Building Resilience

A woman appears lost in thought

Just as consistent dental hygiene is essential to good dental health, “mental hygiene” contributes to overall well being. Adopting healthy routines and habits such as a eating a nutritious diet, getting adequate sleep, and engaging in regular exercise not only promote a healthy body; these factors promote mental health and resilience as well.

“Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving, we get stronger and more resilient.” – Dr. Steve Maraboli

In addition to proper nutrition, rest, and activity, additional factors that can facilitate resilience and aid in dealing with stress and staying balanced include:

  • Meditation
  • Practicing mindfulness
  • A man paints a pictureYoga
  • Tai Chi
  • Exercise – or PLAY (we like to think of it as adult recess!)
  • Dance or movement therapy
  • Creative or artistic activity such as painting, drawing, playing an instrument, or listening to music
  • Participation in group and community-based activities such as recreational sports, civic groups, or faith communities

To be healthy, we need to regularly “re-boot” to restore, refuel, and re-energize. Doing so requires an investment of your time, but it is time that will pay off in increased energy and restored equilibrium. At a minimum, take a few minutes each day to breathe deeply. Taking some slow, deep breaths for even a minute or two reduces stress by employing our mind-body connection to restore our physiological response towards a state of relaxation.

In situations that are extraordinarily demanding, people may need to take themselves “off-line” occasionally to take care of themselves. Because educators are often so attuned to responding to the needs of others, this can be challenging. In the process of giving so much to others, it’s easy for us educators to get worn down and even burned out. Think of a rotating lawn sprinkler that shoots water all around to nourish all the grass, except it misses the grass closest to it, which turns brown and withers.

If we neglect our own mental and physical health, we can’t be at our best to assist our student, colleagues, and communities. As the flight attendants on a plane instruct, you must always put on your own oxygen mask first so you will be able to best assist others.

This means making an even stronger commitment to healthy living until it becomes routine.

Make an effort to:

  • Coffee in bed after a good night’s sleepGet 6-8 hours of high-quality sleep each night
  • Reduce your screen-time, and none at least 30 minutes before bed at night
  • Make nutritious food choices
  • Be physically active
  • Spend time outside (gardening, walking nearby trails, hiking, etc.)
  • Spend quality time with people who anchor you emotionally
  • Take a warm, soothing bath to relax
  • Participate in a hobby or activity that brings you pleasure or builds your skills
  • Learn something new
  • Read for pleasure
  • Share a meal with family or friends

Practicing healthy lifestyle habits that foster optimal physical and mental health not only can help bolster our resilience when we’re faced with trauma; it can also help restore a sense of balance after trauma. And, when you build your resilience, you have the available mental, emotional, and physical resources to help your students and colleagues.

Schools: Helping Make Communities Resilient

upset-girlA connection to school is one of the most significant protective factors in children’s lives, helping them develop resilience. Resilience refers to our tendency to cope with stress and is commonly understood as a process rather than a character or personality trait. In addition to developing individual coping mechanisms, children’s positive connections to people in school—teachers, administrators, and their peers—can help promote resilience.

Educators contribute local leadership to families and communities when they have been challenged by traumatic events. You provide structure and reassuring routines as well as responsive and supportive relationships. Additionally, educators provide needed services and essential, tangible support in the form of services such as school nutrition programs.

This school connection to educators and other school personnel such as counselors is not only a key protective factor in the lives of children, but also for their families and other members of our communities.

If you are suffering from PTSD (or think you may be) or other stress symptoms as a result of school violence or other trauma, you’re not alone and there is help available. Educators play an invaluable role to our children and society at-large, and we owe it to ourselves to protect and cherish that precious resource. Treatments including counseling and, in some cases, medication can make all the difference. There is hope for recovery.

Note: NEA Healthy Futures provides information and is not endorsing or recommending any specific treatment. Consult your health care provider or a qualified mental health professional to determine what is appropriate for you.