But parenting and teaching absolutely are not simple nor are they step-by-step processes. They each require a tremendous amount of creative energy. As with all creativity, you cannot continually tap into it without replenishing it. That is why it is so essential to incorporate self-care into your parenting—or teaching—practice.
Self-care not Self-indulgence
If you are like me, around mid-November, you start to feel a little anxious and Grinchy. There are so many more tasks and events as the school year flies by, and the holidays put everything into overdrive.
As I notice myself "in the Yellow Zone" more and more, I am reminded that I need to practice self-care. By self-care, I do not mean self-indulgence. Self-indulgence is great, but indulgences usually don't "give back." True Self-care is like refueling, resetting, or grounding yourself. It is like the regular maintenance an aircraft needs, or the restocking and prepping a surgical room must have to be safe, efficient, and effective.
Here are 6 basic elements of self-care (there may be more. These are ones I've noticed or read about.) These are great for "regular maintenance." In times of stress, you might want to be even more intentional about taking time for self-care. Or if you have a job that is intense and demands a great deal of creativity.
1. Down Time and Breaks
We need time to rest periodically. It may seem counter-intuitive, but taking regular breaks improves your work. Studies have found that rest is essential for learning. Without rest after a new experience has created a new memories, the new information is not moved from working memory to long-term memory. We tend to think that we learn information in the moment that we are exposed to it, but many neurosciences have demonstrated that learning occurs not in the immediate moment but later on in the rehearsing and reinforcing of new neural patterns. University of California physiologist Dr. Loren Frank states, "Almost certainty, downtime lets the brain go over experiences it's had, solidify them and turn them into permanent long-term memories." Further, Frank that if you constantly stimulate the brain, you actually impeded learning. Regular breaks are not indulgent, they are practical!
2. Adequate Sleep
Many sleep researchers now believe that REM sleep and Delta sleep (deep, non-REM sleep) are essential to solidifying memories. Inadequate sleep also undermines many of the important meta-cognitive skills, like working memory, sequencing, and task flexibility. And on a very practice level, sleep is crucial to mood and health. We don't all need the same amount of sleep, but a consensus of sleep scientists agree that most adults need between 7 and 8 hours a night.
3. No Multitasking
Multitasking is a myth. Scientist have demonstrated that when you multitask, you do each task less efficiently. There are exceptions, such as listening to the radio while cooking. But this is only true when the tasks aren't demanding the same kind of attention, and usually when one of the tasks is automatic.
We tend to multitask more than we realize. And here is something very important to note: multitasking causes fragmenting of your attention. And the fragmentation persists for hours after you have stopped multitasking.
One way to counteract the multitasking habit is to set aside times when you do one thing mindfully, such as having only one window open on your computer, or put your smart phone away where you can hear important alerts but aren't tempted to use it to multitask.
There is a ton of research that shows how restorative meditation is. In addition, many different studies have shown that a regular meditation practice will improve memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress. And, the really good news, regularity is more important than quantity. Your practice can start with 5 minutes a day. There are many websites and apps that offer guided meditation, which is a great way to start. Even micro-practices, such as taking a moment to be still and take three slow breaths, can help reduce stress and invite a sense of well-being.
This is the most important thing to know about self-care. Play is essential to human happiness. Human beings are unusual as a species in that we continue to play into adulthood. Some sociologists and developmental psychologists postulate than our endemic playfulness is what led to our incredulity adaptability and resilience. Yet, somehow modern culture has defined play as childish, and adults can feel guilty or embarrassed for enjoying play. We have even renamed exercise to "working out" to differentiate it from childish play.
There are all kinds of play. Physical play, such as sports or recreation; object play, such as a perpetual motion toy, imaginative & pretend play, storytelling-narrative play, and creative play, such as music or art. Pioneer in Play Science research, Dr. Stuart Brown, defines play as "an absorbing, apparently purposeless activity that provides enjoyment and a suspension of self-consciousness and sense of time."
The very best gift that you could give to yourself, your spouse, or your children this year is to play more. If you need ideas, Blue Highway Games on the Ave, is a great spot for family games of all kinds. Physical play, like skate boarding, hiking, or skiing, or taking music lessons together are priceless ways to recharge and reconnect.
6. Regular exercise
The good new about getting exercise is that even if your only exercise is walking your dog for 15 mins. twice a day, you still benefit from it. Exercise is great for your brain and your mood. If exercise isn't your thing, try to incorporate just a little bit into your life. Take the stairs, park your car a block away from work and walk, or take a walk with a friend once a week.
Try Just One And See What Your Results Are!
Parents, teachers, and anyone who wants to invite more creativity into their lives, I encourage you to pick one of these self-care tools and try to incorporate it into your day—for the rest of the year. That is less than 45 days. Start small! Take a 5 minute "sit and stare out the window" break. Or 10 minutes of doodling or playing a simple game or puzzle. (but not FB or Buzzfeed). Or assign yourself 45 minutes of no-multitasking. Make it the same time everyday, and make it realistic. You are much more likely to be successful.
Post some suggestions in comments! Tell the community what your self-care tools are.
The bottom line is that self-care is essential. It may feel like you don't have the time (BTDT), but taking the time will pay back ten-fold!