Blog

Reflections on rest, renewal and renaming

Something I’ve been contemplating a lot lately is the way life works in cycles. The seasons of the year, the phases of the moon, the mostly cycle of my body. I am really connecting with and listening to these cycles, and the opportunities they provide for me. Within each of these cycles there is a time of high energy and action followed by a time that seems built for rest and reflection. One without the other is dangerous. Too much energy and action leads to burnout. Too much rest and reflection without any action leads to stagnation.

But life has larger cycles also. I am coming to the end of several of these cycles at the moment, I feel. Not only am I in the last year of my twenties, and possibly my last year of non-motherhood, but I’m also in my last few weeks of my teaching career. More on that later…

Another phase of life that just ended for me, officially, today, is my maiden name. Although we got married over 18 months ago, I only just officially changed my name this week (and only because my looming licence renewal notice prompted me to stop procrastinating!). This is significant I feel. It’s been a really big decision for me. I won’t go into all the feminist stuff that came up alongside (at least, I won’t go into it right now!) but it has also been a very large identity decision.

Before we got married, I thought I’d take his name and lose my maiden name altogether. But the day after we were married when I went to change my name on Facebook (Facebook official!) I felt sick. I couldn’t do it. So then for a while I thought I’d keep my maiden name. But that didn’t really feel right either.

It took me 6 full months to finally settle on double barrelling my surnames without a hyphen. So, I am Ellen Ronalds Keene.

Even though I’ve had that as my official Facebook name for more than a year now, and also as my name at work and at the hair dresser, I hadn’t actually legally changed it. Until today.

Do I feel different? I’m not sure. I certainly feel that procrastinating on the name change was initially vital — I had to figure out what I wanted, who I wanted to be. But lately it had felt more like resistance.

There’s a lovely metaphor I use in coaching sometimes about monkey bars. When you want to move forward on the monkey bars, you have to let go of one rung before you can grasp onto the next. For a moment, brief as it may be, you are hanging and swinging in the air with only one hand to support you. It’s fear of that transition phase that keeps you holding onto that earlier rung a little longer than you should. The longer you hold on, the more tired your arms get, and the greater your anxiety about having to let go.

That’s how I feel a bit about this name change. I know, logically it’s what I want. But a part of me has to grieve the loss of the old me. Not so much the single me, more the child/adolescent me who was far more carefree and blissfully ignorant about much of the world and its problems.

Who is Ellen Ronalds Keene? Well, she’s a woman, not a girl. She’s a professional, a business woman, a successful and wildly wealthy woman. She’s an author and speaker, a coach and a creator. She’s also a wife and, in my mind, a mother. She’s a mature, capable, intelligent, strong, decisive, discerning force of nature. She doesn’t take crap, she has exceptional boundaries, and she stands up for what is right. She’s in touch with her soul and her emotions and she’s giving and generous while being an expert practitioner in the art of extreme self-care. She’s brave, she explores new things and doesn’t let fear hold her back. She’s radiant and she lifts others into their own radiance too.

And yet, I don’t feel like those things yet. I so often still feel like a vulnerable little girl, an imposter and a wimp. But I’m learning and changing and growing and perhaps someday I will be the Ellen Ronalds Keene of my vision. For now, Ellen Ronalds Keene is just hatching out of her shell, trying to figure out who she is today, now that she officially has 2 last names (no hyphen!). It’s the beginning of a new phase, and an exciting one.

2016 is also the end of the first phase of my working life. My career as a high-school teacher is coming to an end. I have spent 24 of my 29 years on the planet at school. It’s time. I’m tired, very tired. I’m also becoming jaded and disillusioned which I don’t enjoy and I don’t believe is productive. Even apart from all that, I have spent 5 incredible years at my current school, which happens to be 100km away from my house. Environmentally, my conscience can’t and won’t keep allowing that because it makes my footprint far larger than it needs to be. Physically and emotionally, all that driving and the very long days also takes a toll. And cyclically, I’ve seen a whole cohort through their high school years at this school, and it just feels time to move on.

But with that comes a level of grief. I’m accepting of that and I’ve been contemplating it a lot in the last few weeks. Especially in the last week, as I have been recovering from a nasty virus. Even now, 11 days after initially falling ill, I am extremely fatigued. Tomorrow will be my first day back at work in a week and a half and I have to say, I’m nervous. My body is not yet 100% and I don’t like soldiering on, although I am feeling much more myself and I really do need to get back to work. But I know how my body recovers from viruses. I am going to be extremely careful in the next month, which also happens to be my last month in this job, to protect my energy as much as possible. I can’t afford to wear myself out any more than I already am and I certainly can’t afford to give myself post-viral chronic fatigue syndrome again.

This time of enforced rest and reflection has felt rather timely. Somebody told me recently that often we begin and end cycles the same way. I began my teaching career as a preservice teacher with a chronically sore throat and persistent fatigue. It seems apt that physically I am there again, at the end of my teaching career. And it confirms my decision to leave a profession that requires me operate in a system that is bad for my health. This is yet another opportunity to practice prioritising my health amidst a myriad of end-of-year pressures, many of which are increased because I have to tie up a number of extra loose ends as well.

It seems that this time of lower energy, need for rest and time for reflection is descending upon me at the end of this cycle and the beginning of the next. I had hoped to do so much on my website and business by the end of the year to really kick start 2017 with a bang. But I see now that isn’t going to happen. I intend to heed the warning signs my body is sending. The next cycle will begin when it begins and the time of high energy and action will return.

But for now, I allow myself to settle into this slower phase to allow my mind and heart and spirit to adjust to all the changes ahead: a new name, a new career, a new decade and hopefully in time a new season of life.

