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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 18, Number 1, September 2005

On being well: Now that summer is over

by Julia Johnson

The September school bell that proclaims the start of another school year also signals the end to the long, lazy days of summer. In June, most teachers envisage the summer months will provide them with time to rest, relax, and reflect while pursuing activities that bring them joy in the hope they will be able to re-enter classrooms rejuvenated and inspired. For many this vision of summer is often thwarted by the busyness of either planned or unexpected activities that squander precious time. A vision of summer renewal, not materialized, will nibble away at whatever energy reserves one has as soon as the ever-increasing demands, expectations, and never-ending jobs appear on the to-do list.

Maintaining a sense of peace, and calm in the eye of September’s turmoil is a challenge if one wishes to approach the teaching year with more than survival in mind. The challenge of being well within the stressful environment of today’s educational arena requires that we change our thoughts about what is important and what is not. Such a reflection can begin with a careful examination of "the list" that dictates how your time will be used. If your list does not address your needs for achieving a vision of personal wellness, then your list is making requirements that will ensure you have a year fraught with unrest and poor health. Taking precedent over all things, regardless if the demands are work-based or home-based, is the need to take care of oneself.

To most people, taking care of yourself means looking after your physical well being. This is important because poor physical health is a hindrance to achieving one’s dreams. A regime that keeps our muscles and cells fine-tuned should be at the top of the list—exercise is the most effective way to reduce stress. When a regular routine of physical exertion such as walking, swimming, running, biking, or golfing fits into the natural rhythm of your day, a habit for optimal health takes root. A simple decision to make physical exercise a part of each day becomes a goal that reaps a healthy lifestyle.

For some people reconnecting with the spirit that nurtures the soul is a way of reducing stress, minimizing the aggravations of a day, and restoring peaceful energy. There are many ways to experience spirit and because this activity is very personal, no one method is better than another. However, engaging in an activity that enables you to hear the voice of your heart and soul, to hear the voice of truth and justice, to hear the harmonious beat of your life as it interacts with the surrounding life of plant and animal, will help you clarify issues that get clouded when debated by people with vested interests. Finding a few minutes in a day to close your mind to the outside world nurtures your spirit and restores your energy.

Some people find solace and renewal connecting with family and friends. Life becomes simpler surrounded by the love and laughter of those who care about you. Frustration, anxiety, disappointment, and criticism seem less important when we remember that the people we care about will always be there. Each day provides opportunities to show by thought, word, and deed that we value, respect, and cherish those who are dear to us. Daily nurturing a dependable circle of friends fosters social well-being and provides a safety net.

Today’s educational settings are often hotbeds of emotional unrest that breed ill health and disease. Some people, concerned for their emotional well-being, live by the words of the Serenity Prayer: "Grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference." Living by these words requires daily reflection that enables us to let go of things that we have no control over and allows us to focus attention on areas where we can make a difference. When moments of thoughtful reflection are paired with the regular emptying of emotional baggage, emotional health is nurtured.

Many people attend to their wellness needs by searching for and accepting new challenges. When the brain is stimulated with new learning, we become inspired and energized. Daily problems that once consumed our minds become less significant when our thoughts focus on perfecting a new skill. Stretching the brain muscle by learning something new addresses the intellectual well-being of our makeup.

Wellness is definitely more than being physically fit. As the school year unfolds with its many demands, remembering that being well is a many-faceted state will help you to prioritize the items on your to-do list. And may the pursuit of wellness in the intellectual emotional, social, spiritual, and physical domains top your list of things to do. Let this be the year you succeed in achieving your goal to be well.

Julia Johnson, a learning resource teacher at Red Bluff School, in Quesnel, is a BCTF PD wellness associate. johnsonj@abccom.bc.ca.

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