The past year has left many teachers dazed and exhausted. The stress and uncertainty caused by the pandemic affected everyone, but the impact was disproportionately shouldered by essential workers, especially health care professionals and educators.
Teachers were quick to adapt to ever-changing circumstances, to learn new distance learning strategies, and to find creative ways to show love from a distance. While this long, difficult school year has finally come to a close, you may find rest and relaxation remain elusive. Processing the experiences of the past year can be difficult, and, as a result, residual stress could linger into the summer months.
CEA Teacher Development Specialist Dr. Kate Field says there are many strategies teachers can employ to help cope with residual stress. Simply doing things for pleasure, like reading a good book, sitting in the sun, or tending to the garden, may be enough.
“If you find it’s hard to enjoy these pastimes fully because stressful thoughts keep resurfacing, try meditating for 10 minutes each day,” Field recommends. “There are many benefits to meditation, but if you are dealing with residual stress, it can help your brain make sense of the experiences it’s struggling to process, allowing you to inhabit the present moment more fully and joyfully.”
Mediation doesn’t have to mean sitting quietly on the floor trying to think about nothing. Walking meditation can be particularly beneficial, as the movement itself promotes the brain to process the past while simultaneously moving forward.
Field says that walking meditation can be a silent walk in the woods or even just a stroll around your yard.
“Leave your phone behind,” she recommends. “Move more slowly than you normally would. Pay attention to the sound of each footstep, to the birdsong around you, to the breeze whispering through the leaves overhead. Let your mind go freely wherever it wants to go but keep returning to the sounds—name each as you, with care and intention, place one foot in front of the other, moving on.”
We typically think of walking as a means of getting from one place to another. Field says that walking meditation is inherently different, allowing us to focus not on the destination but on the journey.
“With each step, notice the invisible burdens weighing you down, things like fear, anger, stress, or resentment,” she says. “As you place one foot in front of the other, imagine setting the heaviest burden aside. Feel the relief wash over you; smile at the new lightness of your step.”
Field adds that walking mindfully for 10 minutes a day can decrease stress and enhance overall feelings of wellbeing.
“Step by step, the brain can be trained to make sense of the past while shifting its focus to the present, allowing you to relax and more thoroughly enjoy the many pleasures of summer vacation.”
If you find you enjoy walking meditation, try a labyrinth walk. Learn more by listening to The Labyrinth Podcast. Search to find a labyrinth near you.