Grace and peace, darlings x

High vs. Pleasure

This article is in response to this amazing video with Mama Gena talking about all things femininity
So, on Monday, my therapist and I had a very interesting conversation. We were talking about extremes of emotion, and how some people go on roller-coasters and bungee jump in order to get a ‘high’. He asked me where I get my high. I was stumped for a moment. Actually, the truth is, I don’t really get high. It doesn’t interest me at all. I’ve been kind of perplexed by that and pondering it since.
I said at the time that a lot of the people I know who are adrenalin junkies seem to be pretty fucking miserable in their everyday lives and it’s like they desperately NEED the high to look forward to and to remind them they are alive and to feel ‘good’, except it isn’t any kind of good that I’m interested in. It’s not really happiness, it’s just a high.
To me there’s a huge difference. I said that I want to live a life without the huge ups and downs, but that is generally quite happy overall. I don’t want to NEED a high just to get me through the drudgery and misery that is my day-to-day. Fuck that. Seriously. Fuck that right off. That is not my idea of good feelings. That is not my idea of a good life.
Then today I watched this video with Marie Forleo and Regena Thomashauer about her new book ‘Pussy: a reclamation’ . I have ordered it and I cannot WAIT to read it.
In the interview (go watch it now before you read the rest of this article) they talk about the patriarchy and femininity and how our masculine society approaches life with this ‘no pain, no gain/harden up’ mentality and how that is super fucking bad for women because it keeps us in a state of stress and because we need the feminine values of slow, receiving and…pleasure!
And a light bulb went off in my mind. Not only was I already fist pumping along with this Mama Gena woman who I’ve only just discovered but apparently has been around for years and who is speaking out loud everything I think about our rat-race society.
But I realised WHY this whole conversation about getting a ‘high’ felt so off to me. It just holds NO appeal to me and I couldn’t articulate why, even though some other part of me was like ‘but isn’t that how I’m supposed to live, isn’t that what the world says is right?’ (which, by the way, my therapist was definitely not implying, it was just part of our conversation.)
The concept of getting a ‘high’ feels off to me because it’s purely adrenaline based. Adrenaline is produced by the adrenal glands and is a form of stress on the body. Stress on the body is not pleasure. Getting a ‘high’ from some thrill-seeking activity is the very opposite of pleasure for me. And PLEASURE is what I’m aiming for, not an adrenaline-fueled high.
And just to be clear, I’m not just talking about sexual pleasure (although there’s nothing wrong with that, but if adrenaline or cortisol are pumping through your system good luck getting anywhere near orgasm). I’m also not just talking about momentary pleasure that you feel when you eat a piece of chocolate or slip into a hot bath (although, I do love those moments). I’m talking about taking pleasure and feeling joy and absolutely revelling in the pleasure of the day-to-day. The beauty and peace and, dare I say it, sacredness of life. Just en-joy-ing the experience of where, what and who I am at this particular point in space and time.
Maybe this doesn’t make a lot of sense and I don’t particularly care! I’ve spent a lot of time the last 3 months really exploring my experience of the world, my understanding of the sacred, and wrestling with the very cynical, uber-critical inner demon-on-my-shoulder, mean girl and ego inside me who says that it’s all woo-woo rubbish and science is king (another subtle message that the masculine must be superior) and if you can’t see it, or even more important, argue it with perfect articulateness then you will be shot down by vitriol from male, anti-theist trolls. Except they’re not even trolls, some of them are friends. I see some of the stuff they post on Facebook and it makes me want to shrink and hide my feminine heart even more because I know if they knew I was exploring and thinking and valuing some of this stuff they’d be extremely blunt and frankly mean with their dismissal of it.
But I don’t want to hide. I don’t need their approval, and in fact they’re not even people that I actually see in real life anymore. And by some of the vitriolic stuff they post on Facebook, I’m not sure I’d want to have a conversation with them about any of this stuff anyway. Actually, I definitely wouldn’t want to do that.
So I unfollowed them. Not unfriended, because there are reasons I’m friends with them and I actually think they are pretty great humans in general. I don’t have a problem with men and masculinity. I want to make that super clear. It’s just a few men I know who are very publicly anti-theistic and critical. Since I want to remove that voice from my head and allow myself the space to explore and enjoy exploring what I want, when I want, that starts with removing that message from my Facebook feed.
All of this is just to say that I am choosing pleasure in my day to day life as a goal. I want to eliminate things in my life that cause me unnecessary stress and fuel my inner critic. These particular people on social media do that. And it felt really PLEASURABLE to consciously choose to unfollow them, and instead prioritise the inspiring, hopeful, sacred, wise, funny, kind and enjoyable social media posts instead.
Mama Gena said in this video: “When you hate on yourself, you can’t love a sister. It can only happen if you take that radical and revolutionary step of standing for your own pleasure, which leads to self-love.”
Yes. AMEN, sister. Let’s love each other and share that love around the world.
I stand for my own pleasure. It’s a small but revolutionary change in my approach to life. It requires me to shut down that voice in my mind, and that voice on social media, the one that hates on me. I choose love instead.
I invite you to do the same and together, we can make the world a better place.

The importance of self-compassion

This past week, I had a massive reminder of the importance of self-compassion.

I had a great morning, out and about doing errands. It was a beautiful day, I had the day off and I had a nice day planned. Then on the way home from the bank I made a mistake in traffic and narrowly avoided a collision. It was very scary. It was also stupid. It was something I would never do on purpose. It was the textbook definition of an accident, thankfully without an actual crash.

I am safe, but I was very shaken up and I was holding back tears all the way home, which thankfully wasn’t far at all. Do I regret it? Of course. Can any amount of wishing or hoping change it now? Nope. Sigh.

And here’s where things got really interesting for me. Once I got home I didn’t actually cry. I spent the next half hour or so mentally tearing strips off myself. I was mean. I was so cruel. I would never say anything like that to anybody else in a million years, let alone someone who was clearly in shock and needed a hug.

I pride myself on my driving. I’ve never had a fine or lost points or anything like that. The only collision I’ve ever been involved with was when I was parked and somebody ran into me, so I was not at fault. I consider myself a good, careful, safe driver. But today something in my brain clearly didn’t work like usual.

As a recovering perfectionist, mistakes like this are a field day for my super-ego or inner mean girl.

But thankfully I’ve learnt enough about myself, life and human psychology to know that beating myself up doesn’t help. I caught myself in the act of self-abuse and consciously redirected my thoughts towards self-compassion.

What would I say to a friend who had just made a silly, dangerous mistake and was clearly angry at themselves and in shock? I would comfort them. I would not tell them that what they did was ok — that’s not compassion that’s enabling. But I would tell them that THEY are ok, that they are human and that they are safe and loveable and enough.

So I said those things to myself. And it helped somewhat, but not entirely.

Then I realised what was still broiling underneath: shame.

Ding, ding, ding! That’s the sound of my brain figuring out something important.

Brene Brown is a shame researcher and in her book “The Gifts of Imperfection” she talks about silence being the biggest breeder of shame.

So I told somebody. It was the one thing I didn’t want to do. I don’t want people to think of me as a dangerous driver. I don’t want people to extrapolate that if I’m a dangerous driver I’m therefore also incompetent in other areas of life. I didn’t want anybody else to know about this embarrassing mistake.

I started with my husband and my best friend. Then I reached out in an online community I’m in where the culture is one of support and love, not judgment and criticism. And now I’m posting this here, on my blog, for all the world to see (although I don’t think the whole world is actually reading).

