How To Help Yourself To Settle Back Into “Normal Life”

How are you doing? How has Alert Level 2 been for you?

Did you start out excited and joyful to see friends and family again, but now you feel a bit tired, overwhelmed or even just a bit off-kilter?

You are not alone in this. Alert Level 2 started with great excitement for most of us. Free from our homes and our bubbles, excited to see family and friends again. to go out to eat at a cafe, to go shopping and to reconnect with the children and people in our centres.

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

For me the first few days felt great, I was buzzing with excitement. I was going to be so productive. I made lists of everything I would accomplish for work now that I was no longer homeschooling…

And then Tuesday came along and it was as if I had hit a wall.

I found myself feeling shaky, on the verge of tears, nauseous and unable to eat. I had so much that I wanted to do but found that I just couldn’t. After spending six weeks in my bubble, I could literally feel the stress, the hurry, the expectations and the busyness coming back into my life. It felt like a heavy weight on my heart. As you might already know, I am usually a pretty positive, motivated person, so I knew that something was up.

Have felt some of these feelings too? There is nothing wrong with you. You are 100% normal. You might just be experiencing a phenomenon known as reintegration anxiety.

What is reintegration anxiety?

Reintegration anxiety is sometimes called reverse culture shock or re-entry syndrome.

The concept of reverse culture shock dates back to the early 1960s. US psychologists John and Jeanne Gullahorn observed that after travel and culture shock and homecoming, there’s more ups and downs: readjusting to what was once familiar.

James Purtill – Hack

In the past, you may have experienced similar feelings after been away on holiday or overseas for a period of time when adjusting to coming back home or to work. This is especially severe amongst explorers coming back from an Antarctic expedition or soldiers coming home from deployment.

After the joy of reuniting with friends, family and workmates come the reality of adapting and “fitting back in” to our pre-COVID lives. This can be challenging. It is unrealistic to assume that we can just snap our fingers and pick up where we left off.

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

Some of the symptoms that you or others may experience are:

  • Frustration
  • Restlessness
  • Physical symptoms such as an upset stomach, sweaty palms or a racing heart.
  • A shift in values, goals, priorities and attitudes
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feelings of isolation or depression
  • Disorientation
  • Confusion
  • Anxiety
  • Overwhelm
  • Underwhelm

Changes, changes, changes…

If we think about it, it makes sense that we should be feeling this way to some degree. We have been through a lot of change during the last few weeks.

First, there was the shock of COVID 19 in our country and all the panic and anxiety that went with that.

Then there was self-isolation and the adjustment to being at home and doing everything online or remotely. Added to this all the language and messaging about how it wasn’t safe to be in our communities, to be around people (even friends and whanau) and that we needed to act like we all had COVID 19.

Then there was the shifting through the levels and the rules and restrictions, worries and anxieties that went with this.

And then it was decided that we were safe to go to level 2 and that we could go back to life as “normal” with the restrictions around this.

We have been constantly adjusting, adapting and going through various stages of shock and grief. If we think about it our nervous systems have been on alert over the last 4 months.

During Alert level 4 and 3 the majority of us spent our time in our bubbles, living at a much slower pace, shielded by noise pollution of life. However, we have suddenly switched realities. We are also adjusting to the new messaging about how it is safe to be at work, school and with other people (but don’t get too complacent, don’t stand too close to someone, use hand-sanitizer, wash your hands!) It is a lot to take in. This can feel confusing, frustrating and counter-intuitive. It is going to take a wee while for our brain’s, nervous systems and hearts to catch up to this change.

It is going to take time for us to get used to the hustle and bustle of life. To be able to trust being out in our communities – to be around people again without fear. Many of us will be grieving the simple joys of life in our bubbles.

