The Power of Self-Care

Updated: Jul 18

I don’t think I’m very good at looking after myself. Don’t get me wrong, I make it through the day fine (generally). But I’ve never stopped to strategically plan in time for ‘me’, to really look after ‘me’.


Let me explain. I’m on it when it comes to the non-negotiables, such as brushing my teeth, washing regularly, getting a haircut. And one area I’ve always prioritised (as a PE teacher, personal trainer and lover all things physical) is exercise and movement. But what about sleep? Diet? Relaxation? Time? Moisturising?! Conditioning my hair?!


I recently spoke to our Wellbeing Director and clinical psychologist, Dr Ali Bailie (aka Dr Bear) on this topic, specifically on self-care for teachers. As a teacher for many years, a husband, and a father of two humans and a cocker spaniel, I got to a point in my teaching career where I really started to struggle with balance. Is self-care under our control? Is it achievable for most? Is it hard… and harder still for teachers?


Image is divided into four quadrants, displaying different activities used for self-care and wellbeing. They are (from right to left) setting alarms for better sleep, reading, exercise/weightlifting, and drinking water.

Let’s start with the term self-care. Like many buzz-words we deal with (e.g. wellbeing, mental health, emotional learning, personal development), there’s a fair bit of noise around the concept of self-care. The World Health Organisation (WHO) define it as:


“the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a health-care provider.”

Makes sense, right? Feels quite formal for me.


Kelsey Patel (a Los Angeles–based wellness expert and the author of the forthcoming book Burning Bright: Rituals, Reiki, and Self-Care to Heal Burnout, Anxiety, and Stress) describes self-care as part of the answer to improve our ability to deal with life's daily stressors. Work, family, money and health are all examples of stressors. Throw in modern technology, emails galore, social media from all angles, a global pandemic, possible world war, and now an economy on the brink of crisis, it’s no wonder that the Google search trend for the term self-care has increased by 5 times since 2015 (and was at an all time high in May 2022).


The term 'self-care' in Google Search Results

Is it selfish to show self-care? Selfishness is often thought of as a negative characteristic. But in this context, some selfishness is required for individuals to lead healthy lives and create a sense of positive overall wellbeing. Taken too far, just thinking about yourself and your needs over your loved ones is not the path to happiness and self actualisation.


But (aside from the non-negotiables), what do you do just for you on a regular consistent basis? If you do prioritise time for you, is that time of genuine benefit to your mental and physical health?


When I asked Dr Bear if teachers are likely to be good self-carers, his response was pretty clear:


“...teachers, social carers, and health workers are terrible patients in terms of being able to look after themselves. It feels good to look after other people but if you don’t look after yourself as well you won’t feel good about it.”


‘How important is self care?’ I asked Dr Bear. He responded:


“Self-care is a necessity not a luxury and as much as it may feel uncomfortable, it must be prioritised.”

In my personal teaching and self-care journey (sorry, I know this isn’t X-Factor), I reached a point where the extreme cyclical nature of putting others first in term time and waiting for the long holidays to decompress, recharge and look after numero uno simply wasn’t working. I wasn’t looking after myself well enough and didn’t feel like I was giving my family the quality and quantity of time they deserved and needed. I made a fairly extreme and conscious change to leave the profession, which is working well for me in a number of ways (despite missing much about the job).


What does self-care look like in practice?


Let’s start by looking at the pillars of health. There are a number of different versions, but I personally like to use the following four:


  • Food & hydration

  • Movement & exercise

  • Sleep & rest

  • Fun & recreation


Within reason, we have control over these areas. Yes, they all require the most important currency of all: time. However, if you start with micro-adjustments and basic goals (written down, or maybe on an intuitive goal setting app with wellbeing features built in), then the benefits greatly outweigh the effort. For example, I recently realised I wasn’t getting enough sleep. I set myself the goal of at least 7 hours per night. To do this, I scheduled both bedtime and wake up alarm reminders every day. This may seem militant, but my sleep quality and quantity has improved. My mood is better in the mornings and I’m not watching as much rubbish TV in the evenings!


If I were to address the other areas, they may look something like this:


  • Food & hydration: Drink 2 litres of water every day

  • Movement & exercise: Follow strength & conditioning program

  • Fun & recreation: Play my guitar for 2 hours every week


Self-care is not easy and looks different for everyone. Reading, writing, listening to music, walking, hot-tubbing and sauna-ing! The benefits are broad and varied and they include reduced stress, improved immune system, increased productivity and higher self-efficacy. Regular, self check-ins or catch ups with a trusted friend, mentor or coach and simple goal-setting on controllable areas will help you on your way.


Find opportunities to do this and make small, consistent changes to your daily routine that put you first.


 

This blog was written by Jez Belas, Sales and Engagement Director for youHQ and Life on Time Ltd. Jez has 16 years of teaching experience and until recently was Head of PE and Wellbeing at an independent school in Berkshire.



To find other resources for whole school (teacher, student, parents etc) wellbeing, please follow the link HERE. For more information about our school wellbeing platform and to sign up for a free 7-day demo, please click HERE.


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