I want to be clear: I’m not looking for appeasement for my actions. I made a mistake, it could have had devastating consequences and it was wrong. I am sorry and I am owning that.

Owning my actions, speaking honestly about them and admitting that I was wrong…What I am doing is diffusing the shame and self-hatred I felt initially. I am practising self-compassion.

Because here’s the thing about mistakes, especially big bad ones: we think that if we punish ourselves enough we will learn the lesson, that we won’t make the mistake again. But that’s neither helpful or even necessarily true.

For a start, I did NOT do this on purpose. So punishing myself is not really going to help because it wasn’t the kind of mistake where I didn’t know better and now I do so  won’t do it again. It was an accident and I can’t guarantee I’ll never have another accident. I’ll do my absolute best, I will definitely be even more careful, but I’m a human and there are no guarantees of this kind in life.

But more importantly, pain isn’t the only way and definitely not the best way to learn a lesson. Staying in a place of shame and anger and self-hatred doesn’t actually do anything productive for me. We have this warped idea that has been conditioned into us that if we punish ourselves enough we can somehow “earn” atonement through our suffering. Then, someday, we will be able to feel good about ourselves again because we will have “earnt it”. Except, most of us make enough mistakes daily (little ones, for the most part) that keep us constantly in a cycle of mentally berating ourselves, that we never get to that far off time when we can allow ourselves to feel good enough again.

The only way to break that cycle is to decide not to perpetuate it, and choose self-compassion and self-forgiveness instead.

And later, gratitude. Gratitude that I am safe, gratitude that I have learned a valuable lesson, and gratitude that I am able to choose the path of self-compassion and self-forgiveness instead of self-flagellation.

Will you join me on the journey?

Gratitude + forgiveness = happiness

The New Harmony Agenda

Long time no type. Again! Seems to be a pattern of mine.

I got too busy again. I got kinda crook too. And updating my blog was the last thing on my mind. Even though I enjoy it. Even though writing is like a release for me. Even though I know it might help somebody else going through the same things as me. Even though I want to develop a consistent habit. Even though, even though, even though. But alas, I stopped anyway.

And here I am starting again (again, again).

And I have a plan. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking over the last 6 months, or so. I’ve been studying for the last 2 years in formal courses to give me some new qualifications, and I’ve also been doing a whole lotta learnin’ informally too, about myself and my body and my other needs (physical, emotional, spiritual etc). I’ve been a content-consuming machine for years now. I love to read and listen and learn, and I want to help myself and help other people by sharing what I’ve learned.

So expect some changes around here over the next couple of months. I mean that about the website, but also about my life in general. I have reached a threshold or tipping point in my life in a number of ways.

Physically, I have become so fed up with my difficult and frustrating pattern of digestive issues that I’m about to embark upon a radical gut healing program called GAPS. I have also been working really hard on my fitness/health values and beliefs. I tried a program that was amazing but wasn’t for me, and I have begun jogging regularly with my husband the Exercise Physiologist. I have also been practicing and studying meditation and yoga, which have had profound impacts on my life. But still, there is fatigue and hormonal dysfunction (thyroid, adrenal, reproductive…) and major tummy problems. The list of foods that no longer agree with my body is getting longer and longer and at some point (that point is now!) I believe I have to stop treating the symptoms of whatever is going on in my insides and start actually looking at and treating the cause.  GAPS is nothing to be sneezed at, but hopefully it will help me heal for good this time.

Professionally, I have found a lot of clarity about my next steps and made some big decisions about the future recently. I have been granted one year’s leave without pay for 2017 from my teaching position in a state school in Queensland. This means that I will not be teaching in schools, other than some supply work (substitute teaching for those not up with teacher talk!). Part of this is because my husband and I would like to do some travel, and because I want to really focus big time on my health and getting really, really well before we even think about having babies. That is a big WHY. But it’s also because I want to focus myself full time on the creative projects that have been in my head for years. I want to write blog posts and articles and books, I want to compose music, I want to explore my creativity and I want to really put into practice the new qualifications I have gained over the last 2 years. I want to explore what it means to do all of these things without the constant pressure of trying to fit them in around the school term! But I also really, really want to make a difference in a very different way than I am currently able to do as a teacher.

I am launching a new business called ‘Self-Care for Teachers’ because I feel so passionately about preventing teacher burnout and supporting staff wellbeing in schools and ultimately I want to change the conversation (and maybe the education system!) from the ground up.

I am also going to be refocusing The Harmony Agenda as a website and as a business. Up until now I haven’t really had a brand and it has been mostly a badly updated personal blog. I have been coaching a little bit on the side of my job but I haven’t made that much of an effort to get new clients because I honestly haven’t made it a priority. But I’m ready now to really put myself out there into the world and make a real difference. It will remain a personal blog but I am planning to include a lot more informational topics too. The themes will remain the same: health, happiness, self-care, wellness, slowing down, listening to your body and befriending your emotions. But all the teacher stuff will be moving over to Self-Care for Teachers so the focus of each website will be more streamlined. I am multi passionate but I have felt scattered and confused trying to fit everything under the Harmony Agenda banner. This will hopefully help streamline my brain and what I’m offering to the world!

Oh, and I am also starting a podcast with my best friend Madison about our journeys with starting up businesses but doing them slowly and in a way that supports our health and happiness! So stay tuned for that!

Personally, I have just turned 29 and that has helped in the clarification process. I’ve had some major news about my thyroid recently that I promise I will update you on in another blog post (please don’t worry, it’s good news) but it brought a lot of big truths home to me. I’ve also been doing a lot of reflecting on the fact that next year I turn the big ’30’ and what does that mean for me? There have been a lot of questions lately about babies, or more specifically, when will we be having them. And the truth is, I don’t know when, but not right now. I don’t want to put it off forever, or even for 5 years, but I just know deep down that now is not the right time. My body is not 100% and hasn’t been for many, many years. If nothing else, that is reason to pause and heal so that one day I can be the best vessel possible for a new human being, and so that my own experience of pregnancy and being a new mum isn’t complicated and made more difficult by recurring health problems that could be fixed.

I also am faced with some decisions regarding whether I will even be able to teach with little ones, and the truth is I don’t think I will be able to. I am already part time and only just find I can manage my own health at this schedule. Most women go back to work after maternity leave to the level of part-time teaching that I am currently doing, so it doesn’t leave a lot for me to drop back to. I am aware there are many options and we won’t know until we get there and all of those other arguments. But I basically don’t want to be forced into a position where I have to go back to work at a higher fraction than is good for me. I’ve been forced to do that before (and there were no babies in the picture), and it was absolutely terrible for my health then, and I am under no illusions that it would be any easier if I had to do it again, let alone with the pressures of being a Mum (or the desires I have for being a present, healthy Mum instead of an absent, exhausted, ill parent). So the decision and the plan right now is to try to get extremely well and also build up some other income streams so that if I do decide to return to teaching after maternity leave, it’s because I want to and feel well enough to, and not because of financial desperation.

