Educator wellbeing has received increased attention for awhile now, with organisations such as Smiling Mind developing mindfulness programs for the workplace to improve staff performance and mental health.
How does embracing mindfulness support wellbeing in the work environment?
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is quite simply awareness. It is bringing focus to what we are presently doing with curiosity.
Mindfulness isn’t necessarily about thinking good thoughts or being a kind person, although the practice of being mindful can certainly lead to these qualities. It is about recognising particular thoughts, both positive and negative, as they occur or reflecting on them afterwards.
Our ultimate aim with mindfulness practice is to be aware of what is going on within our minds so we notice when we are thinking positively and to work through any negative thoughts. This awareness ultimately helps to decrease stress and increase an overall sense of control in how we manage our thinking.
How can mindfulness be used on a practical level?
The first step in practising mindful thinking is noticing how you are feeling during situations where you feel overwhelmed such as:
when a child’s behaviour becomes threatening;
when a child starts to throw things;
when you are feeling frustrated by the noise level in your environment; or,
when you haven’t done any paperwork for the day.
Each of these moments present an opportunity to step back, analyse the thoughts, determine your emotion and then come up with an objective solution that encourages you to act in the best interests of everyone, including yourself.
There are times as educators when we have wanted to quit our jobs, take sick leave or think about a change in our career choice because of this looming sense of being overwhelmed, anxious and stressed.
While all these options are potentially viable, are they really what you want to do? Instead, if you could tune into your feelings, manage your thoughts and change the way you see situations, do you think it might help you cope better with incidences, such as challenging behaviour in children?
The power of thought and reflection
Posing questions is one tool which can assist in the ability to become mindful. Thinking about any of the scenarios above, one way of reflecting on those moments is to ask yourself:
How did that situation make me feel?
Is my reaction one I am taking too personally?
Is that emotion the best choice?
How could I manage this situation better?
Why am I feeling overwhelmed?
Questions such as these help us become aware of what is going on in our mind. As we start to process our thought patterns, we are able to determine how to respond to to them.
Quite simply, we should aim to respond, not react. When we instantly react from an emotion, such as anger and frustration, we often don’t respond well.
By taking a moment to pause, process and analyse thoughts, we are giving ourselves the opportunity to be mindful when we respond, that is, to respond with awareness.
When we are faced with a situation that evokes anger, for example, one strategy is to take a minute to take a deep breath, acknowledge the feeling, ask yourself why do you feel that emotion and what is the best, most appropriate option to manage it.
Becoming mindful is a process and takes time. We are in effect, training our brains to think differently. By becoming aware of our thoughts, we in turn, develop a deeper understanding of how our mind operates when faced with challenging situations.
Eventually through understanding mindfulness, we can learn to find an inner sense of peace, that will enhance our wellbeing by allowing us to slow down and think before we act.