14/06/2021 • 9 min read
Recharge: 11 ways to rest during the school holidays this year
Why is it so important to rest and recharge properly?
As a teacher, you’ve probably had another challenging year. Now you deserve a good break to relax and recharge your batteries. But switching off your ‘work brain’ can be easier said than done, and it often takes a while to transition from juggling so many tasks and responsibilities each day to finally allowing yourself to rest.
On an average day, the brain uses roughly 20% of the body’s energy, making it the most energy-consuming organ in the body. This is why sometimes simply working at your computer can make you feel as tired as doing physical exercise. The pandemic has continued to take its toll on the brain, imposing sudden changes of routine and a more sedentary lifestyle. You may have over-stimulated your amygdala and created an imbalance in the use of white and grey matter.
Uncertainty and overload accentuates the problem, as stress triggers the release of hormones. Those natural built-in alarm systems can occasionally be good, but over a long period they can cause structural changes in your brain and affect the functioning of organs throughout your body.
Adrenaline makes your heart beat faster and as a result, you get tired faster. Cortisol can derail digestion, sleep, memory and concentration, as well as increasing appetite for comfort food. For more information on the physical impact of stress on your body, take a look at this article. Of course, it takes time to reverse these effects. You can start by being kind to yourself and being patient with your progress.
As a Head of Year with a keen interest in the school community and wellbeing, here are my top tips I have found for calming the mind and making the most of your time away from the classroom this year.
1. Step away from work and electronic devices
Try physically locking away your computer, tablets and any teaching material. If you don’t trust yourself, give the keys to a loved one. Put your phone on airplane mode when possible, to cancel out extra noise. Even in a resting state, the brain consumes about 20% of the body’s energy, so try to avoid any to-do lists or important decisions. Stay away from anything that requires too much emotion or thinking. You and your brain need to relax in order to truly unwind.
2. Go out and do something completely non-routine
Your brain cannot switch easily from hyperactivity to rest. When it is not occupied, it will start its default mode of wandering and wondering. Months of unnoticed physical discomfort and repressed emotions can emerge, potentially making you feel unwell or even depressed. Changing your routine or environment will stimulate your brain differently and smooth your transition into a slower pace.
3. Reconnect with nature
Cycle in the countryside, go hiking, take a walk on the beach… or if you are in town, try urban gardening! It will appeal to your senses and strengthen your immune system, plus it’s a great way to socialise and get some exercise. You could even try “forest bathing” or Shinrin-yoku, a Japanese healing practice that involves sensory immersion in nature.
Being in nature – be it untouched wilderness or simply a balcony oasis in the city – restores our powers of concentration, reduces stress and improves our physiological functions. To find out more, read about the benefits of urban gardens for our mental health here, or read about the benefits of gardening here.
4. Get some fresh air, and just breathe
The level of serotonin (the happy hormone) in the brain is affected by the amount of oxygen inhaled. Taking some slow, deep, even breaths of fresh air increases your blood circulation, hence improving your concentration, sense of alertness and energy – and eventually even your happiness levels.
5. Enjoy the sun and be in the moment
After being inside for so long, your body could be in need of some vitamin D. Unwind with some sunbathing (of course with a good SPF!). This will help you to rest whilst recharging the main vitamin that supports your immune system, whilst also maintaining healthy bones and teeth. Stopping to enjoy the sunshine and connecting yourself to everything around you will put distance between you and your worries, taking you into the mindfulness approach of living in the ‘here and now’.
6. Sleep, but don’t oversleep!
The brain requires a higher amount of the body’s energy compared to other muscles, so it’s common to feel exhausted once the school term is over. Maybe you’ll plan to stay in bed for a few days! Unfortunately, oversleeping doesn’t reverse the ‘metabolic dysregulation’ brought on by lack of sleep. Follow your rhythm and take short naps if needed, but be careful not to overindulge. It is sometimes better to rest or meditate for 10 to 20 minutes and try to keep the same bedtime routine, rather than disrupting it with long naps during the day. That way, you should be able to eliminate your sleep debt within nine days. For more information, see this article from the Sleep Foundation.
7. Have some unapologetic ‘me’ time
One of the biggest difficulties during term-time is balancing family and work obligations. You are long overdue some time for yourself, without worrying about others. Whether it’s a massage, taking a bath, or treating yourself to an experience to share with your loved ones… make sure you take the time to fully indulge in something meaningful for you without being disturbed.
8. Rediscover cultural or artistic experiences
Go to concerts, listen to street buskers, go to a local museum, watch a play or a ballet – or if you can, travel to a new place entirely. Let the artists or the local guides transport you into their world, and let their magic inspire you. Feel their energy and passion, and escape from your day-to-day for a short while.
9. Exercise and have fun!
Move! Physical activity triggers the release of endorphins (happy hormones) in the brain. It doesn’t need to be intense, long or difficult. Simply aim to increase your heart rate, maybe by taking a light stroll, playing with family or friends, or just walking the family dog. If you really don’t like to move, laugh! It exercises your diaphragm, contracts your abs, works out your shoulders, provides a good workout for the heart and leaves your muscles more relaxed! Read more about 5 of the best exercises you can ever do.
10. Express your own creativity
Paint, write, draw, sculpt, play music, do some DIY, cook, do some gardening… Whenever you enter your own imaginary world, you can express the thoughts you might usually ignore, and this can be very cathartic. The process of imagining or creating (even badly), activates the part of your brain that heightens just one of your senses and cancels out everything else. It helps you to pay closer attention and appreciate details you might usually overlook. For more information, read about the arts and their connection to health and wellbeing here.
11. Choose Quality over Quantity
Holidays shouldn’t be seen as a chance to catch up on your annual quota for exercise, reading and other worthwhile activities. Holidays should be for focusing on wellbeing, slowing down and savouring the moment. Set positive reminders to do enjoyable tasks, but try to avoid stressful ones. If you try to pack too much in, both your planning and relaxing time will become burdens. Try only setting a broad plan with no finer details. For the last few months, life has been unpredictable and demanding. Now is the time to let life take you by surprise, in the best way!
“A vacation is having nothing to do and all day to do it in.” Robert Orben
Download these tips as a reminder for your upcoming break! 11 ways to rest and recharge
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