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

Strategies to help yourself manage reintegration anxiety

  • Be patient and kind with yourself and those around you. Your feelings are normal. It is going to take 2-3 weeks to adjust and will involve a rollercoaster of emotions.
  • Don’t feel guilty if you don’t feel like being around others or catching up with family and friends let them know – your loved ones will understand.
  • Keep your expectations off yourself and others small and realistic. Don’t overschedule yourself for the next couple of weeks. It is normal to feel tired, demotivated or to need a little extra rest.
  • Notice when feelings come up for you and name them. It is okay to feel frustration, worry, anger and anxiety. The power in naming your emotions is that it helps your body to process the feeling and know what to do with it.
  • Remember, you are not your emotions. Just because you are feeling anger or anxiety this does not define you. Allow yourself to experience the emotion and tell yourself, “this too shall pass!”
  • Talk to a friend or someone you trust about how you are feeling. Chances are that they are feeling this too.
  • Give your relationships with others outside of your bubble time to “gel” again. Relationships are built through mundane everyday happenings and shared experiences. Our experience with “lockdown” might have been different from other people. These experiences will have changed us. It might take a bit of time to get in sync again.
  • Remember that how you are feeling will influence how you perceive others actions or situations, try to not take things too personally or make hasty decisions during the next few weeks.
  • Limit your screen time and time on social media. Give yourself some time to just “Be”.
  • If possible find time to intentionally move your body. Our emotions are stored in our bodies and when we move this helps us to release them.
  • Spend time outdoors. There is amazing healing in connecting with nature. Sunshine helps our bodies to produce vitamin D which is great for keeping bones strong, but also for boosting your mood.
  • Journal how you are feeling. We often give ourselves permission to be more honest or open about our thoughts and feelings on paper when we feel that no-one else will read it. This can be very helpful for working through your thoughts and feelings. (You can always rip up the page or burn it afterwards.)
  • If these feelings continue to persist past a few weeks reach out to your doctor for help.

Further Support

If you are feeling like life is just a wee bit stressful for you at the moment join me for a FREE WEBINAR: Coaching Yourself Through Stress

Or reach out for a FREE Health and Wellbeing Discovery Call where we can discuss how I can help you to make your health and wellbeing a priority.

Call Lifeline on 0800 543 354 or text “Help” to 4357.

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But it’s Not MY Fault!

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

I recently wrote a blog which posed the question:

“Is it time to change how we view resilience in early childhood education?”

This blog resonated with many of you, however, a comment I often get is – but it’s not my fault!

I firmly believe that the purpose of blogging is to provoke thinking and professional discourse. Not everyone is going to agree with me and that is okay.

My purpose for writing is not to highlight how important my opinions are, but to remind you of how important, precious and powerful you are.

Who’s fault is it?

It is so easy to feel disheartened by everything that is going on around us, or by the things we read on social media.

However, today I would like to challenge your thinking a little further, by talking about fault vs responsibility.

I am sure that we can all agree that there are many injustices in this world.

In the profession of early childhood education, there are many things that could and should change.

We could blame mental health issues in our sector or depleted teachers on the shortage of qualified teachers in our profession. Or perhaps on the amount of paperwork we have to do. (And you may be right)

We could find fault in the value that the government (and society) place on early childhood teachers and allow this to wear us down.

You could blame your poor wellbeing on the manager who you feel doesn’t value you in your workplace. Or perhaps the difficult colleague that you have to work with, or the parent who always complains, or the child with additional needs that you aren’t getting any support for.

Perhaps you are right and it is their fault!

After all, shouldn’t centre owners and managers provide an environment that promotes the wellbeing and belonging of everybody in the ECE setting including teachers?

The problem with assigning blame

But here is the problem with finding fault and assigning blame…

In the complex problem of teacher wellbeing, we all share responsibility.

There is a collective responsibility in any profession, but there is also individual responsibility.

When we focus on who’s fault it is, we focus on the problem. We cast ourselves as victims. We get stuck in place and are powerless to change or improve our situation.

When we focus on responsibility, we focus on the solution. We become empowered.

And as I said in my opening paragraphs – I truly believe that we are all important, precious and powerful!

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

What I am responsible for?

In each and every day how we are with ourselves is all that we can control.

Our attitude, our habits, our thoughts, our actions, our choices, how we treat ourselves and allow others to treat us, how we treat others as well as our part in interactions with others. This is what we have direct influence over. You are responsible for yourself and the value you place on yourself, your happiness and your wellbeing.

You cannot control or change other people, the decisions or actions of others, what others think about you, things that happened in the past or what might happen in the future.

These things might concern you greatly, but this is where we start going down the path of blame.

You can, however, inspire and influence those around you. As kaiako, we have tremendous influence over our lives, the children in our settings and the other people around us. You have the power to change the narrative about our profession and what you post on social media. Where we focus is where our energies will flow.

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

Our first step is to put aside the blame game and to take ownership for our part in this issue and to stop seeing each other as the competition.

Three choices

In every situation, instead of complaining, we have three choices:

  • You can accept the situation – accept that this situation is unavoidable and part of life, plan for it and surrender the stress associated with it. For example: if someone close to you has been diagnosed with a serious illness there might not be much that you can do about it. You might have to accept that this is your new reality for a while and be there for the other person as well as planning ways for maintaining your own health and energy levels.
  • You can change it – if you feel frustrated with the current situation you can take action to improve it. For example, if you feel that someone in your workplace is being treated disrespectfully or being bullied you can speak up or take steps to improve your workplace culture.
  • You can leave it – if you feel that the situation is unbearable you always have the option to leave.

