Nourish and Forge Wellness

taking wellness beyond the physical

Category: teacher wellness

Numbing Works

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I first learned how to numb when my mom became ill and was hospitalized when I was 13.

She went to the hospital and we went into survival mode—part of which involved numbing things to the “not-going-to-consume-me-with-raging-fire-of-the-miserable-unfairness-of-it-all” level.

So, while my mom was in the hospital, my dad, two siblings, and I watched TV. Like a lot of it. Anything to forget and distract and feel better. At least for an hour or two. We ate comfort food. All the comfort food. Ice cream, pizza, tacos, candy. When I wasn’t comfort eating or watching TV with my two siblings and dad, I was escaping into every book I could put my hands on. And let me tell you. Numbing worked.

Fast forward 23 years. A lot of shit has gone down—as it does. I have weathered soul-sucking jobs, heart-crushing breakups, leaving my entire life behind and rebuilding it overseas, my mom’s continued health issues, my dad’s more recent terminal cancer, the list goes on.

It’s both devastating and completely normal. We all weather horrible ordeals that eff up our lives; we all experience wonderful moments that make life worth living. The degree of these experiences varies from person to person, but the existence of them in each life does not.

I haven’t always navigated the hard times in healthy ways. It could be said I’ve become a master of numbing life’s pain. (I probably should make myself a certificate. Haha.) Throughout my teens, twenties, and now my thirties, numbing has been a constant companion in many hard ordeals. TV and food are still old anesthetizing friends, but I’ve added to my speed dial—alcohol, Internet, social media, and when I’m being a bit healthier, 1000 piece puzzles and podcasts (this offers literally hours of zoning out and forgeting about any crappy crap I’m trying to get through). They have always been there to distract me and take away the discomfort—at least for a little while. Numbing works.

Until…it doesn’t. Because at some point all that discomfort and yuck you’ve been avoiding is going to explode all over everywhere. It will demand your attention. It will leave voicemails and comment on your fb wall and show up at work. Because numbing works, but only in small doses and in the short term. 

When numbing is your one and only strategy to getting through discomfort and difficulty and devastation, you end up half-living. Numbing the bad feelings also numbs the good ones. It limits your ability to grow, learn, and connect with others. It leaves you feeling empty and alone.

I know this; I’ve lived it.

I’ve also come to learn that strictly cutting out my anesthetizing helpers isn’t realistic for me; there are times I need to check out for a little while. But I now know I must couple a great deal of awareness and mindfulness with any sort of numbing behaviors I take into my life. I have to do this during times of difficulty to be sure I’m not getting sucked into the “I’m-checking-out-for-a week/month/year-cuz-this-feels-awful” black hole. So, I force myself to notice when my moods and energy and healthy behaviors are decreasing and reevaluate my choices.

This has come into play during my repatriation to the US. I have had a great deal of time and a great deal of stress on my hands. Recently, I’ve noticed that my TV watching has increased as has my alcohol and shitty fake-food consumption. Not anything drastic, but enough for me to feel thoroughly like C-R-A-P. I know from experience that it’s a slippery slope, so in recent years, I’ve done my best to recognize and face those realities early on.

Here’s what I did: I decided to eliminate one thing. I stopped watching television; I know from experience that it is one of the most needy behaviors—always wanting to be paired up with a boozy bev or a crappy snack. After I stopped, I immediately found a decrease in my other unhealthy cravings. It’s also given me inertia to do other positive things for myself. I’ve spent more time outside, even when I don’t feel like it. I’ve found a gym that I love and go regularly. I’ve meditated. It all started with that one change.

 

Let me break down what I’ve learned during my serious work in this area for the last seven years or so—first, decide that you want to be more present and be willing to sit in the discomfort, face it, and decide what to do with it. Then—know your triggers, bring awareness and honesty to your behaviors, pick ONE thing you want to eliminate, substitute or shift. Do it and then notice what happens. Reevaluate and revise as needed.

It takes bravery and vulnerability and perseverance to sit in discomfort instead of distract, to face hardships instead of avoid, to have moments all over life’s spectrum, fully feeling both joy and sorrow, instead of staying only in the middle and chopping off the ends with numbing agents. It’s hard work, but worthy work. Let numbing be a tool used sparingly and notice what happens.

