Tag Archives: stress

A writing recovery plan

I’ve said it before, but it’s a game of peaks and troughs this writing lark.

I had a real burst of motivation after my last little dip, reminding myself why getting up early was good for my soul as well as a handy window for escaping into the world of my novel.

But since then life, as it is wont to do, has thrown me a bit of a curve ball. I’ve taken on some new responsibilities for the Connecta Lives blog, I have an epic to do list to help get Shoalstone Pool ready for summer, the school where I am a governor is facing a new raft of challenges. And perhaps most importantly right now the #THISislearning campaign that I have set up with Maddy in protest against what the SATs are doing to our children is gathering steam and demanding a lot of our attention.

All of this is good, and important, and exciting. But none of it is doing anything to give me the headspace I need to write – not even with 6am starts and lemon water.

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The lighter mornings have thrown another challenge into the mix. They are great on one level: the creeping peachy light of the morning sun across the bay is undoubtedly much more conducive to getting up than inky blackness. Unfortunately this also applies to Arthur, and whilst he is remarkably good (for a three year old) at keeping himself entertained in his room until the gro clock says it’s morning it is getting increasingly hard to hold on to that little window of time as my own.

I still have to write, though – to meet my goals, and to release the pressure in my brain. It’s not that I have nothing to write about – I know the direction this story is going in, and my characters are clamouring for my attention. It’s just that it is hard to hear them over the noise of everything else. But I have to find a way.

So I’ve come up with a bit of an action plan. Nothing fancy, but enough hopefully to keep things ticking over and move that progress bar from orange to green.

YESTERDAY I measured up and ordered some blackout blinds for Arthur’s room. I’m not entirely sure how we’ve gone three years without them, but they are definitely needed now.

TODAY I am going to take stock (starting here) and clear as much as of my to do list as I can, hopefully clearing out some space in my brain in the process.

TONIGHT I am going to really make the effort to get an early night, and give myself the time to wind down from screens before then. I’m drifting back into night owl mode, and the lack of sleep is slowing me down.

TOMORROW morning, and every morning, I am going to make sure I write something – anything – to keep the progress on my novel going in the right direction. My daily targets have crept back over the 1500 word mark, and for me that is very rarely achievable. Any words are better than none though, so I’m not going to let the fear of not meeting those targets stop me from writing anything at all.

Next WEEKEND, and two weekends after that, I am going to maximise the time I have on the train for two whistlestop visits to London to catch up and get myself properly back on track. When I set my targets in the first place I didn’t include the weekends in my writing schedule, but now it is time to make the most of that little buffer.

It doesn’t really matter (not to anyone other than me) if I miss my self imposed deadline and the writing of this first draft spills over into June. But it’s hard to juggle writing with everything else that’s going on, and if I don’t set myself some boundaries (and do my very best to stick to them) I worry that I may not find the time to write at all.

And now I’ve set this plan out in black and white I’m hoping it will make it all the more likely that I’ll follow it. Not least because you lot can help keep me on track if I don’t…

 

Writing Bubble

 

Top tips for taming anxiety with a toddler in tow

The last few weeks have been pretty bonkers. So much so that this week, now that everything has started to calm down just a little bit, I’ve found myself struggling to focus and teetering on the edge of panic at the slightest thing.

It’s a tendency I recognise from periods in my life when I have been overcome by anxiety. Not the anxiety that is borne of a genuinely nerve-wracking situation, but rather the insidious and potentially overwhelming feeling that the world is about to spiral out of control.

It’s frustrating to say the least – there was so much I wanted to get done this week, and sitting here now at the tail end of it there is so much I haven’t achieved. But most of what I wanted to do required focus, a clear head – and those are the things that have been most elusive.

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The difference though this time round is that I’ve recognised my symptoms for what they are – my sometimes fragile mental health crying out for a little attention after a relentless period where I was embroiled in the unknown territory of election campaigning (it worked by the way!), and my core support network of husband and mum have themselves been tied up in finals revision and preparing for my brother’s wedding respectively. But my anxiety hasn’t got the better of me, and I have made every effort to make sensible choices to enable myself to keep going.

Being accompanied by a toddler pretty much every minute of every day has definitely added a different dimension to that process. And not necessarily in a bad way.