In every situation, we have the option to say “this choice, it’s mine and I accept whatever comes out of it.”

Justin Sebastian

So instead of feeling disheartened by what you read on social media. 

Next time you want to hang your head and say, I am just one person, what difference can I make? Remember that you can be the change that you wish to be in our profession. You have control over being the best possible version of you and you are already enough.

“If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way”

Martin Luther King

If you would like additional tools on how to make your health and wellbeing a priority please join me on the Making Yourself A Priority Facebook Group.

Or join me for a Building Resilience workshop. Click here to look for one in your area

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What to do when you are feeling blue?

teacher depression

I was saddened last week to hear about the unexpected death of news reader, Greg Boyed and his battle with depression.  His death has renewed conversations about depression and mental health and has made me reflect on my own battle with depression and the battles of those close to me.

Depression is an old friend of mine that has come to visit me during various periods of my life. I am sure that there are many of you out there that are fighting your own battles with this familiar foe.

In a profession where we give so much of ourselves to so many, the needle on our emotional tanks can so easily point to empty.  In a sector with alarming burnout rates due to stress, high child to teacher ratios, mounting paperwork, and the challenges of working in close proximity with others with differing beliefs and pedagogy it is easy for us to feel a bit disillusioned and sometimes even depressed.  Yet we often feel pressured to put on our “happy face” and to be there for others when we are feeling really low inside.

What we are not talking about….

I belong to many of the online ECE social media forums and I often see posts from teachers who have “lost their spark”, feel unsure how to deal with challenging behaviours and who are stressed out by the demands put on us by teachers.  I recently surveyed 100 teachers at random about their satisfaction in our sector. I was saddened to find that only 26% of teachers who took part in the survey where happy in their current job.  That is 74% of teachers who were somewhat happy to not happy at all.

Some teachers wrote about working in “great homely environments with supportive management” and “working for fantastic owners with great ratios…well-resourced and great remuneration”.  However, many teachers wrote about feeling unsupported by their leaders, or feeling the strain of quality vs budgets. Many teachers spoke about the pressures of never-ending paperwork and being expected to work unpaid overtime. A high proportion of teachers reported to work in centres with high child teacher ratios or in centres where the ratios “on paper” did not match what happened in reality.

Teacher mental health and the effect on children

The survey results saddened me on many levels, but the thing that saddened me the most was the children in the middle of all of this.  The children who do not have choices about which setting they attend or the people that they are around.  It saddened me that our children are around so many stressed out, unhappy people and spend sometimes 8- 10 hours in sometimes emotionally toxic environments.

There are many brain development studies out there documenting the effects that educator/parent mental health has on the developing child’s brain and mental health. In fact, a study undertaken by Ohio State University in Columbus across 15 American cities found:

a direct relationship between teacher depression and “externalizing” problems in children, such as anger and aggression, as well as “internalizing” problems, such as anxiety, sadness or withdrawal.

Walter S. Gilliam, the director of the Edward Zigler Center in Child Development and Social Policy at Yale University. Gilliam’s research found that “prekindergarten teachers and child-care staff who report elevated symptoms of depression are somewhat more likely to engage in child-care practices that are rated as less sensitive to children’s needs, more intrusive, and more negative.

The reason for this is that our children are constantly downloading from us.  Our mood, our emotions, how we are responding to them and to others around us.  Our youngest children, our infants and toddlers are designed to learn by being in a dyadic (two way) relationship with a receptive, in tuned adult.  Teachers who are depressed and unable to emotionally connect with themselves cannot emotionally connect with others.

Our children are spending longer hours in early childhood settings and are often in ECE centres for more waking hours in the week compared to being at home.  What emotional frequencies are they picking up on?  How can they become happy, fulfilled, intrinsically motivated, resilient collaborative and successful human beings if they are not having this modelled to them?

This is only learnt through having relationships with happy, fulfilled, intrinsically motivated, resilient adults.

 

What can you do?

Let me start off with saying, your mental health is important.  You are not alone in this, one in six New Zealanders (more common in women than men) experience some form of mental disorder including depression.

Some of the symptoms of depression that you shouldn’t ignore are:

  • constantly feeling down or hopeless
  • loss of enjoyment or interest in doing the things you used to enjoy doing
  • negative thinking and sleep problems
  • You may even feel so bad that you have thoughts of self-harm or even suicide.

If you notice that you are suffering from these symptoms it is important that you get help.  I know from my personal journey with depression that this is very difficult.  We often don’t what to “burden” others with our problems.  Or we don’t like to admit vulnerably, but the sooner you find help, the sooner you’ll start to feel better.