Plus, we want to do some more travel before we have babies, and I have so many creative ideas that I want to pursue too.

So the NEW Harmony Agenda for me is basically to enjoy the luxury that I have of being a middle class, Western woman with access to contraception and professional choices and amazing health care and a supportive family and with a world to explore. I am taking a gap year, not so much to find myself but to attempt to design my life so that it supports my health and my family plans and my other deep desires in life.

I am so infinitely grateful to be able to do this. The gap year doesn’t start until 2017 but planning for it starts now and I am throwing myself wholeheartedly into the process. I am excited and thankful and scared and excited all rolled into one! I hope you will stick around to hear how it all plays out for me over the next few months and into the gap year of 2017.

Chronically stressed? Self-Care is the antidote!

Like most people in the modern world, I have struggled a lot with feelings of chronic stress. In fact, it’s highly likely that the detrimental physiological and psychological impacts of stress have contributed significantly to my ill health over the last decade. Thankfully, I’m fairly well these days, and I am much better at keeping my stress levels in check. That hasn’t happened by accident, though. It has happened through a deliberate and conscious change in the way I approach life, and as per usual it all comes back to the importance of self-care.

So what is stress?

Well, there’s a number of types. We all need a bit of stress to survive and thrive. The positive type of stress is called ‘eustress’ and it usually relates to events in life that are exciting and joyful. Can you imagine how boring life would be without anything to get us up and moving? I’m sure you can think of a number of times in your life where you felt a bit of pressure to perform, but you enjoyed it and probably felt that you might not perform so well without that heightened sense of awareness. So a little bit of stress is actually quite good!

It’s ‘distress’ that we usually mean when we complain about feeling stressed. But even ‘distress’ is good for us, in small amounts. Our bodies are always working to keep us safe and alive. So even though it might not feel very nice, that adrenalin rush when you have a ‘near miss’ while driving in traffic, or the muscle tension and hyper-alertness you feel when you hear a noise in the backyard late at night are actually a good thing. They are your body’s way of making sure you are alerted to and respond appropriately to danger.

These uncomfortable sensations were first described by a scientist named Walter Cannon in 1915, but they are much older than that. It’s called the ‘fight-or-flight’ response and it’s one of the things that we share with other living creatures: an inbuilt survival mechanism, part of the sympathetic nervous system, that sees the body act first and think later. Within seconds of perceiving a threat, the body’s full energy potential is realised so that a person (or an animal!) can either fight or flee. It’s easy to imagine the scenario of a predator approaching and needing to fight for your life or run away and avoid the predator altogether. But it can also be about other threats to life, such as accidents and natural disasters, when you might have to fight a fire, hide from a cyclone or flee from a flood.

In any and all of these situations, the ‘distress’ we feel is extremely beneficial.

Without it, our conscious mind might take too long to respond and we might die! Our body is clearly operating from the perspective of “it’s better to be safe than sorry” when immediate physical danger is concerned.

The problem is that these days we don’t face a lot of immediate physical danger. Our basic survival is more certain than it probably ever has been in history.

We do, however, encounter a lot of mental and emotional circumstances that our bodies perceive to be emergencies.

A deadline at work, an angry interaction with a fellow human, a pile of bills in the mail, rush hour traffic and many other modern situations that pose no real threat to our lives still upset our mental and emotional equilibrium. Remembering that the fight-or-flight response involves the body acting first and thinking later, it’s hardly surprising that as soon as we perceive an emergency, despite it being no physical threat, our body immediately propels us into a heightened state of arousal so that we are ready to get physical (fight or flee), just in case.

Suddenly we experience a cascade of symptoms: eyes widening, heart racing, blood pressure spiking, muscles tensing, breath shortening and attention narrowing in on whatever it is that has triggered the response.

We usually are unaware of these symptoms at the time, but I’m sure they sound familiar to you. At one point or another you have probably noticed one or all of them. Yet, there are other responses in the body during fight-or-flight that you probably have never felt or noticed. Digestion stops, sexual function is inhibited and the body’s healing processes are shut down. After all, digesting food and producing sperm/releasing eggs is hardly a priority when one might be about to be eaten by a lion or crushed by a landslide. The body diverts all its energy and nutrients and endocrine function to basic survival, which is good…as long as it’s only for a short period of time.

The problem is chronic stress: our modern world bombards us multiple times a day with deadlines and pressures and frustrations that continually trigger our fight-or-flight stress response.

But we can’t fight or flee! Most of the time we have to just ‘suck it up’ and ‘deal with it’. So we are walking around in a chronic state of low- to mid-level fight-or-flight response. Our sympathetic nervous system is continually activated, which basically just makes us feel like crap.

It also means our digestion, sexual function and healing processes are constantly impaired.

That’s a big problem because our bodies are essentially not able to do what they need to do to keep us well. Is it any wonder then that stress related illnesses are so common?

Thankfully, there is a solution that is natural, free and relatively simple.

In an ideal world, after the fight-or-flight response gets triggered and the danger has been successfully fought or fled from, the body will go back to its natural state of homeostasis. This is when the parasympathetic nervous system is in control and it’s a state that is sometimes called ‘rest and digest’.

From that nickname alone, it’s easy to see why it’s important — that’s the state our bodies need to be in so that digestion, sexual function and healing can happen. It was discovered by Harvard scientist Dr Herbert Benson in the 1970s and it is literally the opposite of the fight-or-flight response in the body. It decreases the heart rate and blood pressure, decreases muscle tension, reduces the amount of adrenal hormones in the blood and builds happiness. Dr Benson called it ‘the relaxation response’.

The best thing is that although fight-or-flight is an unconscious response, the relaxation response can be triggered consciously and with volition. One of the best ways to do this is through meditation and purposeful muscle relaxation. Both techniques will slow down the breathing and this tells the body that it is safe and it can switch back on the rest-and-digest functions that are so important for our long term health. Of course there are other activities that can trigger the relaxation response too, like yoga and other exercise, doing something you love and spending time with people who make you happy.

And that’s why I come back to self-care: a regular habit of consciously triggering my relaxation response is vital for my health and happiness.

