by Stacy M. Turke
on the On the Road with @stacyturke OTR blog
I’m writing this in late August, and I can already feel “it.”
I’m not talking about the nip in the air that we here in Michigan feel when we open our doors in the morning, and that chilly “Oh, yeah, fall is coming” feeling hits. I look forward to that feeling because the haze of summer is leaving and the cool, almost surreal clarity of the sky is nearly upon us.
I’m not talking about the excitement some of us feel as we near the high school and college football seasons and our weekend wardrobes begin to take on the unmistakable Green and White (feel free to insert your favorite team colors here) of our collective cheering sections.
What I’m already starting to feel, and I am betting I’m not the only one, is that dread of the stress of moving from the somewhat slower pace of summer into the frenetic pace of Autumn. You know the drill, the loonnngggg work days that form the beginning of the school year. All the extra meetings and trainings that happen in the first few weeks. Trying to be at all of my schools on the first day to support all of the kids and all of the teachers all at the same time, which is of course impossible and…(pause for a breath here).
All that. I am feeling…and dreading…all that.
And I don’t even have kids living at home anymore! Many of you are getting the kids to and from day care and after-school activities or sports, moving bedtimes back to accommodate the darned alarm clock, rearranging the house to recreate the homework stations of the year before, refiguring how to get laundry done and groceries into the house and lunches packed and dinners made and get to all the events that are on the calendar. You don’t need me to tell you how tough this time of the year can be on a family, do you? So you are probably wondering, as we step into September, “How can I make this year different?” How can I tackle all of my (child-care) (teaching) responsibilities while still taking care of me?
As an Occupational Therapist, I understand the importance of balance. I know that I can’t strengthen my biceps without also strengthening my triceps when I lift weights. Both are needed for my arms to be in balance. If I only work on my biceps, I won’t be able to use my arms with full functionality, and eventually I won’t be able to move them out of flexion at all. Balance is needed.
Balance is also needed to sit and move with good stability. Without balance, I might fall out of my chair while sitting to work or eat. I might fall when walking through the house or going downstairs to do laundry. And heaven forbid I should try to walk outside in the winter, on ice and snow, if I don’t have balance. With both of my pregnancies, my balance was off because my body changed so rapidly, and my wipe-outs on the ice were legendary! I was not balanced, and man did it show.
And just as balance is needed physically, recently there is increased awareness in our society that work-life balance is also needed in order to be fully happy and healthy humans. To support its Centennial Vision Statement, the American Occupational Therapy Association recognizes that Health and Wellness services are a growing area of practice, due in part to “imbalances in life roles.” We are overworking ourselves and allowing our children to be over-committed, and we are feeling the stress of it as a society. We are allowing ourselves, and our families, to be out of balance.
So I’m writing today as a reminder, with autumn approaching in the early days and weeks of the new school year, to try hard to allow time for those activities and behaviors that fill YOU up as a human, not only your work ethic but also your body, mind, and soul. Take time for YOU so that you have something to give to your children and your students.
- Eat healthy portions of healthy foods You know what this looks like: Eat protein with every meal. Reduce sodium, fat, refined flour and sugar. Eat as many different colored veggies and fruits each day as you can. Drink water. Eat enough and not too much. Keeping your diet in check will help you stay healthy, and a healthy parent or teacher will be more effective with their kids and students.
- Exercise Most sources say that adults should aim for five 30-minute activity sessions per week that get your heart rate up. See your doctor to make sure you are healthy enough for this level of activity before starting. Can’t fit in 5 exercise sessions per week? Start with one. Work up to more as you develop the stamina. Once you see how good you feel, you will likely build in more because you will be motivated. Staying active will keep your muscles and joints in good health, making the work and play with kiddos easier and more pain-free for your body.
- Get the recommended amount of sleep for your age group How much you need is variable and dependent upon a number of factors, with age being key. Try to get enough rest, not only for your health but also for your mood and mental clarity. A rested adult will be a calm, focused adult when the kid stuff is swirling around your feet!
- Engage in a hobby I’ve always been a voracious reader; and as an adult I’ve added running, cupcake baking, and gardening to my list of preferred hobbies. My youngest daughter, a college student, loves adult coloring books and painting molecular structures such as this image she created of various components of tea (hey, whatever makes you happy).
My oldest daughter has become a gourmet cook over the years, adding to her recipes and cooking strategies during her many work-related world travels. I have friends who hunt Pokemon…knit afghans for foster children…play various strategy and board games…you name it. Find something to enjoy. Balance your work-life responsibilities with something that feeds your soul and nourishes your creativity and sense of purpose.
- Spend quiet time with your pets Research shows that pet ownership brings a host of health benefits including reduced blood pressure, cholesterol, and feelings of loneliness while increasing your activity level and opportunities for
socialization. Having a pet in the home or classroom helps children develop a sense of responsibility as they nurture and care for the little furry/scaly/feathery companion. I personally can feel my stress melting off when my gigantic cat climbs up onto my lap and begins purring. And how cool is this, there is actually research that found the sound of cat purring helps promote bone strength when healing! Go get a cat! (As long as you aren’t allergic!)
- Aim for reduced screen time Government recommendations suggest no more than 1-2 hours per day for kids, and we know that our behavior models what is acceptable. Try, especially in the couple hours before bedtime, to cut back and/or eliminate screen time entirely. You will improve the quality of your sleep, have more meaningful time with your family, and have more time for your non-tech based hobbies. Your kids and your pets will thank you!
*By “Try” I literally mean make an attempt. Gently. With intent but without pressure. Aim to hit these types of goals, without beating yourself up if you can’t meet them each day or week. Balance is important even when working toward new goals, behaviors, and habits!
Work-Life Balance, often referred to as “Occupational Balance” by occupation-oriented therapists, is complex, and it “forms the foundation of who we are and how we see ourselves.” And it’s important. Do your best to remember YOU as this school year progresses. If we are running on “empty,” it’s hard to have anything to share with those children and activities that are important to us.
Stacy M. Turke, OTR/L: “On the Road with @stacyturke OTR blog.” Stacy has been a school OT for 30 years with the same school district in Michigan in what she describes as “my dream job.” Her career has ranged from working in a “center-based” school to working in public and private schools throughout the county, including those in the rural, suburban, and urban areas. She has experience working with students with a wide range of educational needs, to include cognitive impairments, Autism Spectrum Disorder, physical challenges, sensory processing needs, and many other learning challenges. She expresses her enthusiasm when she says “This career has been fulfilling, always presenting new and interesting challenges, and is NEVER boring!” You can connect with Stacy on Pinterest at https://www.pinterest.com/stacyturke/ and on Twitter at @stacyturke.
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