, silent way to reset during a tense moment at school. When you feel triggered by stress take a moment to:
- Stop – Pause whatever it is you are doing.
- Takeabreath – Better yet, make it two or three. Notice the air moving in and out of your lungs.
- Observe – Name and take a mental note of how you are feeling.
- Proceed – Begin again from where you left off.
Guys, multi-tasking has had its day in the sun. Increasingly, researchers are uncovering insights suggesting that working consciously on a single task, before moving onto another, is actually far more efficient. Put this into practice by setting aside blocks of time to group and tackle one sort of activity (think marking work, researching for lessons, or cutting and preparing materials) without the urge to plan ahead, email, or field questions at the same time.
6. Say “I feel”
As an language teacher, you know that words matter. By saying “I’m stressed, I’m worried, I’m angry, I’m hungry” our brains can be tricked into thinking that those are unchangable personal qualities. Change this by saying “I feel _____” to cultivate a separation between yourself and any unpleasant emotions you are are experiencing. This will help you remember that they are not permanent.
7. Be grateful
As humans, we have a tendency to remember the negative. You know how it is: something irksome happens and suddenly everything snowballs: the commute is terrible, and we tell ourselves we’re angry parents, awful cooks, worse teachers, and abominable human beings. We can neutralize this by regularly naming (even writing if you prefer) the things in our lives that we are grateful for. Start small if you’re having a particularly tough day (“I’m grateful for having a place to live, that this morning’s cup of tea was perfect, that the sky is clear today,”), then build up to others as your mindset changes (“I’m grateful for what my colleagues are teaching me, for this excellent new coursebook, that Catherine is really understanding that difficult grammar point, and that I’m proud of my teaching this week”).
Mindfulness is not something we learn in a day. But over time, with regular input and conscious practice, you’ll definitely notice a positive change in your mood and in your ability to deal with setbacks at work and in the classroom.