Time for an inner MOT

Time for an Inner MOT?
Debriefing ourselves in the aftermath of tough times…
And it doesn’t get much tougher than the last 12 months!

Now that the summer holidays are finally here…what stories are you telling yourself about the year just gone? 

The ways in which we end are hugely influential in how we begin the next time. Whether we are talking about a job, a relationship, a home…it can be very worthwhile to debrief from the ending of one transition, in order to develop our awareness and ability to design new beginnings.

I am very aware, through my private coaching practice, how depleting this last school year has been for teachers and school leaders who once again have had to navigate uncertainty, change, and threatening or fearful situations. Whether that is working with their own fears and anxieties, or absorbing and working in and around the anxieties of others. 

Teaching has consistently been in the top 5 professions for stress, with a considerably increased likelihood of needing to take time off work for stress – to the extent that some teaching unions have collaborated with insurers to design and sell us bespoke insurance! And burn-out is one of the leading reasons why teachers leave the profession within 5 years of qualifying. 

What has this last academic year taught you about your own relationship with stress? 

As you take some time to gulp in air at the end of a seemingly never-ending cycle of feeling behind, catching up, managing behaviour, containing parent anxiety…safeguarding disclosures, children and families under pressure, illnesses of colleagues…

How now does your relationship with your vocation stand?

We may – or may not – have been vaccinated and ready to live with COVID. But what psychological legacy has been left from the experiences of the pandemic to date? 

There is both individual and collective pressure, stress, anxiety – even trauma to process…And how can we honour that and do it justice. What we suppress, stays with us. And therefore the self-inoculation via a nice glass of chilled rose in the heat-wave may dull the reality of the end of term, last half term, last year…the resentments, the injustices, the dashed expectations, the blood extracted from the stone…remain triggers in waiting.

What might work better?

Our brains are meaning-making machines. They are designed to help us learn, adapt, and survive. They create – we create – narratives around all sorts of things…some of those narratives are empowering. Some of them…well, not so much…

What sort of narratives are you carrying as a result of the group dynamics of the staff-room, your department or Key Stage, the pupils in your school, their parents…the Senior Team? 

And how well are those narratives serving you?

As a Union Rep, I worked with so many people who were stuck in a whole variety of persecutory narratives. That X was unfair, that Y was too weak, that Z was insurmountable. And you know…sometimes it is…Sometimes we work with toxic people. Sometimes demands made on us are indeed unreasonable. Sometimes we are not supported.

And I still recognize elements of these lenses now as a coach. We are all prone to analyse the situations we have been in, the challenges we have passed through, the overwhelm we have faced. And we can analyse, analyse, analyse. Revisit, retrigger, and retain anger, hurt, resentment. 

What I notice often helps shift these narratives and bring in a whole new energy is the following process:

  1. Facing the feelings and being present to them.

    1. Accepting what is and is not within our power to change.

      1. Challenging ourselves and sifting through whether the feelings and thoughts we are carrying are true, kind, helpful, necessary…

        1. And from that point of greater clarity, coming to a point of choice about what we can learn, change, do as a result. 

Just try this…The Pennebaker Protocol…

James Pennebaker studied the impact of emotional writing on mental health in the 1980s…and ripples of research through every decade that follow back him up…

The particular type of writing he experimented with was found to help process painful, difficult, traumatic life events. He found that by writing in a detailed way – tuning into emotional impacts and linking feelings with thinking… for 15-20 minutes each day over time, in just a few days… or going beyond that for a deeper, therapeutic effect over weeks, the big markers of stress and distress will change in a good direction. Even though initially whilst writing you’ll feel worse…something goes on inside you that reprocesses it.

A clinical feasibility trial in 2019: ‘Expressive Writing to improve resilience to trauma’ (Glass, Dreusicke, Evans, Bechard, Wolever, Duke Integrative Medicine) found that a 6 week writing intervention increased resilience and reduced depressive symptoms, perceived stress and rumination. 35% of participants who began the trial with likely indicators of clinical depression, ended the programme no longer meeting those criteria.

-Retelling decants and declutters the mind and frees up cognitive resources.
-Verbalizing experiences brings order and meaning – the logical left brain works with the emotional right.
-Labelling feelings reduces activity and reactivity in the amygdala…’You have to name it to tame it’ – Yale’s Emotional Intelligence Center.
-Even without consciously trying to ‘re-write’ or edit the story, the process of labelling is the gateway to self-compassion
-Exploring, expressing, and externalizing what has been held within in a wordless state, reduces the bodily ‘holding’ of tension – so somatic manifestations of anxiety can be potentially reduced.
-What might feel difficult – even impossible to voice aloud – can be given the space to breathe in the privacy of the written word on the page. 

  • It can be a rehearsal or a precursor of a conversation you need to have with key people in your support network.
-Throughout history people have used immersive, reflective writing to pick up the pieces after unimaginable suffering. I often draw on Viktor Frankl’s book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ – his reflections on his experiences in Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Emotional writing – or expressive writing – is writing that helps us make sense of our thoughts and emotions. 
    • Don’t hold back…It needs to be HONEST – authentic and detailed.
    • Don’t edit. Set a timer and write…don’t be performative or over-think what you put down. Let words and phrases come – they can be fragments…You don’t need to worry about sentencing or paragraphs…
    • Put in the detail. Sometimes revelations come in the tiniest slips…This morning in a coaching session on time management, my client referred to the Christmas holidays as being 6 weeks long! That really resonated…
    • It links feelings and thinking (the WHY it matters) to the WHAT that happened.
    • Let the big feelings come…stay authentic…but don’t shy away from speaking their truth. Tell it like it is…
    • Tell the story completely. Move from being a protagonist…a pawn in the hand of fate…to a narrator…the teller of the tale. This recaptures AGENCY.
    • AS you look into the morass of your feelings, your thoughts, the little details that were such a kicker…look at what you are learning…what have you learned about yourself…about what has got you through? About your values…
    • AS Brene Brown writes- embrace your vulnerability. Soft heart, strong backbone.
    • Once you’ve really gone to town on what WAS and what you felt and now feel about it…orient yourself to write the future…what’s the next chapter…?

Hope this helps in and among the aftermath of all the intensive pressures of school life finally lifting, the mixed feelings of Freedom Day…The fug of the heatwave…This is maybe something that can help you work through things…decompress, reinterpret and design what might be true to you…what might be more optimistic…what might help you accept the gifts of your experiences and emerge stronger, clearer, and more energized to face whatever we’ll be facing in September…As ever – with love and gratitude,Emma.PSLet me know how you get on! Or get in touch with any wellbeing scenarios you might like me to cover in the weeks ahead…Limited coaching spots are available for anyone who wants an Inner MOT over the holiday…

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