Most Texas residents (and much of the nation) are now sheltering at home till further notice. This alone is a significant stressor, but don’t forget the different fears that can creep in for many of us: the isolation and separation from loved ones, the worries about health, or the state of the economy and those impending ripple effects. There’s a lot to be worried about. And that’s not very healthy.
Thankfully, Dr. Andrea Ogonosky has good advice for us right now. If you missed her tips for supporting kids and families while they grapple with school closures, please click here. And Dr. Ogonosky will continue to bring us ideas for managing this new normal in education.
But first, the Big Idea that she wants us to take away this week is Balance.
A brief explanation: We have never done anything like this before, and everyone is on a steep learning curve. Kids, parents, teachers, and administrators—we are all learning by doing and figuring it out as we go, and we may be trying to force a very abnormal thing to become as close to normal as possible. The energy needed for this and the stress involved are both gargantuan. Many people are working (and worrying) harder than ever before.
And that is why balance is essential because if we aren’t taking care of ourselves first, then we are of little help to anyone else.
If we allow our stressors to become the dominant forces in our lives, they will outweigh and overtake everything. Think of a scale that is heavily loaded on one side and empty on the other. We may not be able to take items off the heavy side, but we can purposefully add things to the empty side of the scale to try to balance our lives.
Dr. Ogonosky’s suggestions for what to add to our lives to balance out the scale are very deeply rooted in SEL: Kindness, Patience, and Forgiveness. She suggests mindfully using our thoughts, words, and actions to manifest these virtues towards both other people and ourselves.
Kindness can be as simple as smiles and gentle words, conversations with others, reaching out to someone you may not have connected with in a while, friendly waves to your neighbors through windows, and eye contact when you pass someone on a walk. Our interactions with others are limited right now, but we can make kindness in these interactions a priority and then we will all feel happier for it.
Patience can be achieved with deep breaths and other calming techniques. It’s important to remember what others are enduring right now. Most of us are not our best selves. Try not to be reactive towards others when things get hard. Take a deep breath instead, and please try to remember that we are all in this together and everyone is doing their best.
Forgiveness is key. People will be challenging, and there will be conflicts. We have to just let it go and move on. And, just as important, we must also forgive ourselves for moments when we aren’t our best and likewise move on. Grudges and resentments will only add to our stress and dissatisfaction.
Mental health is important for its own sake, but it’s especially detrimental now because it’s also key to physical health. Stress can strain a body’s immune system, but exercise is an excellent way to reduce stress. Remember that this looks different for everyone. Some jog while others walk, but as long as your heartrate is up and your muscles are moving, your body is getting what it needs. No one is suggesting that you begin training for a marathon for the first time in your life. Just be sure to commit daily to the kind of movement that feels good and energizes your body.
Meditation and yoga are also great stress relievers. Meditation is quiet time to ground the mind and body, and numerous apps are available to guide you through incorporating meditation into your daily routine. YouTube has lots of yoga videos available for all abilities and experience levels, and all you need is a mat or a carpeted floor to get started.
Another thing to be aware of is diet. Eating healthy (fruits and veggies!) also boosts the immune system and is an easy way to boost our health. There’s plenty we can’t control right now, but we can control what we eat, how we move our bodies, and what we focus our thoughts on, and being mindful of these things can be an enormous boon to our overall mental and physical health.
Dr. Ogonosky is reminding us to balance the scale in order to be healthy physically and mentally and not be so overwhelmed by all the things we cannot control right now. She insists that we give ourselves permission to take the time and space for ourselves to stay grounded and well.
Put your own oxygen mask on first, folks. You’re of little use to others if you don’t.