Just like brushing my teeth helps me manage tooth decay, meditation and progressive muscle relaxation help me manage my stress. Actually, some types of meditation can even be done while brushing teeth! By deliberately switching on the relaxation response, I am able to switch off the stress response and get my body back to doing what it’s gotta do to be well.

If you are struggling with the uncomfortable physical and emotional symptoms of chronic stress, know that there is a powerful and simple solution that you can build into your self-care routine. Whether you do yoga or meditation, a favourite sport or hobby, or simply decide to spend more time with your favourite people, know that when you do so you are combating the negative effects of chronic stress by triggering the relaxation response. And best of all, it’s completely free!

 

Self-Care for first year teachers PART 1

Your first year of teaching is exciting, exhausting, scary and rewarding. There are so many new things to learn and so, so much work to do. Non-teaching friends and family don’t really understand the demands of the job, you are still feeling like a bit of an imposter (are they really letting me in the classroom by myself?) and the students can and will test you because you’re new. There are so many expectations to meet, a lot of new names to remember and lots and lots and lots of paperwork.

It is all too easy as a teacher to always put your needs at the bottom of the list. This is even more of an issue in your first year as you are eager to prove yourself and likely trying really hard to avoid any negative assessments of your abilities. But with anywhere between 8% and 50% of early career teachers leaving the profession in Australia, it’s absolutely vital that you look after you.

Here’s a few dos and don’ts for self-care in your first year:

  1. DO prioritise your sleep. I cannot stress this enough. It’s too easy to stay up until the wee small hours every night trying to get your preparation perfect and finish all the marking and get everything done. But without adequate sleep, you are no good to anybody, especially yourself. You will be far more productive and efficient with proper rest. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and good sleep is what will keep you carrying on for the whole term, semester and year. Practice sleep hygiene and be disciplined about making sleep a priority — everything else will be easier because of it. And, if you are having trouble sleeping seek help sooner rather than later.
  2. DON’T talk about teaching with people who don’t get it. Unfortunately, there are still people out there who think it’s “9 to 3, all those holidays and full of softy whiners”. If you are anything like me, you’ll be tempted to engage in a debate with them or try to convince them that actually, you are doing 60 hour weeks minimum and the holidays are often spent working too. But don’t do that. Conserve your precious energy and also your even more precious mindset. Just give them a token response and change the subject.
  3. DON’T over-schedule yourself. Err on the side of under-scheduling so that you build some slack time into your life for when things take more time than anticipated. And they will. Everything will take longer to do in your first year, so give yourself the benefit of being prepared for that. Be very discerning about what commitments and engagements you say yes to, both at school and at home.
  4. On that note, DO make time for a social life. It’s really, really important for your mental and emotional health. However, don’t spend the whole time talking about school! If you socialise with other teachers, make sure you plan to do some things that will completely distract you from schoolwork. Also, allow yourself to say no to social engagements that you know will leave you feeling drained. You know, the ones that you feel obligated to attend, the ones that you know you will have to spend time with people who distress you, and the ones that are on the night before report cards are due. DO socialise, but make it enjoyable rather than another stressful item on your to-do list.
  5. DO remind yourself that ‘this too shall pass’. This disaster of a lesson, this crappy day, this boring staff meeting, this stressful reporting period, this hectic term, this full-on first year….it WILL pass. But remember that that applies to the good stuff as well as the tough stuff, so remember to enjoy the great moments as they come and go too!
  6. DO incorporate some kind of daily relaxation practice. When we are chronically stressed we operate a lot of our day in ‘fight or flight’, which isn’t good for us over the long term. The antidote is to activate our relaxation response and trigger our body to ‘rest and digest’. I recommend doing this in the evenings, before bed. It makes for much better sleep! There are many ways to do this: a variety of types of meditation, guided relaxation, visualisation, EFT, sex, yoga….the list goes on. The trick is find what works for you. There are loads of videos on YouTube to get you started for free.
  7. DO plan snacks, and lots of them! There will be days when you will only get 5 minutes to eat here and there between classes and playground duties and lunchtime lesson prep and after school meetings. Have an abundance of quick, healthy, filling snacks to grab and go so that you can keep your motor running all day.
  8. DON’T be an island. Communicate with your colleagues and speak up if you need help, sooner rather than later. It’s so easy to be worried about being a burden, and sometimes our pride makes us feel that reaching out is weak. But remember that most people are happy to help, and it’s much easier to plug a small leak than repair a sinking ship. If you’ve made a mistake, admit to it early on — we’re all human, everybody makes mistakes. If you don’t know something, ask — we’ve all been first years, we know there’s a lot to learn. If you need to vent or help finding resources or back-up with a student’s behaviour or advice on how to discuss something with a parent, your colleagues are a wealth of knowledge. Yes, we’re all busy but we know that a rising tide lifts all boats.  Reach out, communicate, speak up — you won’t regret it.
  9. On that note, DO find a mentor, coach, professional adviser (or one of each!) and also DO practice discernment in your choice. Take note of how you feel after you speak with them. If you leave feeling worse than when you arrived, find somebody else to debrief with and ask for advice. It could be a trusted colleague who will be your mentor at school, or you might seek out the services of a professional outside of school.
  10. DO monitor your expectations. It’s going to be a busy year. You aren’t going to be perfect. You aren’t going to be able to do everything like the experienced teachers. You are going to get sick (kids love to share their germs!). You are going have good days and bad days with the students in your class. You are going to be completely exhausted and it is going to be a roller coaster ride.

Ultimately, it’s an amazing, exhausting, scary, rewarding learning curve. Remember to prioritise your needs. Self-care is so important and will be vital to your success both professionally and personally this year. If you would like some extra support, come and join the Self-Care For Teachers Facebook Group. And stay tuned for Part 2 of this blog post!

Personal barriers to self-care

There are five main facets of self-care: physical, personal, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Most of us find one or two of the facets to be natural strengths. Similarly, for most of us, there are one or two areas that don’t come naturally to us. IMG_2715

I’m no different. Emotional self-care comes naturally to me. It always has. For as long as I can remember I have been very in tune with my emotions and I have found it like a default for me to consciously practice emotional self-care. I naturally, intentionally and consistently employ strategies to ‘tend and befriend’ my emotions, seeking extra care when I feel I need it in a timely and determined manner.

It’s partly a case of nurture also: simply be being female I have had more encouragement in our society to engage with my emotions than I would have had were I male. I also was fortunate in that my parents are both emotionally intelligent people with experience as counsellors, so that has definitely helped. Perhaps it is no wonder, then, that I have developed a fascination with and strong desire to help others tend and befriend their own emotions.

