by Nan Foster
One Monday afternoon at work, I was sitting at my desk and the thought popped up: “I hate my job!” I felt surprised by the sentiment, because I have often said “I love my job”, but I didn’t remember putting my frustrations that way before. I thought to myself a few things after that: I thought that is not a sentiment I want to endorse and develop, because that way leads to unhappiness. I had no plans to switch jobs nor another job that I wanted instead; on the contrary, I had worked hard to get and keep this exact position. Next I examined why I had had this thought (which is really an expression of some emotions). I asked myself why I felt this way in the moment. And I thought of a few reasons why that particular thought had popped up that day. My morning was when I had students in the classroom, but it seemed to me that I had spent all three hours behind my desk. I was talking to students about GED preparation, printing materials for them to study, scheduling tests, printing transcripts, catching up on emails, and who knows what else, and had done very little of what to me felt like teaching. And now in the afternoon, it was time to work on the WPRs that were due. As I thought about it, I also remembered that this was the first day back after a week-long break, and that I often feel some difficulty adjusting to the change in lifestyle after a break, being back in a fast-paced classroom with fluorescent light and no windows. Yet within a day or two in the past, I had felt more on top of things.
Because I prefer loving my job to hating my job, I thought about how I could change my mind and make myself feel better about the situation. I reminded myself to bring jasmine and lavender flowers from my garden to make me feel more connected to the outside world and gratify my senses while I’m here. In my email that day I received an invitation to participate in professional development with another teacher, and I replied that I would go to that workshop. That made me feel as if I would grow professionally, learn something, and also get a bit closer to a colleague. I vowed to carve out more time for interacting with students about their school work, even if other tasks seemed demanding. And I decide to have a group check-in with my students the following morning.
On Tuesday morning, for our check-in, I asked my students to introduce themselves, say what school work they were working on that morning, and why they were here; what being in school meant to them, why they were putting in that effort that morning. I heard students express reasons about big life goals, about going to college, about being able to do now what they couldn’t do before, about the joy of learning, about being able to get specific jobs they wanted. I heard how important school was to them and their lives, and I felt joy at being in a position to help them with their goals. I was back in touch with what I love about the job.
How was I able to change my mind so quickly and refocus on what brings me joy and and stay calm about feeling bad? Partly it is from great psychotherapy I had done when I worked in a previous, very challenging teaching job. I learned cognitive-behavioral and self-compassion techniques and habits that have become routine for me. I also think it may have been a reflection of the care I recently started getting from an acupuncturist, who has helped me to stay calmer and more flexible. And I think my daily meditation practice and weekly yoga classes help me to be aware and slow down enough to notice the thoughts as thoughts. However, there are times when my thoughts are not so easily changed. If I am struggling with low mood for a while, I will visit my psychologist again to get some outside support.
I am sharing this with hopes that it might inspire other staff towards practices that will support them in finding inspiration and changing their minds or simply getting support for entirely appropriate difficult feelings. Therapy is great, and you can also learn CBT from a book called “The Feeling Good Handbook” by David D. Burns. Exercise is well known to improve mood, and eating well and getting plenty of sleep are important, too. I have heard other staff talk about how focusing on family and pets, or arts and other passions, have helped them to deal with the stresses. I also think that constructively speaking up about things that could be done better in our work together is important. That can help us to feel more in control of and positive about our work lives.
Mindfulness Daily for April 2018
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