It has been a difficult few weeks in education – for leaders who find themselves balancing the needs of children and the welfare of staff, and for staff managing anxiety levels around all sorts of new issues that have emerged as we face this strange new reality.
I volunteer at the Releasing Potential Institute and have been able to work from home during this time, however, I know many of my hard-working colleagues have been delivering education to vulnerable students since the beginning of the outbreak. As a school for children with Special Educational Needs, all students have an EHCP and are therefore eligible to remain in school.
However, when life gets a bit uncertain and out of our control, I’m sure I’m not the only one who goes into worry mode. Facing anxieties can be hard, but one thing I have found to be useful is becoming more aware of my thoughts through mindfulness.
Contrary to what many people think, mindfulness is not about suppressing your thoughts and emotions. Recently, I have practiced mindfulness by being aware of my thoughts and then bringing myself back to the present by focusing on my breathing or the world around me. I have found this has helped a lot with overthinking and anxiety.
The best way I have found to let go is to imagine all my thoughts as balloons, each with a string attached. During mindfulness, try to leave the balloons alone and focus on the present moment. However, it is inevitable for our minds to wander and to begin overthinking again, metaphorically holding on to one or many of the balloons. The important part of the mindfulness process is that as soon as you are conscious of your mind wandering, allow the thought or worry to pass out of your mind and return your attention to the present. I find it helpful to imagine physically letting go of the balloons in your mind. It is important to repeat this every time you catch your mind wandering or you realise you’re holding on to a balloon.
During this time, it is important we are still able to get outside. Following government guidelines, I have found taking a short walk around where I live to be extremely beneficial. I really enjoy the poem “The Tables Turned” by William Wordsworth which says:
“Let Nature be your teacher. She has a world of ready wealth, Our minds and hearts to bless.”
It is true that by just being outside we can improve not only our physical but also our mental health. So long as we practice social distancing, stay close to home, and do not take part in outdoor activity with those not in our household, this is something to help see us through the crisis and keep our mental health strong.
Being outside also offers an easy way to keep practicing mindfulness. There are many guided meditations and mindfulness walking videos on Youtube which present a simple introduction to the practice while you are on a walk. Mindful walking helps us to focus our attention on the external world rather than the internal worries. Listening to the sounds and noticing the colours that make up your environment can help us to be present in the moment even if it is just for a short walk.
For more on Releasing Potential’s work with vulnerable children and the outdoors, check out SEN Magazine’s April edition in which our Founder and CEO, Mike King, discusses the benefits of outdoor learning. You can read more here for free: https://issuu.com/senmagazine/docs/sen105/78