I realise that’s not the case for everyone — many of the coaching clients I work with are looking for some support in the area of their emotional self-care. Simply reaching out to a coach and acknowledging that this is something you’d like to work on is an important step, because it requires both awareness and action. There are also many people for whom coaching or some other form of therapy would be of great help, who either ignore their emotional needs altogether or who are aware of their needs but do not intentionally care for them. Self-care of all types requires both conscious awareness and intentional action to be successful. The emotional side of things just happens to come naturally for me, and was then further encouraged through nurture.

Personal care, on the other hand, does not come naturally to me. Of the 5 facets of self-care, this is the area that I have consistently put last. It’s the area that I have to put the most conscious awareness and effort into. In all honesty, I’m a bit lazy. I have often been known to try to stretch my hair another day before being washed, my legs another week (or three!) before being waxed. I would frequently have either no polish on my nails, or it would be chipping off. It was not uncommon for me to get 3 haircuts a year, and still feel like that was too many! I just find personal care to be a big effort and it always ended up last on my list of priorities. (I feel I should mention here that personal care and hygiene, although overlapping, are slightly different. I brush my teeth and wash my hands and bathe every single day. I’m good at hygiene!)

As a high school teacher it doesn’t really matter what I look like (as long as I’m dressed modestly) and, in fact, in terms of behaviour management, I find the plainer I make myself the better. The longer I have been teaching, the more comfortable I have become with making less effort with my outfits, and easily settled into a boring, comfortable uniform of polo shirts, jeans or denim shorts and sensible black sandals. In a small country school, this is perfectly acceptable. On special occasions like ANZAC Ceremonies and Awards Nights, I dress up a bit. But after my first year I pretty much completely stopped wearing make up to those events and I never wear it on a normal school day. I have friends who won’t leave the house without a full face of make up on, which I’d like to point out that I have no problem with. It’s just that I’m the opposite — whether from laziness, defiance or lack of time, I rarely wear make up on special occasions let alone day to day. Even wearing make up to my own wedding was a big decision, and I wore hardly any.

Personal care just doesn’t come naturally to me. I have realised, though, that just because it doesn’t come naturally doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it. I did have to examine what about it I do and don’t like, and what parts exactly were barriers for me, in order to put it higher on the priority list. For example, it makes me feel really nice when I have neatly manicured hands and pedicured feet. But, I prefer to do this myself  in the comfort of my own home than have others do it. Similarly, eye make up is just a no for me, but I’m learning to appreciate a good base and blush and lip gloss!

So these school holidays I’ve been consciously and consistently making personal care a top priority. I had a massage a fortnight ago. I had my hair cut (at a nice salon too!) last week, and I took the time to straighten it the day I took this picture. I have been making sure I get dressed in nice clothes every day (not “holiday clothes” a.k.a. track suits) and have put on some makeup and jewellery almost every day. I had my eyebrows waxed today and I booked my next appointment as well.

I know for some this would all seem terribly ordinary, but it’s a big thing for me. It has required conscious awareness of my weaknesses, the obstacles and how to overcome them. It has also required intentional, consistent action. In other words, it requires discipline, which doesn’t sound very sexy or exciting.

Often people say the reasons they don’t practise more self-care is that they don’t have enough time and/or they don’t have enough money. Except, it’s not actually about the time or the money. It’s about what you value, and your priorities. People find time and money for things they really value. But, it’s also about discipline. Self-care requires discipline to be consistent, which is the only way to make it effective. It also is about having an understanding of yourself and your own personal strengths and weaknesses, and applying that discipline accordingly. What requires a lot of discipline to me (like putting on make up every day) is a piece of cake to someone else. That’s the thing about barriers to self-care: some of them are individual to us. A facet that comes naturally to one person is a conscious acquired skill to someone else.

So, which facets of self-care come naturally to you? And which require some more discipline? I’d love to know, so let me know in the comments below!

How to keep that New Year’s Resolution with 2 words and 3 steps

Happy New Year! I hope you were able to welcome 2016 in a way that was enjoyable for you. Me? I opted out of the party scene this year and was happily asleep!

Did you make any New Year’s Resolutions? I spend a lovely chunk of my New Year’s Eve writing some reflections on 2015 and I began my planning, goals, core desired feelings and creation list for the new year. My lists are not done yet but as usual, I hope for more happiness and self-care in 2016.

“Happiness is a consequence of personal effort.”

One of my favourite authors, Elizabeth Gilbert, said that. She would know; she went on a world-wide personal quest to heal her depression and find happiness. She wrote about it in a little book that you may have heard of called Eat, Pray, Love. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.

What I like about this quote is that it cuts through a lot of the crap about happiness that is floating around, spoken and unspoken, in our lives. For example, “I’ll be happy when” or “If only” and “It shouldn’t be this hard, it should just happen.” The thing about all of those messages that is wrong is that they ignore personal responsibility. Sure, you might be happier when or if, and sometimes it does just happen. But most happiness experts will tell you that that kind of thinking is keeping you unhappy, and that if you want to be consistently happy, or at least happier, you have to make an effort.

I’ve been mulling this idea over and I realise that it’s the same with self-care. It’s a consequence of personal effort. It doesn’t just happen, and it isn’t a do-it-once-and-it’s-over kind of task. Consistency is key. So is sustainability. And I believe that’s where a lot of people get stuck — their resolutions are dead in the water by Valentine’s Day, probably because their resolutions focused on a big, hairy audacious goal (which is a great start!) and ignored the consistency and sustainability factor of actually making that happen.

Do you want to avoid that pitfall and actually make more self-care happen for you in 2016?  Me too! And here are the three steps I’m using to help me keep that New Year’s Resolution:

  1. Less is more.

  2. No comparisons.

  3. Build your trust muscle.

Less is More

Small changes over the long term add up in incredible ways. Compound interest is a great example of this. If you want to make a big change in your life, break it down into the smallest part and just focus on that. Forget about the big goal, just focus on the smallest, easiest action and then do it sustainably and consistently. Small changes are easier to implement and are therefore more sustainable. A small change that you actually DO is way better than a big change that you make for 3 weeks but can’t sustain for the year, right? A bird in the hand, etc. Small changes are also much easier to be consistent with, which means the changes will become a habit. Habits are what make up our lives. Another one of my favourite authors, Gretchen Rubin, has a book about building habits that is high on my reading list this year: ‘Better Than Before‘. As a recovering perfectionist, I love the idea of not having to be the best, but just being better than you were before. So, do less but do it better!