Does this resonate with you? Do you have times you’d like to navigate stress or pain better? Are you not fully feeling the joy and the sorrow in your life?  If you said yes to any of these, give this idea a shot and let me know how it goes!

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What I Learned at the Gym about Feedback

I haven’t worked out in 6 weeks.

I’ve been traveling in northern Thailand, repatriating from South Korea to Colorado, working on home improvement projects for my parents, and spending tons of time with family, friends, and my beautiful Colorado mountains.

So, when I walked in to my first CrossFit class four days ago, I was ready to get a good sweat on. The coach and people and facility were all nice. I received feedback and cues from the coach (in detailed English) which was something I had been missing desperately in South Korea. It was a good experience; however, I left feeling a little blue.

Here’s what I was able to pull out from the experience—the coach never told me anything I was doing well; he simply pointed out what I could improve.

Constructive feedback was actually what I’d been craving, but I realized that without the companion of positive feedback, I was a little less open to hearing what he had to say and a little less pumped when I left the gym.

What is interesting to me is that I am a seasoned CrossFitter—I know my knowledge and skill sets are solid. Even with this self-confidence, I still wanted needed a balance of positive and constructive feedback from my new coach.

I can’t imagine how defeated I would’ve felt if it was my first class. 

Let me be clear, this coach was a nice guy and had great suggestions. He was a good coach. However, as coaches and teachers, we tend to fall into a place where we focus only on what needs to be fixed.

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Herein lay that big ol’ slap-in-the-face reminder for me—speak positivity into people’s lives. All the time, ideally, but especially when you’re trying to help someone improve.

This is relevant in communication with loved ones. This is essential when in a teaching or coaching position. This is the core ingredient for people feeling connected and safe with you when they are in a place of discomfort or when they are stretching their limits.

Here are some practical ideas of how to get a great balance of positive and constructive feedback when interacting with others.

  • Prelude each constructive criticism with a specific validation of something done well. (If you forget, you can always add a positive at the end.)
  • Try using the word “and” instead of “but” to connect your affirmation and your constructive feedback. Example: “You have done such a great job practicing your sight words this week, but and if you want to get to the next level, we can work on your spelling words now.”
  • Visualize the person in front of you achieving their goals; verbalize that bright future to them whenever appropriate.
  • Don’t blow smoke up anyone’s behind. The positive affirmation can absolutely be something small and specific, but above all, must be true.
  • Finish each coaching/teaching session with a positive wrap-up statement that validates time, effort, and achievement in an authentic way.

In a world full of “not ____ enough”, we teachers/coaches/humans have the potential to spread light and possibility. As easy as it is to forget amidst the demands and details of “adulting”, it is essential that we shine light and kindness and affirmation into our fellow human’s lives.

Let this be your focus for a day, and notice the difference.

 

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Lessons from My Expat Life: Say No

It’s ok to be a party-pooper.

For reals. After several months of saying yes to, legit, everything in my first expat experience in Seoul, I had to learn the next big lesson: saying no. (A lesson I continue to work on refining in my life four years later.)

Upon arriving in a new country and home, it’s of the utmost importance to start making connections, exploring, trying new foods, places, and experiences. And the way you do that is by saying yes. Yes, yes, YES! It’s a totally normal and super-fun part of the process. The downside is that at some point, saying yes to every opportunity (going out, traveling, socializing, joining a committee/book club/sports team, etc.), becomes utterly exhausting.

Our social (not to mention financial) gas tanks are finite; eventually, they require more discernment. 

The surprising part for me was how difficult it was to start saying no.

The biggest reason? FOMO. The struggle is real. Secondly, my behaviors up to that point had built expectations—expectations that would be consistently challenged as I began to be more picky with my yesses.

fomoLet’s have a real moment here.

I didn’t choose this lesson; it was forced upon me. I loved saying yes to everything, but at a certain point I found myself so depleted that I had to change what I was doing. That’s when I had to start thinking about which relationships were important to me to build, which activities fed me in some way—I had to select my yesses and learn to say no to everything else.

