By Lee Hole
COVID-19 hit the region I am working in; the government took action and schools closed. I described my mindset, following the news, like a wounded animal in the wild; always on edge and not able to switch off. Spring break was called early, but it would be challenging to settle my mind and allow my batteries to recharge.
But what does 'charging our batteries' really mean? So often, people take a break from work, only to crave something to occupy minds, establish routine and break the monotony.
In the case of the school break mentioned above, I felt like I had to keep one eye on the news; as though action could be needed at any moment and a period of uncertainty was on the horizon. The result? I found it almost impossible to shift into a mindset of peacefully sitting at home; a state that allows my thoughts to settle and boredom to develop.
Being bored is something that I need; it recharges my batteries and refuels my motivation. The lack of routine that creeps in during a spell away from work makes me crave the regularity and demands of the workday. However, this break from work came earlier than expected, and the usual mental fatigue hadn't yet set in. There were other batteries that needed to recharge though.
We have multiple batteries to monitor
It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the only battery that needs to recharge is the physical one. We miss out on a few hours of sleep for a couple of nights one week, and we feel the need for rest. Take on too much at the gym or go through a couple of tough workouts and our body screams for rest. But what if we thought in the same way about other demands of our lives.
Patience, motivation, focus, decision making, collaboration and tolerance could all be considered as aspects of our lives that are stored, run low and even deplete completely. If we think of them in this way, maybe we can recognize when we are not at our best. We could refine the way in which we schedule meetings, structure our days and tackle key issues.
In a recent meeting, a colleague raised a point related to a challenging project that the school had just gone through. The intention for raising the point was positive and centred around school improvement. The Head of School jokingly remarked that it was like being force-fed following an all you can eat buffet. At the time, we laughed and agreed to schedule a discussion during a later meeting. However, this aligns well with the thinking of this post. The Head of School needed to recharge his batteries for that task. It would require patience, discussion, strategic thinking and a mindset that sat around the process in question. All of which had been used up over the past few weeks; he knew that he was not ready to take part in that discussion.
Look out for battery low warning signs
I have led meetings in which healthy conflict was managed and embraced. These meetings resulted in fruitful discussions and positive outcomes. And there have been times when the energy just wasn't there. Whatever was required to manage the different characters through their debate was absent from me. As a result, the process was not as positive, and outcomes were less valuable. In the same way that physical energy fails an athlete, resulting in jelly legs; I didn't have the stores of patience to manage the dynamics of the meeting and I wobbled to the finish line.
I started to realize that patterns were emerging. When my morning was full of patience-sapping challenges and problem-solving; my reservoirs were empty, my battery needed recharging. As a result, afternoon interactions suffered. I am sensitive to this now and, where possible, I schedule key activities and engagements purposefully. Granted, this is not always possible, but I manage my reservoirs more carefully and pay attention to ‘battery low' warning signs.
It is also worth noting that you should consider your day as a whole; not just the hours spent at work. Recognizing telltale signs of your patience battery running low before walking into a house with a teenager (or toddler) could really help to ensure that the time at home helps recharge your batteries and not frazzle them. The real skill is becoming a-tuned to the battery warning lights of a significant other; a skill I am yet to master with my wife!
Find ways to recharge all of your batteries
A good night's sleep, a lazy day around the house and a massage may be enough to have physical energy batteries back brimming. But how about the multiple other stores that we need to restock regularly. How do we resupply our patience, motivation and focus? It has to be a personal choice, and dedicating some thought time to this could pay dividends in the long term.
The way in which we recharge batteries has to align with our lifestyles and passions. Some people recharge their emotional and spiritual batteries with exercise; others may shudder at the thought of this. Lounging at home with a book could be the epitome of bliss to some, but hell for others. Time alone or time with friends; lunch with family or a dinner with a significant other could help to keep batteries recharged for all eventualities.
The ideas in this post can help us appreciate why some aspects of vacation (when COVID restrictions permit) only leave us feeling more exhausted. For example, if your decision making, conflict resolution and patience batteries have been drained after months at work; taking an unplanned family road trip is unlikely to help recharge those batteries. If your resilience has been tested due to a series of failed projects; hacking your way around a golf course may not bring you the sense of gratification that you need.
All of this is compounded further by the global regulations and restrictions that have been imparted in different countries. Travelling to see family in home countries may have been delayed, cancelled or cut short; time with friends may not be possible; your favourite mode of exercise may have been outlawed. This is why we all have to think a little differently about how we recharge our batteries and decompress. Who knows, this pandemic could lead to a global increase in knitting as an en vogue pastime!
I have always found that periods of boredom serve me well. Finding ways to switch off, have decisions made for me and engaging in lower-order thinking activities soon has me chomping at the bit; usually after half a day. As strange as this might sound (or maybe not) these days will sometimes need planning in, and it's not always as easy as you think.
A heightened awareness of myself using the analogy shared here has helped me to self-regulate at work and in my personal life. I’m better at managing my engagement in difficult conversations when my patience has been exhausted. I avoid making key decisions when I have spent a whole day draining my logical thinking stores. I keep away from focus draining activities when my attention has been stretched thin by details orientated work. Finding efficient and effective ways to replenish my mental and emotional state is something that I continue to refine.
Education is a tricky vocation, it's one of those rare careers in which an adult loses sleep over other people's children. The stress and anxiety that educators carry home with them can be debilitating. In some cases, it results in great teachers and leaders leaving the profession. We have to ensure that we stop, shut off and find ways to look after ourselves. Unlike most electronics, we cannot replace our batteries, so we have to take care of them.
Lee Hole is Head of Secondary School, GEMS International School - Al Khail, United Arab Emirates
Image credits: Vecteezy
Related content on protecting your own mental health and well-being:
- Eight solutions to adapt safeguarding & well-being curriculum for remote learning environments
- Student well-being and high school transitions: Five big ideas in the context of the Coronavirus
- Advice for school and university leaders: How to support your community's mental health and well-being during Coronavirus
- Navigating the new reality—How to protect your mental health and well-being
- Self-awareness and well-being for educators