No comparisons

Stop comparing yourself to people way further ahead on the journey. If you want to make a big change, it’s great to have role models and experts to follow and learn from. I love reading and listening to podcasts on my favourite topics, and I follow many different people who are further along the journey than I am in a bunch of areas: health, marriage, writing, happiness, business etc. But I often remind myself not to compare myself to where they are — that gap is way too big and it ignores all the effort and time (probably years!) that they have been working on getting to where they are. Comparing yourself to others further along the road is setting yourself up for failure: it is unsustainable and ruins consistency. It is unrealistic to expect yourself to be at their level in a short period of time. When you can’t sustainably meet the expectations, you’ll likely feel awful and lose your momentum, if not some self-esteem, and stop being consistent. Instead of comparing this year, I’m modelling others. Modelling means you incorporate into your life the actions and beliefs of the person who is where you want to be. It doesn’t mean you copy everything about them or their journey. You are not them, you are learning from them, and it’s important to recognise the difference.

Build your trust muscle

Trust in yourself, like happiness and self-care, is a consequence of personal effort. Trust in yourself is important when you want to make a change in your life, such as keeping a New Year’s resolution.  Trust in yourself is built when you follow through on small actions. I can certainly think of a number of areas in my life where I said I was going to do something and then didn’t follow through. If you don’t trust yourself, it’s likely that it’s because you have a lot of evidence to suggest that you don’t follow through on the things you say you are going to do, in one or many areas. In other words, you have evidence to suggest that you won’t be consistent with your actions. And I could be wrong, but perhaps that’s because the actions you are measuring are actually unsustainable over the long term. Are you noticing a pattern here? Sustainability and consistency are important for trust-building. The other steps of doing less but doing it better, and avoiding comparing yourself to others are also important in trust building. Focus on what you are doing, instead of worry about others, and building your trust muscle with the small stuff and the big stuff will take care of itself.

Bonus step: Know Yourself

There is actually one more step, and its importance will depend on your personality type. Which is kind of ironic because the bonus step is to know your personality type. Gretchen Rubin has a great system called The Four Tendencies, which is all about how different personality types respond to internal and external expectations. Knowing which is your tendency can help you with your resolutions, because it will help determine what is sustainable for you and how you can support yourself to be consistent. I am an Obliger and knowing this about myself has helped immensely. I highly recommend doing the quiz here to find out which type you are.

So that’s it. Less is more, no comparisons, build your trust muscle and know yourself. Focus on being consistent with sustainable actions and you will be well on your way to keeping your New Year’s Resolutions. Happy 2016!

 

Nine tips for self-care on a budget!

One of the reasons I hear most commonly for not being able to practice self-care is that old chestnut of ‘I don’t have the money’. Well, I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. In fact, in my opinion, most self-care activities can be completely free. Plus, working within your budget is self-care of the financial kind. And while it’s lovely to splurge on yourself once in a while, in my experience spending money you don’t have kind of spoils the experience anyway. So I’m all for low-cost and free self-care activities.

Here are my top tips for self-care on a budget:

  1. The internet! There are SO many amazing resources floating around the web and it doesn’t take much to gather a few free tools and add them to your own personal self-care tool kit. Want to do yoga? There are loads of free classes on YouTube! Want to listen to an inspirational or motivational speaker? Try TED Talks! Want some healthy recipes? There are a million and one to choose from! This can be especially good if you are interested in trying before you buy. A great example of this is Viki from MindBodyFood’s meditation tracks, which you can get a sample of here.
  2. Be intentional. Many of the activities you already do in a day are self-care. E.g. brushing your teeth, making a healthy dinner, going for a run, having a quiet cup of tea. When you are intentional about them instead of going through the motions while distracted by your worries or the TV, it makes a big difference!
  3. Make self-care a priority. Make some time every day that you devote to self-care over and above your normal day-to-day habits. It doesn’t have to be a lot of time, even 5 or 10 minutes a day can make a difference. I’m sure there are things you say you would do if you had more time: give yourself the time!
  4. Work out what feels like self-care to you and what doesn’t. This is one of the first activities in my Self-Care Matters e-course: write down at least 3 activities that actually make you feel nourished and cared for. We are all different and it’s useful to really tune in to what you like and what feels good for you. Maybe green smoothies are your favourite, or having a bath. Maybe it’s having a lounge room dance party or going for a quiet walk. Maybe it’s getting up early, maybe it’s sleeping in…Write down the activities that work for you! Next, work out what feels like the opposite of self-care to you. After all, different strokes for different folks! Write down 3 activities that perhaps you think you should like, but actually don’t like, or that you have heard suggested as self-care but that sound to you more like a chore. If any of the items on your list are things you are currently forcing yourself to do in the name of looking after yourself (hello, brussel sprouts!), then STOP! Give yourself permission to drop that off your list!
  5. Use what you have. When it comes to looking after ourselves, it’s easy to feel like we need ‘just one more thing’ or ‘that special thing’ before we can truly practice self-care. In truth, this is often a mindset created by marketing in order to get us to buy something! Investing in quality tools and techniques can really help, but there are many ways to show yourself some tender loving care without needing to buy anything. Chances are you already have loads of resources at hand: pretty nail polish, fragrant soap, healthy food, the internet, a friend to talk to, some kind of writing implement (paper or digital) to write your journal in etc. Take an inventory of the resources you already have that you can use to nourish you and then actually USE them!
  6. DIY! Again, using the internet and the things that you already have, there are infinite possibilities for creating your own self-care experiences in the comfort of your own home. You can make your own face-masks out of avocado and honey, set up all your lotions and polishes and give yourself a mani-pedi, put on some nice music and do some gentle stretching on the lounge room floor, get an old exercise book and do some journalling, use the internet to create an entire home-based, video-led retreat for yourself…It can be as much or as little as you like, but there are almost always ways you can do-it-yourself!
  7. Recruit a friend to be your self-care buddy. You can pool your resources, scratch massage each others backs and be each other’s encouragement partner. Affirm each other and take turns really listening to each other. Sometimes just having someone hold the space for you and remind you that you are worthy of your own care is all it takes!
  8. Make a plan and start saving for that self-care activity that you really want. Do you want to reward yourself with a facial or a massage every few months? One strategy that I love is to save my $5 notes. It’s amazing how quickly they add up to $50 or even $100. I often use this strategy for when I want to ‘splurge’ but feel I don’t have the cash on hand. It’s interesting how saving $100 all at once feels difficult but I don’t really miss $5 here and there, and it starts to get exciting when you notice how much it’s adding up to. A friend of mine uses a similar strategy to save for spending money for her holiday every year. She simply puts all the coins in her wallet into a big money box about once a week and by the end of the year she finds she has around $800!
  9. Make a ‘self-care upgrades’ list of things that you’d LOVE to have or do but that you don’t have the money for right now. It might be investing in a coach, getting a monthly massage, going on a fancy holiday or simply treating yourself to that fancy shampoo. Make a list and then you can decide what order you will work towards them.

