How are you?
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that our lives, and our work, fundamentally changed in March. Now that the Easter holidays are here, I’ve been reflecting on the approaches that I’ve found useful, and I thought I’d share some ways in which I’ve been able to feel a little bit ‘normal’ over the last few weeks. I hope they help you to navigate this strange time.
Habits of happiness
In times of uncertainty, your habits can ground you. They are your routines, the things you do without thinking: the secret to success is making sure your habits are working with you, not against you.
You’re probably building new habits right now without even realising it. This is happening because big changes in your environment mean correspondingly big changes in your behaviour.
Does this sound familiar? Something I caught myself doing over the last few weeks was checking the news a LOT more than I normally would. At first, knowing what was happening was useful, the information was empowering, almost calming, but over the course of a fortnight I was checking more and more frequently, first thing in the morning and last thing at night, clicking on more links and spending more time consuming often contradictory information. Instead of having a calming effect as it had in the beginning, my news obsession was making me more and more anxious. It was a habit I realised I needed to break.
In the meantime, if your behaviours aren’t serving you, try these simple interventions:
- When you feel restless, do a 1-minute workout, jog on the spot or do some star jumps.
- When you feel overwhelmed, practice a minute of mindfulness or deep breathing.
- When the world seems uncontrollable, focus on one thing you can control, no matter how small.
“It’s never too late to be what you might have been.”
Habit of Happiness number one: Gratitude
Dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic is challenging on so many levels. The most obvious challenges is the threat it poses to our health and the health of those we care about, but it has also radically changed the way in whcih we work. It’s no surprise if you feel a bit as if the rug has been pulled out from under you.
In these circumstances, it’s very easy to feel anxious and overwhelmed. But it’s important to remember that our circumstances only account for 10% of our overall happiness while our behaviours, thoughts and actions account for around 40%. So if we want to stay mentally healthy we need to firstly know how to boost our mental wellbeing but more importantly, take action.
What are you grateful for? Gratitude is defined as the quality of being thankful; a readiness to show appreciation and to return kindness. It’s a powerful weapon. It not only raises your spirits, it also keeps you physically healthy and boosts mental wellbeing.
If you’d like to experiment with a gratitude practice, send me an email karen@happyteachershappyschools and I’ll send you a summary of the research on gratitude and some simple prompts to get you started.
“Happiness consists more in small conveniences or pleasures that occur everyday, than in the great pieces of good fortune that happen but seldom.”
Habit of Happiness number two: Connection
Loneliness can have a huge impact on our physical and mental health. Studies have shown that people who lack strong social connections often have disrupted sleep patterns, higher levels of stress hormones and weakened immune systems, thereby reducing their ability to fend off disease, something which is highly undesirable right now. In fact, evidence suggests that loneliness can be worse for your health than smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
In a 2019 Gallup survey, nearly a quarter of remote workers named “loneliness” as their biggest struggle while working from home. Now that so many more of us have suddenly transformed into ‘remote workers’ we need to be conscious of the importance of connection.
Just because you live alone or you’re working by yourself on the couch, it doesn’t mean you can’t be highly connected. There are simple things you can do to tweak your daily routine so that you can increase feelings of connection. This is important because the more connected we are, the happier we are, and the happier we are the more resistant to stress we become, it’s a virtuous cycle.
“Happiness is love. Full stop.”
The Grant Study, Harvard University.
Who is your WFH (working from home) buddy? We probably didn’t become teachers because we like working in isolation. Our normal day involves us being surrounded by people, ironically, that’s often one of the biggest sources of stress in our job, but going from a busy, highly populated environment to a workplace of one? That’s a huge shift and it’s easy to feel both disoriented and disconnected.
Ask someone you get along with to be your buddy while you’re working remotely. You can check in with each other daily, or take a virtual coffee break together each week. This lets you continue to prioritise conversation and connection (not to mention practice your Zoom skills!). Remember – flourishing at work, and in life, is not a solo endeavour.
Habit of happiness number three: Being present
The mental and emotional toll of covid-19 is as real a threat to our wellbeing as the virus itself.
If you, like me, have been feeling a little more stressed than usual, it’s important to remind yourself to keep prioritising healthy habits – like exercise, healthy eating, meditation and sleep – which help to lower the impact of stress and boost our immune systems so that we stay in good mental and physical condition while self isolating or living through lockdown.
Chronic, unrelenting stress, particularly the kind that comes from the loss of meaningful work, uncertainty or constant mental exhaustion, is tough on our minds and our bodies. It causes mental and physical wear and tear which in turn can trigger adverse health outcomes like heart disease, obesity, and stroke. We need to know how to manage the stress response so that we minimise its impact.
How are you letting go? Elizabeth Gilbert shared this strategy on Instagram a while ago and it has stuck with me. It’s so simple, you can do it anywhere, anytime, and without fail it will bring you back to the present and stop you ruminating on whatever fear or worry you might be stuck on in that moment.
When you do this, nothing else exists except for this moment and you can find peace. It works because you’re fully focused on something tangible meaning it’s impossible to simultaneously be overthinking. Try it next time you need some instant stress relief.
“Be happy in the moment, that’s enough. Each moment is all we need, not more.”