Let me tell you, that sh*% is tough. People hate hearing no. And eventually, when you say no enough times, you stop getting the invites, and your insides squeeze a little each time you hear about things you used to be a part of. Ugh.

But, here’s the thing: the relationships you put more time and energy into deepen; the activities you focus on become more meaningful; your bank account, social gas tank, and zen quotient grow.

Four years in, I go out infrequently (and still experience FOMO often). I usually go to bed early and get up with the sun (grandma status and proud). I spend time reading and writing and walking outside. I have dinners with dear friends. I drink when it’s special. I workout a LOT. I rarely get stressed about teaching because I have time and energy to stay caught up and balanced. I sometimes teach fitness classes. I build a lot of puzzles. I take weekend trips, but not too many. I am more aware of myself and my limits than I’ve ever been.

I say yes as often as I can (because I love my community here).

But, I still must frequently say no because I am keenly aware of my energy gas tank, and I know that driving that thing past ‘E’ takes about three times as long for me to recover from. I try to be clear and honest and gracious when I say no.

Saying no is definitely not as sparkly and joyful as saying yes. But it’s just as important.

As an expat, I’ve become practiced at and grateful for this lesson. Saying no ain’t for sissies.

And it’s ok to be a party-pooper.

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3 Reasons to STOP Setting Goals Today

Let’s get real for a quick minute. Teaching is hard. Being an expat is hard. These are worlds that challenge who you are, what you do, and why you do it. Teachers and expats are extraordinary people doing inspiring things. They are brave. They are smart. They are resourceful. They are high-achievers. They are goal-setters.

Here’s what I’ve learned in my years of teaching and expat-ing: setting goals can actually set you back, especially as a teacher or an expat.

There’s a better way. Setting intentions instead of goals has changed my mindset, attitude, and ultimately my level of satisfaction and joy both at work and in my personal life.

Here are three reasons I urge you to start setting intentions instead of goals.

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When you set a goal like losing 15 pounds, you are immersing yourself in the “what”. Intentions necessitate a plunge into the “why” — they ask you to dig deeper. Why is that 15 pounds so important? Why do those 15 pounds matter?

Do they represent the first years of teaching as all your energy and time got channeled into your classroom and your health fell to a last priority? (Yes, I’ll cop to that one.)

Or is it the expat weight you gained as you dealt with the discomfort of transition and loneliness with food and alcohol and TV? (Yep, I’ll cop to that one too. Annnnd I’ll tack on another 10, if we’re being real.)

The goal of losing the 15 pounds skips over the fact that this is really about prioritizing your own health and well being again. It’s about changing your habits to be better to yourself, which in turn allows you to be better to those around you.

Converting a weight loss goal to an intention might look like:

  • move every day
  • prioritize connection over screen time
  • eat mostly foods that energize me
  • sleep 8 hours a night

Sure, the “why” is important, but goals have helped me achieve stuff before. Will intentions do that too?

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I’ve had so many conversations with people who set goals for themselves to eat clean all week. It feels great on Monday. Tuesday, too.

But, let’s say on Wednesday, there’s a mound of chocolate on the tables during an after-school meeting. I’m tired, we think, I deserve a piece of chocolate to get me through this meeting.

So we eat a piece lot of chocolate. Berate ourselves in our heads. Think, well, I already messed up. I may as well pick up a frozen pizza and some wine on the way home. Wednesday’s missteps lead to more on Thursday, during which we decide to restart on Monday. Oh yeah. We’ve all been there: the Monday-Trap.

Goals lead to an unending cycle of Monday restarts after weeks that are 50% clean and 50% crap. Not ideal. Those goals don’t get met. And, they are mentally and emotionally stressful — yet one more reason we are not measuring up.

Ok, ok. Yes that happens. But there are times when we meet goals, too. What’s so wrong with that?

Anyone who has ever met a goal can relate to the high that goes along with achieving it. They will probably also admit (maybe just to themselves), the emptiness of a “now, what?” feeling and, almost always, a binge of some sort on whatever was being restricted or controlled.

I remember doing (and winning) an 8 week nutrition challenge. It was so hard, but I did it and was pretty damn near perfect the whole time. I won the challenge, felt great about my fat loss and energy, and then felt OVERWHELMING FEAR about how to maintain after the challenge and accountability ended. The challenge was a great way for me to experience how drastically food changes my daily moods and energy. It was a great way to experiment with new ways of being. But it was not sustainable. 

