For everyone The finish line

  • By Lucy Treloar
  • This article was published more than 1 year ago.
  • 6 Dec 2022

I don’t know about you, but for me last summer feels like a blur. What did we do? Where did we go? Every year, the summer holidays can end up feeling more like a crazy whirlwind of pressure and responsibility than a much-needed respite.

This year, it feels like we’re all limping towards the finish line. For educators, physical, emotional and mental exhaustion are often constant companions. Increased financial stress caused by rising living costs has made this year an especially tough one for many.

Even before COVID, the teaching profession had among the highest burnout rates of any public service job. In Australia, more than half of those surveyed were severely stressed and considering changing careers. Burnout rates were worse for early career teachers (where there might be insufficient support), primary teachers, and those working in rural and remote settings. Sadly, some choose to leave the profession.

However, there are steps people can take before resigning from a job they love but find overwhelming. Reversing the depletion of energy associated with burnout is key.

The human body’s three principal needs are sleeping, eating and exercise. It seems obvious, but it can be easy to forget how different everything feels when we are well rested. When we prioritise getting enough good-quality sleep, we function better and we are more alert.

What you eat affects mood, too. Comfort food and fast food can leave you feeling dull and lethargic. Lighter, healthier foods help maintain energy, as can smaller and more frequent meals.

Finally, exercise. Even five minutes of outdoor exercise can improve your psychological state; 20 to 30 minutes walking or running reduces negative emotions and increases focus. It’s all about identifying problems and building new habits rather than attempting quick-fix solutions.

When life is overwhelming, it’s time to get back to basics.

I know that we hear these messages all the time. And yet, I also know how easy it is not to heed them. We tell ourselves we don’t have time for that walk, or to make a healthier lunch or get to bed on time. And yet, if we don’t prioritise these essential things, we make everything so much harder for ourselves in the long run.

There is no single approach to managing burnout. Each of us needs to identify the activities that restore us. For an outgoing person, it might mean frequent catch-ups with family and friends. For the introvert, it might be gardening, or long walks, or even tidying your desk. There is no right or wrong; just what works for you.

Most of us long for the end-of-year break, but even our attempts to have the perfect summer, trying to make the most of this precious time, can sometimes turn into yet one more stressor. This year, I’m going for a back-to-basics approach. I figure there’s no need to add to financial stress. Just being in nature is restorative – bushwalking, day trips to the beach, picnics in the botanic gardens or parks, sharing lazy backyard barbecues with family and friends are low cost and restorative. My aim is to keep things simple and unrushed, and to resist feeling responsible for others’ good time.

A few years ago, I caught up with a teacher friend after the school holidays. She looked tanned, happy and enviably relaxed. If she told me she’d been in the Maldives, I would have believed her. Her recipe for holiday happiness? Let everyone else flee the city. My friend set up deck chairs beneath a tree in her garden, gathered books she’d been wanting to read all year, went on occasional outings, and late in the afternoon mixed a jug of mojito, which she and her partner enjoyed while watching the sunset. She still thinks of it as a halcyon summer, and a genuine respite from everyday life.

Isn’t that what we all want? More than ever, at the end of this year and in the upcoming holiday season, we need to be kind to ourselves and keep things simple. Here’s to a wonderful, low-key summer!

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