How many times has your mind wandered or over-analysed something? The chances are it has left you with a jumble of feelings that include stress, confusion and anxiety. A type of meditation called mindfulness could help you to avoid this.

As in many professions, being a teacher of English can present challenges such as managing a heavy workload, maintaining a healthy work/life balance and finding solutions to problems. At these times it’s important that you look after your own mental health so the emotional demands of the classroom don’t leave you feeling overwhelmed, discouraged, and burnt-out.

You may have heard people talking about the practice of mindfulness, as its popularity has increased in recent years. Mindfulness – a kind of meditation – describes the process of focusing on the present moment. By paying more attention to your thoughts and feelings at that precise moment in time, it can help to relieve stress.

Some people dismiss meditation as a bit of a “new-age” or “hippy” practice, but it is recognised by many official health bodies (including NICE, the UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence), that recommend it as a way of warding off depression.

How mindfulness helps mental wellbeing

Professor Mark Williams from the Oxford Mindfulness Centre says that, put simply, mindfulness means knowing exactly what is going on inside and outside ourselves, moment by moment.

“It’s easy to stop noticing the world around us. It’s also easy to lose touch with the way our bodies are feeling and to end up living ‘in our heads’ – caught up in our thoughts without stopping to notice how those thoughts are driving our emotions and behaviour,” he says.

By being in the moment, and taking a step back from the hustle and bustle of our lives, it can help us to feel calmer and more positive. And it can be as simple as closing your eyes, concentrating on your regular breathing, and focusing on how your body feels from head to toe. If your mind starts to wander, bring it back to concentrating on yourself in the present moment.

Mindfulness exercises

Professor Patricia Jennings writes for the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley. She’s a strong believer in teachers having awareness of thoughts, feelings and surroundings and advocates mindfulness.

Mindfulness, she says, can help teachers understand their emotions better, which in turn can help them to manage students and situations they might find difficult.

  • To deal with difficult emotions she suggests the following exercise:
  • Think about a student or situation you find challenging.
  • What emotions does this elicit? Do you feel annoyed? Frustrated?
  • How does your body feel: are your shoulders tense, or your stomach ‘tight’?
  • Acknowledge your feelings – don’t try to change them, just accept them and listen to the thoughts that arise from these feelings.
  • This will help you to learn how your emotions are functioning and gain some control over them.
  • It may help you to record your reactions in a journal. This will help you to learn more about them and recognise the days when you feel more positive about yourself and certain situations.

Have you tried mindfulness? Or do you have other ways of looking after your mental health? Tell us about your experience in the comments section below…

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