Do you remember middle school? Was it a stressful time, or a pleasant one? I’ve met folks with a whole range of answers to that question, including many of my former students! That’s because I worked for seven years as a middle school teacher, and middle school can be a difficult time for developing humans. When I ran into issues of compassion fatigue (and I ran into that wall hard in 2016!), I started a learning journey around what’s happening in the brain and body when we have a stress response. From the beginning, I was curious about managing stress responses for myself personally, to be a better teacher, and for the students I served who were navigating a sea of hormones and brain shifts.
I collected oodles of resources and strategies, but I felt like I was swimming upstream when I tried to implement them. It’s hard to remember strategies when I need them most given how stress works in the brain!
Given that puzzle, I tried a new approach last spring. Before entering a consistently challenging part of the term, I took a session with my mental health coach to brainstorm a self-care “menu” and create a visual reminder I was more likely to notice during a stressful workday. While on the phone with my coach, I grabbed markers, a half-sheet of paper, and talked through my list as I wrote and drew my self-care menu. I knew the bright colors and little drawings would catch my attention and that finishing creating the menu during the call ensured it would happen. I even taped it on the window while on that call!
This year, in my role as the Academic Coaching Coordinator, I wanted to do something similar and give space and time for myself and for the amazing student-staff on the coaching team to create our own self-care menus for work.
After we brainstormed grounding practices that already worked for each of us (and I’m sure you’d know the sorts of activities that vibe for you, if you want to make your own), we sorted them along a continuum based on three areas:
- Things we can’t do at work because they take too much time, effort, or specific supplies
- Things that we can do here, between or before meetings
- Things we can do during a meeting
For our workplace self-care menus, we focused on categories two and three. We took the collectively created list as a starting point (a version of which is offered below) and personalized it to make it more specific and add new ideas.
It was trickiest to come up with what we could do while in a work meeting, such as:
- drinking water or tea
- playing with a fidget
- noticing the support of a surface the body is resting on
- scanning for three things of the same color
- checking in with all five senses
- subtly smelling a grounding scent
- leaving to use the bathroom or get something
For “before or between meetings,” we had more ideas, with varying levels of difficulty. Some of those were:
- Engaging in mindfulness…meditation…time to just exist
- Tending to our physical environment (watering a plant, tidying)
- Touching something that’s warm or cool, like a hot beverage or cold water
- Going outside
- Moving! (stretching, dancing, etc.)
- Releasing energy with loud sounds
- Listening to music
- Connecting to someone comforting
- Visiting the MindSpa
- Lying down
- Looking at “50 Ways to Take a Break” or another break resource from the Learning Corner
If you’re in a moment where you want to “level up” your self-care systems, I hope these ideas inspire your own list based on what you know works for you, along with some sort of visual or other reminder that fits for you.
And, if you want to chat, my door, Teams, and email inbox are always open to ideas and invitations around this topic.
Warmly, and with wishes for wellness,