When you set an intention to “move every day”, you get to choose in what way you meet this. Some days you might want to take a long walk before school with your dogs. Other days, five minutes of stretching at lunch in your classroom might be it. And some days, you’ll effing kill it at the gym and feel like superwoman.

When you are simply doing your best to align your actions with your intentions, that are deeply grounded in a meaningful “why”, this breeds momentum. It is the epitome of sustainability.

Yeah, yeah…that sounds great and all. But what happens when you mess up?

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Goals are tough. They imply perfection (or damn near close) in order to achieve them, often as quickly as possible.

The first year I felt successful as a teacher was my 7th year in the classroom. MY SEVENTH YEAR.

Why? I could quote the difficulties of teaching in the U.S. school systems, or the drain on time and energy, or the unreasonable expectations of districts and admin, but really, my discontent stemmed from my inability to ever meet the goals I set for myself. I defined “success” as getting all my students at or above grade level, being planned and prepped every day, never messing up and saying something that impacted a child in a negative way.

Goals fed my perfectionism and left me gasping for air, drowning in a sea “not enough”.

When I begin to explore the “why” of teaching, I discovered that, for me, it was about two things:

  1. connection
  2. inspiring joy and curiosity

The goals I had set had nothing to do with my “why”. So, I did an experiment. I wrote two intentions on a sticky note and put it on my computer so I would see it multiple times a day.

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So every day, my intentions were to:

  1. get beside kids — get to know them, coach them on their writing, make eye contact, smile, ask questions, be present, listen
  2. share myself — tell stories in my mini-lessons; share my own ideas, successes, and failures as a writer and human; bring in videos, articles, and pieces that inspired me to hopefully inspire them

Some days were better than others. But each day, I aligned my actions with my intentions the best that I could. At the end of the day, I would reflect for a moment to see how well aligned I was. And, finally, no matter how “good” or “bad” the day was, I would tell myself it was enough, pat myself on the back, and go home, knowing tomorrow was a fresh start. NOT MONDAY. Tomorrow.

Because that’s the thing about intentions — they are all about PRACTICE, not perfection.

It is not about balls-to-the-wall hustle till you get that goal.

Intentions are about the consistent, meaning-driven, sustainable improvement of how we exist in the world—how we treat ourselves, how we treat others, and how we contribute.

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Teachers: One Mindset Shift Guaranteed to Decrease Stress and Increase Joy

Seriously?! I just clearly laid out the directions. They’re on the board. We did a comprehension check. We’re five minutes into work time and they’re giggling and pointing at their computer screens. WTF?! Why aren’t they doing what I said?

I remember in my first few years of teaching, having a constant stream of frustration sprinkled with swear words running through my head from bell to bell. The source: students in my classroom not following my directions or doing what I had laid out for them (thoughtfully, in advance, with the best intentions for their learning….seriously….wtf?!).

Let me tell you (and my teaching peeps can chime in here) — this sort of existence is exhausting.

It is mentally and emotionally draining and just plain soul-sucking. By the end of the day, trying to control manage facilitate the learning and interactions of young humans in your classroom becomes a lost cause.

At some point, you just throw up your hands and say, “I give up”. You survive till the bell. Crank out some grading. Prep for the next day. Go home. Drink a glass or three of wine. Bitch to your teacher friends. Brainstorm. Wake up. Try again.

Now over the years, we teachers learn to take fewer things personally and have fewer emotional reactions to what goes on in the classroom.

I’ve always been strong at classroom management, but it took me years to cultivate a different INTERNAL reaction to mirror my calm exterior in order to decrease stress and minimize energy leakage.

It boils down to one simple mindset shift: be curious.

Yep. That’s it. Be curious.

It is actually the opposite of most of our instincts, which is to see what is happening, make an assumption, followed quickly by a judgement, followed up by a snap decision and action.

Generally, my assumption has been that my students are off-task for whatever reason and that is bad. I then would quickly interfere, urging them to comply through a verbal warning, a dreaded “teacher look”, or a conversation in the hallway.

