Happy first week back to school! I’ve been greatly enjoying the kid school pics hitting my facebook homepage (bonus points for the kids rocking their own style… especially if it’s rainbow glitter) and the eclectic array of coloured pens, pencils, markers and planners. This all got me thinking – what piece of advice do I wish I was told in school? I love learning and I love school (that I typically find myself either teaching or learning, or both) but finding balance as a student was my biggest challenge. Heavy self expectations combined with a condensed work load equalled an unbalanced and stressed out me (like how I made an equation there?). When you are stressed your ability to focus and concentrate diminishes, leading to increased difficulty understanding concepts and poor school performance. It’s the student self care sacrificing cycle. We prioritize grades over learning and are willing to sacrifice core fundamentals of health to improve our performance. Eventually we spiral in to a self sacrificing cyclone that results in break downs, break ups, and break outs.
Students may take their health and vitality “for granted” as they heal quicker or do not experience immediate detrimental results from their self care sacrificing behaviour. However, it catches up with them (as early as puberty to mid 20’s) as their tolerance for stress and adrenals diminish and they are then faced with the inevitable task of self care to survive schooling. So….with that slight pessimistic statement….what can students do for self care and ultimate health and happiness in later years????
I suggest following the 3 B’s of student self care: basics, balance, and boundaries.
Basics – I wrote a blog on basics last school year (see Back to Basics ) and believe it should be addressed every school year (students and adults alike). When in doubt of how to help, always start with the basics. It’s just like learning a new skill – before you learn calculus you have to learn basic mathematics. In order for our neurons to be firing optimally and performing high order advanced neurocognitions, we need to have the energy to do so first. Energy is a crucial commodity. If we don’t have it, we can’t perform the higher functioning operations of concentration and thinking. For example – if we are living paycheck to paycheck our money will go to the basic life necessities of water, heat, and rent. We wouldn’t spend money on sushi if we can’t pay the rent, hence we would have difficulty performing algebra if we didn’t sleep the night before. Of course we have energy stores (just like we would have money saved up for hard times), but eventually we run through them. The best way to improve our energy is to concentrate on the basics – food, water, sleep, breathe, and rest. In an optimal world we want all of them….but it’s not always feasible. I suggest focusing on one each week and see how you can improve upon it. You can use a tracker or keep note of it in a planner. A simple start could be reducing sugar, or drinking 2L of water, or get an extra hour of sleep.
Balance – Or homeostasis, if you want to get all biological. The one piece of advice I wish I got as a student? Find balance (luckily I found this out in medical school….but it was a lesson I wish I knew in high school). Not everything is grades and performance, experience is also important. The happier and more balanced we are, the better we learn. Memory is tied to emotion (thanks to the amygdala), hence why our most detailed memories are the ones linked to a strong emotion. By putting in things/events you enjoy into your schedule it will improve your mood, which will indirectly improve your studies. So put some social events and self care days into your schedule. This applies to adults (ie. parents) too – kids learn via example so if you are taking time for your self and your health they will realize how important it is too. Some days we need to read a book or go for a walk rather than study for 8hrs a day or participate in 3+ organized sports.
Boundaries – Another way to improve energy is to work on boundaries, or the inevitable saying “no”. Now those with kid’s are aware that “No!” is a child’s, or teenager’s, favourite word and just the thought of it is cringe worthy. However, it’s more about saying no to the unimportant things or things we feel we need to do in order to gain approval from others. It’s about prioritizing – what is necessary and what can wait? What, or who, adds to your energy and what, or who, takes away from your energy. One scientific analogy is that of the semi-permeable cell membrane – only select things go in/out maintaining homeostasis and keeping the cell balanced and healthy. If the membrane was completely permeable or impermeable the cell would die because there would be no exchange between the cell and the extracellular environment. Boundaries are necessary for balance, and ultimately living.
So in an achievement driven world consumed with getting “A”s, strive for “B”s. Or just strive for “B”ing. Students needs support, not social media. They need self care, not self indulgence. Self care starts with basics, balance, and boundaries, and it starts young. Rather than academic lessons, these are the life lessons we should teach our kids, while abiding to them ourselves.
Have a healthy happy return back to school everyone!