It seems pretty apt, with this week being Mental Health Awareness Week, that I share a little of what’s been on my mind. So without further ado, these are my top tips for taming anxiety with a toddler in tow.

1) Catch up on sleep

I reckon this is possibly the most vital, though also the trickiest, part of the plan. I have tried to get to bed a bit earlier this week, though I’ve never really been very good at the discipline that involves (especially as we’re deep in the midst of season five of The Walking Dead).

For me snatching sleep has mostly happened during the day – taking my iPad up to bed so in the morning the toddler can snuggle up with a movie whilst I get a few extra zzzs, and for the first time in ages trying to nap when he naps.

I realise I’m lucky he still does, else I’m not entirely sure how I would have coped…

2) Eat healthily

I’m ordinarily pretty good at keeping a healthy diet going for all of us, but it had certainly started to slip over the last couple of weeks. I couldn’t face the battles that potentially ensued if I moved too far from toast and pasta, and didn’t have the energy to prepare something different for myself so ended up having my diet dictated by a two year old.

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It’s silly, because I know how much good food makes the difference. This week I’ve been upping the fruit and veg, cutting down on carbs, (mostly) remembering to take my supplements – and feeling all the better for it.

3) Get some exercise

There’s been an awful lot of walking involved in the election campaign, but that was accompanied by a sense of drudgery in the later stages. This week I’ve, albeit tentatively, started reintegrating yoga and hula-hooping into my routine. With that and the Friday trampolining sessions that I’ve just about managed to keep ticking over I’ve started to feel the spring returning to my step.

4) Get outside

I have a real tendency when I’m feeling overwhelmed to go into hibernation mode – even opening the doors to the garden can feel like too much at times. But having a little person around who would ideally spent every waking moment outside definitely comes in handy.

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We’ve had lunch outside a couple of times this week, and spent time just lounging around and looking up at the sky. The sunshine has helped – but actually the fresh air simply works wonders whatever the weather.

5) Tidy up!

Now this is something I’m rubbish at, and I still have a long way to go, but it is amazing how getting rid of the mess and the clutter makes the world seem so much more manageable!

I had a bit of a manic afternoon on Wednesday getting the kitchen ship shape as yesterday morning we were visited by a reporter from our local BBC News to interview me in relation to the local elections. It felt a little bit like torture at the time, but the kitchen is now definitely my happy place, a little oasis of calm amongst the widespread detritus which has come from just not having a second to get things under control (at least not without the toddler wreaking his own brand of havoc).

6) Tick some things off your to-do list

Now I have to admit first of all that the ever-increasing list of things I have to do is still residing mainly in my head. I know this isn’t helpful. My poor diary, that gave me such satisfaction when I first filled it in back in January, hasn’t had a look in for weeks.

I’ll work on that…

But in the meantime I have been having stern words with myself about just getting things done rather than ruminating over how much I need to do them. Writing blog posts, for example. Or emails. Or paying bills. All sorts of little bits and pieces that have literally felt like a weight off my mind once I’ve actually achieved them.

(It still took me until this evening to get round to writing this post. I never said I was perfect.)

7) Be kind to yourself

This is another biggie, and is one that is challenging to put into practise when your head is full of noise. But in order not to be consumed by it, it is vital to work on your internal dialogue.

I say dialogue, because at times like this there are two voices in my head rather than just the one. There’s one that seems determined to pull me down – with comparisons, with regrets, with paranoia. And there’s another, the one that needs to fight to get heard, that is trying its utmost to focus on the positive – to remember that it’s ok to feel overwhelmed, it’s ok to slow down, it’s ok not to achieve everything I wanted to, because actually, on balance, I’m doing a pretty awesome job of this whole life business.

8) Make the most of all the cuddles

This is where the toddler truly comes into his own, where having an extra little shadow really does become a blessing rather than just another cause of messiness and having too much to juggle.

I don’t know about yours, but my little person absolutely loves to snuggle up. Not all the time, but certainly more than I normally slow down to give him credit for. And this week I have been making the most of all of that physical contact filled with warmth and love – whether it’s lingering in bed a little longer in the mornings, cosying down together to watch Chitty Chitty Bang Bang for the umpteenth time, or seeing off an approaching tantrum by whipping him up into the sling.

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There have been many times when I have been the centre of calm for my child, but it is a wonderful realisation that he can return that favour too.

