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Tips for Emotionally Navigating the Upcoming Break

You’ve been running and working and grading and subbing and goal setting and scheduling meetings, planning meetings, attending meetings, attending IEPs, filling out behavior forms, attending more meetings…At home you may be decorating for a holiday, purchasing gifts, making plans, getting ready to do your taxes, grocery shopping, making dinner plans for family - and now your schedule is about to completely change for 7-10 days. It’s okay if you’ve been counting down the days. It’s a busy time of year. You can enjoy your job and your students and still look forward to a break. No guilty feelings allowed.

You’re probably expecting to get through the holiday rush and relax in whichever way you’ve chosen to participate in self-care. Maybe it’s binging Netflix, taking in some hot yoga, or visiting with a friend you haven’t seen in ages. You’re looking forward to the break and to let your body and mind rest, but you may notice when you get to that point that your body and mind aren’t cooperating. Why do you feel so anxious or restless?

When we are in a constant state of stress our body becomes accustomed to that hyperarousal. It would make sense that when we are living in that state we would yearn for time to destress and relax, but our bodies take longer to come down from that state than we might be willing to wait and relaxing can actually feel uncomfortable just because it’s different. Sometimes, it can be frustrating to have time to actually relax and then instead of the calming feeling we expect, we feel agitated and restless. Here are some tips for moving our bodies along and allowing them to decompress over the break.

Structured Transitions

A structured transition is a purposeful and planned approach to shifting from a high-stress, high-activity period into a more relaxed, restful phase, such as a holiday break. It's particularly useful for educators who often experience the intense, stressful work periods followed by abrupt shifts to free time. The aim is to help the mind and body adjust to the change in pace, preventing the whiplash-like effect that can lead to those feelings of restlessness or anxiety.

Understanding Structured Transitions

The idea is to create a buffer zone between the hectic work schedule and the relaxation period. This buffer helps in gradually reducing the mental and physical pace, making the transition smoother.

Pre-Transition Planning

This involves mentally preparing for the upcoming break a few days in advance. It can include setting goals for the break, planning leisure activities, or simply acknowledging the need for rest.

Decompression Activities

Engage in activities that signal the end of work and the start of relaxation. These could be as simple as organizing your workspace for your return, setting an 'out of office' reply, or a small ritual like a cup of tea signifying the end of work.

Gradual Reduction in Workload

If possible, plan to reduce the intensity of work tasks in the last few days before the break. Avoid starting new, demanding projects and try to tie up loose ends.

Mindful Transitioning

Consciously recognize the shift from work mode to relaxation mode. Mindfulness exercises can be beneficial here, helping to ground you in the present moment and reduce stress.

First Day of Transition

Designate the first day or two of the break as a transition period. Avoid jumping straight into holiday activities or chores. Instead, choose calming activities like light reading, a leisurely walk, or a relaxing hobby. This is easier said than done, of course, if you are preparing for a holiday.

Routine Adjustments

Gradually adjust your daily routine. If your workday is highly structured, try to maintain some form of light structure during the initial days of your break to avoid feeling untethered.

Transitions are going to look different for everyone, so it’s important to give yourself grace and do the best you can to prepare yourself for the break.

Sleep Hygiene

Sleep hygiene is defined as a set of habits or routines that you employ on a regular basis to help your body get to sleep and stay asleep, and improve your quality of sleep. It's an important aspect of maintaining both physical and mental health, as quality sleep affects mood, energy levels, cognitive function, and overall well-being. Effective sleep hygiene can help prevent sleep disorders and improve the quality of sleep. Here are some key components:

Consistent Sleep Schedule

Go to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even on weekends. This helps regulate the body's internal clock and can improve the quality of sleep.

Comfortable Sleeping Environment

Create a room that's conducive to sleeping: cool, quiet, and dark. Using earplugs or white noise machines, and blackout curtains can help.

Pre-Sleep Routine

Engage in a relaxing routine before bed, such as reading, taking a warm bath, or practicing relaxation exercises. This signals the body that it's time to wind down.

Limiting Screen Time

Avoid screens (TVs, phones, tablets, computers) at least an hour before bed. The blue light emitted by screens can disrupt the body’s ability to produce melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep.

Watch Food and Drink Intake

Avoid large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bedtime. These can disrupt sleep patterns and decrease sleep quality.

Be Mindful of Naps

If napping is necessary, it's best to keep it short (20-30 minutes) and not too late in the day, as it can interfere with nighttime sleep.

Managing Stress

Practice stress management techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, or journaling to help quiet the mind before bedtime.

Exposure to Natural Light

Exposure to sunlight during the day, as well as darkness at night, helps to maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle.

Guided Relaxation Techniques

Gradual relaxation techniques can be highly effective in managing stress and helping the body transition from a state of heightened arousal to relaxation. Here are three specific techniques you could try:

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)

PMR involves tensing and then relaxing each muscle group in the body, progressively moving from one end of the body to the other (usually starting from the feet and moving upwards).

Find a comfortable position, either sitting or lying down. Start by tensing the muscles in your feet for about five seconds, then release the tension and notice the feeling of relaxation. Continue this process with different muscle groups – calves, thighs, glutes, abdomen, arms, hands, neck, and face.

PMR helps in reducing physical tension and mental anxiety. It can be particularly useful for individuals who struggle with insomnia or stress-related muscle tension. Here is a PMR video to walk you through it.

Guided Imagery

This technique involves visualizing a peaceful and calming image or scenario to engage the mind and body in relaxation.

Find a quiet space, close your eyes, and take deep, slow breaths. Imagine a serene setting, like a beach or a forest. Focus on the details of this place – the sounds, the smells, the textures. Feel the relaxation that this place brings.

Guided imagery can lower stress and anxiety levels. It’s also useful for pain management and improving mood, as it provides a mental escape from stressors.

Autogenic Training

This technique involves a series of self-statements about heaviness and warmth in different parts of the body. It combines both physical sensations and mindful meditation.

Repeat phrases to yourself like “My arms are heavy and warm” while focusing on relaxing those body parts. The practice usually starts with the limbs, progresses to the heart rate and breathing, and ends with the head.

Autogenic training is effective in reducing stress and anxiety. It helps in regulating the autonomic nervous system, leading to a feeling of calmness and balance. Here is a video to walk you through Autogenic Training.

Of course, it’s important to remember that what works for one person may not work for another, but if you find that by the time you get into relaxation mode, it’s time to go back to work, these strategies may help you get more time out of your well-deserved break.

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