The bottom line is that you are worthy of your own love and care. It doesn’t have to cost any money at all unless you want it to!

Slowing down in the name of self-care

It’s a beautiful Sunday morning here in the Harmony House. The weather is cool but drizzly, which is a nice change after the heat of the previous week. I have had a lovely slow morning where I woke without an alarm and felt refreshed, I took my time having breakfast and making my West End Matcha tea and then I listened to a the latest episode of The Slow Home Podcast while I pottered about the house tidying up. Crinkle the cat was hanging around, my darling husband was sleeping in and then watching sport and then cooking bacon and there was absolutely no urgency or rushing. It’s got me feeling very reflective.

In short, it was my ideal morning. I feel very grateful to have realised that several days a week (usually 3 but sometimes more, sometimes less) I get to live a version of my ideal day. Mostly it involves being a homebody, lots of self-care, spending time with my little family, a phone conversation with one of my loved ones and learning about topics I love. Often it involves coaching of some sort, whether that be working with a client, participating in a webinar or doing some further study. All of these things, to me, represent a significant slowing down from the life I lead the other days of the week.

That life sees me rising very early (often before the sun), commuting for over an hour, functioning at work amidst the chaos and feelings of ‘never enough’ and ‘too busy for a toilet break’, followed by either a long commute home, dinner and bed, or staying overnight in the town where I work as it is too long of a commute to do both ways every day. There are many things I love about that life. I actually enjoy my commute because I get to listen to awesome podcasts and sometimes have long, meaningful conversations with my bestie via the magic of hands-free mobile technology. I really love the people who open their homes to me when I need a home-away-from-home and they feed me delicious food and we have many wonderful conversations. And I really enjoy many aspects of my job — especially the connections with lovely staff and students and the great music we get to enjoy and create.

But ultimately that life represents a lot of things that are not ideal for me. It’s frantic and exhausting for a start. Anyone who knows a teacher knows that it’s far from the 9 – 3 job some people think it is. The days really are chock-a-block full and lunch-times are not really a break but a chance to chase up students who you need to see and prepare for lessons and organise all manner of ensembles and rehearsals. The more days I have off in a week, the worse the busy-ness of the 9 – 3 hours gets. Since I’ve had the fit-bit it has become easier to see just how active these hours are for me. I regularly do 12,000 steps in a day at school. That’s without any attempt at setting aside time for exercise. On more than one occasion I’ve made it to 20,000 steps in a school day. There is also the emotional drain of a system that is never-ending in it’s quest for ‘perfection’ and where some of the clients and customers are really, really hard to get along with. As a highly sensitive person, I find it really draining to be interacting with such hostility so regularly. Plus, the constant improvement agenda and quest for more, more, more and better, better, better is quite a trigger to this recovering perfectionist. It’s also in stark contrast to my values, which is also emotionally draining.

The other problem is that this life also takes me away from my home and haven 4 days a week (sometimes more!). It’s an epiphany I’ve had before but I’m realising anew lately just how crucial this haven is for my health and happiness. It’s the reason I’m really not keen to have any guests stay over-night ever again, actually, although this is an ongoing conversation in our household at the moment. But being at home, either alone or with Stuart, gives me the chance to recharge my energy and block out the frantic noise of the world. It’s crucial for my self-care, it’s what reconnects me to my husband and to myself. So having to get up and rush to leave by 6.15am every work-day morning and either not get home until 6.15pm or, if I stay overnight in Esk, until the following day robs me of that re-charge time. As much as I love the dear friends I stay with in Esk, and as much as they look after me and give me everything I could possibly want in a home-away-from-home, it isn’t actually home. It’s not my space and staying there means I don’t get to see my husband or my cat for usually 36 hours minimum, sometimes closer to 72 hours depending on the week. Of course I know that is nothing compared to the separation that some couples deal with and I also know that I can choose to drive home any night that I like and I can even choose to work somewhere else. But neither of those options are really better options to me. In fact, this situation is the best that it could be right now. But that doesn’t mean it is the ideal. And it’s certainly not slow, which is what I’m craving right now.

So, next year, I am planning on dropping back to a 50% teaching load which will end up as 1 x full day and 2 x three-quarter days of teaching. At this stage, it will probably be Monday, Wednesday and Friday, which will mean three big days of commuting and busy-ness, but I’ll get to be home in my haven with my husband every night and I’ll get a day off in between every work day to recover and recharge and refocus. It’s more slowing down and another step towards my ideal life and I’m really looking forward to it.

Before then, though, I still have 7 weeks of the term to get through. This coming week I’m working 5 days because we have our school Awards Night on Tuesday (usually my day off) so I’ll be working Tuesday and staying away from home 3 nights this week. After that, the marking and reporting cycle will begin in earnest, so things are about to ramp up in that regard. As a result, I’ve decided to take the pressure of myself with The Harmony Agenda for a while. I’ll be blogging still, but perhaps not as regularly. I had planned to re-launch the Self-Care Matters E-Course in November in the new 12-week format but I don’t think I will now. I think I’ll leave that until the New Year because it does need some re-working and I won’t be able to devote the time or energy to it that I’d like at this stage.

I also plan on focusing more of my energy into developing resources for other teachers to be able to prioritise self-care. As such, I’ll be putting as much of my knowledge into practice to get through this term in as slow and self-care-filled manner possible. I am starting a Facebook group for teachers to support each other in self-care because I see a real need for a safe space for this online. And I will continue with the coaching part-time as well.

I feel really grateful to have not only the opportunity to create a version of my ideal life on the weekends and the odd day off during the week, but also to have the perspective to realise that for now, although I’d really like more of the ideal life, I need to do what needs to be done to get there sustainably. At the moment that means slowing down on the business building because I have to focus on staying well and doing my job well too. I know this isn’t forever and that at some stage in the future I will miss this school and these students, so I will appreciate them while I can. And I’ll focus on the nice bits and try to let go of the not-so-nice bits. And I’ll remind myself that even when I have to slow down and change my plans, even when I make less progress in all areas of my life than I want and especially when I feel like I have let myself or others down, I am enough, already and always.

My health and happiness has to be my priority, and that’s ok. I want to help as many people as possible to realise that they can prioritise themselves too, but I want to do that in a way that is congruent and sustainable. No use burning myself out spreading the self-care message! So for now I will live my values as much as possible, slow down and practice self-care, and lead by example. That’s my harmony agenda. What’s yours?