With 2020 in full swing and many New Year resolutions gathering dust it’s a great time to check-in on the wellbeing of your team members and implement some self-care initiatives.
Working in early childhood education and care brings many rewards and responsibilities but there are also challenges and difficulties to overcome. The highly physical and psychologically demanding nature of working with children means it’s easy to become tired, stressed and overwhelmed.
This can quickly lead to reduced performance, increased absenteeism and high staff turnover as well as low morale and motivation.
While self-care may be bandied about in the media and promoted by celebrity brands, the term is more than a buzzword and should not be considered an indulgence. Self-care is an important professional priority and embedding self care in the daily routine at your service will go a long way in supporting team members to manage stress and boost overall wellbeing.
Signs of stress
These may vary from person to person, but may include:
- Changes in emotional life or behaviours
- Increase in tension, irritability, fatigue
- Problems sleeping
- Difficulty concentrating
- Lose appetite or always eating
- Not wanting to go into work, apathy
The most basic and important way to mitigate stress among your staff members is to encourage and support them to take better care of themselves.
What is self-care?
Self-care is an active and conscious choice to engage in activities that support better mental, emotional, and physical health. It’s important to take the time to assess how you’re caring for yourself, because this will make it easier to manage stress levels, increase resilience and improve mental health. Activities that support and promote self-care do not have to be expensive or complicated. Indeed, taking small, sustainable steps is likely to lead to more success in the long run, rather than introducing a radical new regime, which is difficult to maintain.
So…where do you start?
Here are three golden rules:
- Stick to the basics. Over time you will find your own rhythm and routine. You will be able to implement more and identify particular forms of self-care that work for you.
- Self-care needs to be something you actively plan, rather than something that just happens. It is an active choice and you must treat it as such. Add certain activities to your calendar, announce your plans to others in order to increase your commitment, and actively look for opportunities to practice self-care. Self-care is essential in the workplace especially in the demanding field of early childhood education.
- Be aware of what you do, why you do it, how it feels, and what the outcomes are.
Simple approaches to self-care
Physical activity: Are you getting enough exercise? This is a key component of self-care. Exercise increases cardiovascular activity and most importantly, it releases endorphins in the brain. These chemicals have a role in reducing stress hormones, such as cortisol, and managing depression. Research has shown that even minimal exercise is better than none. Sneak in any opportunities in the classroom with the children to stretch, dance and stand rather than sit.
Better sleep: Science consistently shows that lack of sleep leads to poor health outcomes. Learning to get a good night’s sleep is a fundamental aspect of good self-care. Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual, avoid electronic devices an hour before bed and stick to a sleep schedule with the same bedtime and wake up time – even on weekends. Try a breathing practice or meditation when you settle into bed.
Good nutrition: Do you take time to eat meals at work and have healthy snacks? While it's not wrong to indulge every once in a while, making healthy choices is an important part of self-care. Plan ahead and integrate your favourite healthy foods into your daily routine to ensure you have adequate nutrition throughout your day.
Take a break: Working with children is very busy and demanding, it can also be very noisy. While there can be limited opportunities to take a break it’s important to know what breaks you’re legally entitled to and ensure you take them.
Start off your day by taking a few minutes for yourself. Take the time to relax, breathe, or to just sit still. Where possible throughout the day integrate mini breaks to help you regroup and recharge. Try stretching, taking a brief walk or try a short breathing exercise such as closing your eyes and taking 10 deep breaths.
Positive ideas for the workplace: Is there anything that can be done to make your work less stressful? Is there a dedicated space for breaks that is clutter-free with comfortable seats, healthy snacks and a water dispenser? Is the physical environment designed to allow children and staff to work comfortably? This includes having adult size furniture. Look at ways to make your workplace more pleasant and improve conditions for you and your co-workers and suggest ideas in meetings.
Integrate fun and creativity into your day: Look for joy in your day. Find reasons to celebrate and share them. If there’s something you are passionate about such as the arts, exercise, gardening or technology then look for opportunities to share your talents and passion in the classroom. Plan something to look forward to either at work or after work.
Practice mindfulness or relaxation techniques: Thanks to technology we can just tap into a number of free apps to assist with stress relief. Scientific studies have linked benefits to simple activities such as a walk in nature, cultivating gratitude and creating moments of silence in your day. Find out what works for you and embrace it.
Know your limits: To meet your responsibilities and work obligations, you have to keep your mental and physical health in check. When you're starting to feel too much stress, recognise the signs that it might be time for a mental health break – and take action. Self-care isn't only about doing things yourself; often, it includes understanding your needs and asking for help when you need it. Everyone will benefit.