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Ask Andy – Blog 19

Renew, rebuild, refresh

This academic year has brought more and greater challenges to those in our schools than for any year that I can remember. Not only have there been logistical issues such as the closing of bubbles and maintaining the test track and trace (not to mention the personal testing regime which schools have been asked to put in place), but there have been other emotional challenges as well. I have heard of schools up and down the country for whom the rights of passage from one school to another or one phase of education to another have had to be shelved due to bubbles bursting and students needing to isolate.

However, I have heard of inspiring stories of imagination and creativity as schools try to overcome meeting all in one place indoors and have moved Leavers Services outdoors. The imagination and ability of schools to problem solve has been tested to the limit this year but as always, schools have found ways of making things happen for their students.

I have complete and utter admiration for the way schools have “found a way” this year, so that despite Covid, children and families have as normal a school year as possible. The level of professionalism from the staff in our schools has been stunning and your efforts have been hugely appreciated across the country.

However, you’ll have heard the saying that you can’t pour from an empty cup and for those in our schools, as summer has arrived, they are empty and have nothing left to give. It is time to renew, refresh and refill that wellbeing cup, so that when September arrives, you are renewed.

We know that this is important as the more worn down you are, the more you are likely to succumb to illness as your immune system is worn down too.

This blog is an attempt to provide you with some solutions to building and maintaining your own wellbeing levels and rebuilding after a tough year.

Spend some quality time in nature

This is so important as research has shown us the connecting with the natural world is good for your mental health and wellbeing. Whether it be gardening, going for a rural walk, stargazing, birdwatching or any other activity in the wild, we tend to slow down, breathe, and adopt a different pace of life.

If I take you in your mind to a deserted beach where you are sitting listening to the waves gently crunching onto the shingle; where the warm summer breeze is gently cooling you on a hot summer’s day, and where you think you might be able to smell the whiff of a barbeque somewhere, your mind is occupied. However, it isn’t occupied with the next thing to do or the pressure of home or work life, it is occupied by things which aren’t demanding of you but are there to be noticed and appreciated without an associated task. Giving our minds a rest in nature is so important especially if it can be combined with a walk or a swim which has the added exercise benefit of endorphins which make us feel good and help us to sleep better. I’ve linked a lovely resource here called Thriving with Nature which has been produced by the Mental Health Foundation, which explains how we can use the UK natural spaces to support our mental health and wellbeing across the cycle of the seasons.

Sleep for recovery and re-nourishment

As a profession, we tend to cut corners with our sleep as we try to meet deadlines and the sometimes-never-ending commitments especially as we work towards the end of term. This leaves us and our immune system exposed to viruses and bugs, which is why when we do reach the end of term we often succumb to illness. This is your body saying that it can’t cope any longer and needs to refresh and renew.

During sleep our body removes harmful toxins which helps to keep us well, but we also know that a lack of sleep reduces brain function, affects our mood negatively, can lead to weight gain, can lead to heart disease and diabetes, and affects coordination.

As we head into the holidays, try to establish a routine where you get 8 hours of quality sleep a day. That may mean reducing screen time before bedtime as we know that the light from mobile phones and other devices can stimulate at a time when we need to be getting ready for sleep. Another useful strategy is to have a bath and raise your body temperature before bed which can have a soporific effect.

For me, if I had to choose something that had the biggest impact on mental health and wellbeing it is sleep. Without enough of it we struggle to function and do anything properly whilst we are awake. If you’d like to learn more about the power of sleep then click here for how to break the sleep stress cycle.

Walking to better wellbeing

A half hour walk each day will help to raise your resting heart rate to a level which exercises it daily. It also tires you and aids better sleep and if you can tie it into a walk in the countryside you get all the benefits of walking in nature that we described earlier.

Walking not only develops heart fitness and reduces the risk of strokes and heart disease but it helps with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, joint and muscle pain, and diabetes and helps to develop stronger bones and improved balance. Try getting out there for half an hour a day and contribute to the 10,000steps per day that are recommended for good health. Dr Rangan Chatterjee recommends early morning light as being better for you so try a walk first thing.

Eat your way to better health

I know how the busyness of life at school can often lead to skipping meals or eating poorly just to satiate hunger but now is a great time to get into habits of healthier eating.

We know from our primary school days about eating a balance of proteins, carbohydrates, and minerals to keep us healthy, but did you know that what you eat can also affect your

mental health? There is now compelling evidence that a Mediterranean type of diet can help improve your mood and mental health.

Below are a couple of links explaining how this works.

Food For Thought Mental Health Nutrition Briefing

Eat Boost Mood Dr Chatterjee

I hope this blog helps you to regain the wellbeing drawn on during the last year and I have deliberately added some links so that you can do some reading around these important issues.

If you find that you have some time and would like further reading, maybe I can recommend these books:

My go to book on all aspects of personal health which will improve your wellbeing. I know people for whom this book has changed their life. Rangan’s books help people to take better care of themselves and lessening the need for medication.

Dr Rangan Chatterjee The 4 Pillar Plan

As I mentioned in the blog, for me, good sleep is the key to being the best version of yourself the following day. Maria’s book is packed with tips to help you create a sleep plan and routine which is right for you and allows your body to renew and replenish, allowing you to perform at your best.

Maria Bronson The Pursuit of Sleep

Have a wonderful summer. Recharge and renew. What you have given for the learners, their families and our country this last 12 months cannot be overestimated. Now it is time for you!

Best wishes Andy

Ask Andy

If you have questions about wellbeing practice, would like to suggest future content for Andy's blogs or if you are having success with wellbeing culture in your school and would like to share your story, please complete the form below.