 

My word of the week this week is anxiety.

The Reading Residence

Also linking up with this week’s prompt of calm. I’m getting there!

mumturnedmom
Mums' Days

Why we should not ignore teachers’ ever-increasing workloads

On Friday, a year after it was carried out, the DfE finally published the results of the teacher workload survey. It does not make pretty reading, and it’s hardly surprising that Gove wanted to sit on it for as long as possible, finally slipping it out on a Friday ahead of its planned publication date and not accompanied by a press release.

What is frustrating is that it was virtually ignored by the mainstream media, the story being picked up by only The Guardian and The Mirror. With the press being quick to pounce on stories which paint our schools and teachers in a negative light, this was one insult that those over-worked professionals really didn’t need.

Because the fact is that over-worked teachers should concern us all. And there is no doubt that they are over-worked: even before the results of this survey were released, and before the impact of Gove’s interference was really felt, surveys indicated that teachers are ‘amongst the hardest workers in the country‘ and are ‘more likely to work overtime than employees in any other sector‘. Even the DfE survey is unlikely to reveal the true picture – after a further year of Tory reforms, and certainly if the experience of my former colleagues is representative, the hours teachers are working are if anything even greater.

It is personal experience – mine and that of my colleagues and friends – that makes these figures especially pertinent. Teachers regularly falling ill as holidays approach and using their time off to physically recover from the stresses of the term-time workload. Teachers attending 7am meetings as there is no time to fit them into the working day. Teachers holding classes on Saturdays and throughout school holidays to help students achieve the grades they deserve in the face of changing qualifications. Add to this the stark evidence of the ‘sharp rise in serious mental health problems among school staff‘ and it’s clear we have a problem.

Teachers who are stressed and tired and over-worked are simply not going to be able to do the best for our children. Teaching is a job which requires intellectual rigour, creativity and empathy. In the classroom, you need to be able to think on your feet, to juggle numerous different tasks and to slip seamlessly between many different roles. You need to be aware of, and act upon, the needs of each and every child in that room – that’s thirty different learning journeys, not to mention the huge variety of personal needs that children arrive at school with each day. Stressed out teachers will snap, will make rash comments or miss the needs that are really important. A knock-on effect on behaviour is inevitable, and in the interests of survival learning will fall further down the list of priorities.

Most of the teachers I know will put the students’ needs before their own: will work themselves to the bone in term time, sacrificing social lives and personal relationships because they feel that their job puts them in a privileged position, one which they should not take for granted. It is an amazing feeling to be able to enable young people to learn, to help them break free of the shackles of their lives and to become who they want to be. It is this I think that leads to the somewhat ironic situation we are in where despite drowning under their workload and frustrated by constant challenges to their professionalism teachers are still found to be the happiest workers in Britain.

There are also of course the minority of teachers who refuse to sacrifice their own mental health for the sake of a job, and will put in place their own safeguards during term time to reduce their workload and make their careers more sustainable. And then these are the ones who are branded lazy, letting down our young people. But I wonder sometimes whether they’re not in fact the sensible ones.

Because what is the alternative? Seemingly to abandon the profession altogether. I am guilty of this – at least for the time being, I can see no way of combining the demands of a teaching career with being a mum. And I am not alone: despite loving their job, almost half the nation’s teachers have considered quitting the profession in the past year. Ofsted chief Wilshaw has commented on the ‘national scandal‘ of two-fifths of teachers quitting within five years. He cites inability to cope with pupils’ poor behaviour as the cause, though studies indicate that unsustainable workload alongside bureaucracy and lack of professional autonomy is more likely to be to blame.

It is partly for this reason that Tristram Hunt’s declaration that he will not seek to reverse any of Gove’s initiatives if Labour are elected is so galling. I understand his point that teachers do not need more change for the sake of it, but Gove has done so much to undermine the profession and to fracture our education system that someone needs to be prepared to put it right.

There are a raft of education professionals clamouring to be heard so that we can begin to do just that, but we seem to be at a particularly low ebb in terms of the nation’s respect for teachers. Our politicians (as well as the media) need to acknowledge that our teachers are working too hard, and then, alongside those education professionals, they need to work out what they’re going to do about it. Because whilst it might be our teachers who suffer in the short term it is our children’s futures that we’re really risking here.