(Note: I’m always thoughtful of a child’s dignity and do my best to never publicly shame or punish.)

With these methods, I had a high success rate. However, my attempts to get them back on track through coersion always ended up feeling like an empty victory. And I still felt drained at the end of the day.

So here’s the shift I’m asking you to take. Before you get stressed and force them back on track, get curious.

Here’s how you do it. Remember this phrase: Slow down, C.I.D. (pronounced “kid”). Just a few, simple steps, and you will be on your way to more joy and less stress in the classroom.

  • First, SLOW DOWN. 
    • When you notice things you don’t like or expect in your classroom, pause. Like a reaaaally long pause. Bring awareness to what is happening in your head. RESIST making ANY assumptions or judgements.
  • Next, get CURIOUS.
    • Begin to wonder what’s going on. Say to yourself, “I wonder…” without any judgement or evaluation whatsoever.
  • Now, INVESTIGATE.
    • Watch from across the room (make sure you’re not scowling at them, but sneaking peeks neutrally). Wander over. Eavesdrop. Smile and ask a question related to either class or what they are talking about. Ask directly what they’re up to—middle schoolers are incredibly blunt, honest creatures when you are direct and they aren’t scared of punishment. Take this opportunity to learn something new about them. (As I’ve practiced this, I noticed that the assumptions I would make without investigating are often wrong. Students are frequently asking questions or discussing a personal connection they are making to the work. Just as frequently, they are not. And that’s totally ok!)
  • Last, DECIDE.
    • Ok, after getting curious and investigating, you think you have a handle on the situation. Now, you get to decide how to wrangle them back in like the awesome brain children that they are. After chatting with them about that totally gross Youtube video for a minute, find a creative way to connect their conversation back to your content. Or share a story about yourself that connects to the situation. Or share a time when you’ve struggled to stay focused and a method that works (or whatever circumstance your dealing with). Or even simply lead them back in to the work with an overly dramatic, awkward segue and a big, cheesy smile.

Here’s why “Slow down, C.I.D.” works.

It takes power out of the equation. I am not convincing them to get refocused through coersion. I am meeting them where they are at. I am interested in who they are, what they are doing, and why. I am noticing and validating their needs, as well as reinforcing my own. When you take power out of the equation, the stress disappears.

It breeds connection. When I take time to listen, observe, and chat with my students (even especially when it’s off-topic) it builds trust. It builds relationship. It helps me know them better, which enables me to connect my content to them more effectively. It helps them know me better, which results in higher engagement in class.

It’s joyful and fun. Teaching is way more joyful and energetic when we spend a little time on silliness. Hearing the latest pop culture gossip or telling a funny story gives our brains a needed break (it’s science) before we get back into the work. “Slow down, C.I.D.” provides perfect windows for silliness, because kids will never be perfect and there will always be opportunities to connect and then practice the sly redirect. *cheesy point/mouthclick/wink move*

So, next time you are feeling stressed or drained due to things in class not going the way you expected or wanted, try out “Slow down, C.I.D.”

  • Slow down before reacting.
    • Get CURIOUS
    • INVESTIGATE
    • DECIDE

I still get to use this every day of teaching. For the sake of teacher entertainment, let me share today’s shenanigans. We had about 25 minutes of drafting time today in my 8th grade English class. I was conferring with students, feeling like I had this Friday in the bag—students were engaged, on-task, and writing their tails off.

Then, I came across this vision in the back corner. Yes. He was dead asleep with his body contorted into angles I didn’t think were possible past infancy and with his face smashed solidly into the wall. (His nose was bright red from the pressure when he woke up.) I mean…c’mon, people. This is hilarious.

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Due to the trust and relationship built our class from “Slow down, C.I.D.”, he readily admitted he only slept two hours last night (and most nights this week) because he’s up all hours, gaming. We had a good laugh, and I resolved to “invite” him to work at the standing desk area for future sleepy days (and advised him, for the sake of his growing body and brain to get some sleep tonight).

I’d love to hear from you. Shoot me an email or comment below.

What other parts of teaching stress you out or drain your energy and joy?

What strategies do you have in place that help reduce stress and increase joy in the classroom?


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