Some of the ways that you can do this, is by talking to someone you can trust.  Your GP is a great place to start.  Your GP can check to see if you are deficient in certain vitamins or minerals such as iron, vitamin B or vitamin D (especially in the winter months), help you with regular check-ins, medication (if you need it) as well as coping tools or a referral to a counsellor.  In most cases this is free.

  • Get Support – You can also speak to a friend or a trusted colleague, ideally someone who has known you for a while and can help you put your current situation into perspective – after all a problem shared is a problem halved. It’s natural to want to dive under the covers and hide when you’re feeling depressed. Avoid feeling isolated by reaching out if you are able. Make a coffee date, invite a friend over for take-out pizza.
  • Talk about it – Speak about your feelings and avoid keeping things that are bothering you bottled up inside. Remaining silent or bottling can cause you to wage a war within yourself.  These conversations might feel challenging at first, but they do get easier with practise.
  • Consider your environment – are you in the place that is the right fit for you? I know that you might feel guilty about leaving the children and families or letting your team down, but if your own happiness is suffering because of it you are just adding to the bad “emotional hygiene” of the setting and doing your team, children and families a disservice.
  • Focus on today – When we focus too far in the future it can be very overwhelming.  Instead focus on what you can do today.  About 99% of what we worry about in the future never even happens, all you truly have is today.
  • Get moving – Dust of your walking shoes and get out in the fresh air for a walk.  It sounds like cross purposes but even though you might not feel like have the energy to exercise, participating in regular exercise can boost those “feel good” chemicals, your energy levels and your mood.  You are never going to feel like it, sometimes you have to push yourself do it, in order to make yourself feel better.
  • Know your triggers – Think about the children in your settings, through time and careful observation you get to know their behaviour triggers.  You know that the wheels are going to come off if you ignore the tired or hungry signs.  Or that behaviour is going to escalate if you don’t take time to give the child who is feeling hurt or upset a much-needed cuddle.  We are no different, we “play up” emotionally when we are not meeting our own needs.
  • Take care of yourself – Be vigilant about your self-care.  I am not talking about a trip to the spa of a candle-lit bath here (although this is a lovely way to treat yourself).  By this I mean be mindful of your nutrition, unplug from screens and the internet and create a sleep ritual that ensures that you are getting the rest that you need. Be careful with your personal boundaries, create a healthy space for yourself away from external negativity – beware of those energy pirates!
  • Pay attention to yourself talk – When we think negative thoughts we cannot expect to have positive results. Our negative thoughts become “negative affirmations” holding us back and leading us to repeat the same behaviours over and over again, this can become a habit loop.  We need to pay attention to our thoughts and intentionally replace the negative affirmation with a positive thought.  This can be can be hard work, but it trust me it does get easier.
  • Become mindful – Gift yourself a bit of time in the morning to practise, gratitude and mindfulness and set yourself up for the day. Meditation has been shown to reduce levels of stress and perceived stress.   Meditation and mindfulness have been proven to change the structure of your amygdala which is the part of your brain that controls feelings such as anger, fear and anxiety. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build stronger relationships.

Realize that it’s not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy. Make a habit of noticing the goodness that is already yours first thing in the morning, and you will see more goodness everywhere you look throughout the day.

Marc and Angel.

  • Find yourself in the service of others – Looking for a natural “high”? Helping others or doing kind things for others can have a positive effect on your happiness and well-being.  Studies have shown the just witnessing acts of kindness produces Oxycontin, the ‘love hormone’ which aids in lowering blood pressure and improving our overall heart-health.  Oxycontin also increases our self-esteem and optimism.  Kindness stimulates the production of serotonin, the feel-good chemical which helps to heal your wounds, calm you down, and makes you happy! Being kind to others reduces pain, can reduce the stress hormone cortisol by 23%, anxiety and depression.  Being altruistic is linked to lowering blood pressure and increases heart health.
  • Rekindle a passion – Think back to a time when you were happiest, what things where you doing that you no longer do?  What passion or leisure activity can you rediscover? Create a network of people who have similar interests and whom you will look forward to meeting up with on a regular basis.
  • One step at a time – Remember that only one little step is all that is ever needed.  There is always hope, you won’t always feel this way.  One day you will look back to this day and realise how far you have come.

Knocked down,

But not out;

Crying but still breathing;

Broken

but Brave;

I’m strong

Enough to survive this

– the love yourself challenge.

 

Thank you for reading my blog.  If you or someone you care about is suffering with depression please reach out to Lifeline on 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO), or www.depression.org.nz for online resources as well as Depression Helpline, free phone 0800 111 757 and Anxiety Line 0800 ANXIETY (2694 389).

Kia kaha,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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