We need stretch and restoration to build strength

As we near the end of term and begin to think about the next three weeks of non-term time, I encourage you and your daughters to find opportunities to rest and recover.

This is because we know that to ensure our sense of wellbeing and resilience is strong, we need to ensure that times of exertion and even stress are always followed by times of recovery.

During assemblies this term, we have been sharing about wellbeing: what it is, why it is important, and ways to make it visible. This is so we can better recognise the state of our wellbeing to take action to ensure we are resilient and able to learn well. I’ve been sharing personal stories about tools I use to support and grow wellbeing.

This week, we talked specifically about the imperative of recovery and restoration.

In a similar manner to running a race or building muscle by lifting weights in the gymnasium, periods of exertion – where we expend our energy – need to be followed by periods of recovery. Taken together, these two experiences build our strength and enable us to grow.

We need both exertion and recovery to grow; both stretch and restoration to build strength.

Last year, as we’d all agree, was like no other. As a community, the unexpected challenge of COVID-19 meant herculean efforts of going from on-campus to online learning to back again, all whilst continuing excellent learning and maintaining the safety and wellbeing of every person in our care.

Covid Fatigue

I’ve been educating students and working in schools for the most part of 30 years. In all this time, I have never witnessed students and staff so spent and so in need of rest. The concept of  “Covid fatigue”, whereby people are feeling mental or physical tiredness as a result of the efforts to combat the pandemic, is one many in our community are experiencing.

Similarly, even though Term 2 is always a big term for schools, this culmination of Term 2 sees our community in need of restoration.

Dr Lisa Damour is an American psychologist and author of the best-selling books Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions Into Adulthood and Under Pressure:Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls. She also writes a monthly New York Times column and co-hosts the podcast Ask Lisa: The Psychology of Parenting.

This month, Dr Damour’s article in the New York Times resonated with me as she shared that in the more than two decades she has spent as a psychologist working with adolescents, she has never seen teenagers so worn down at the end of an academic year as they are right now.

Rather than lament this situation, Dr Damour encourages us in the hope that with the stress and adaptation of the pandemic now largely behind us, we and our daughters can enjoy the payoff of converting this experience into increased maturity and psychological strength.

We can build our wellbeing muscle by ensuring that a period of exertion is followed by an interval of sufficient recovery.

Dr Damour has a number of suggestions for recovery including:

  • Giving our daughters space and time to process what we’ve been through
  • Being open to how your daughter will spend her days in the coming weeks to ensure she gets adequate rest and opportunities to restore
  • Ensuring that she does the things that will allow her to recoup
  • Allowing the time of rest to not be soaked in guilt

Even though there may be times of study during the non-term time, particularly for our Senior School girls approaching their HSC, I encourage you to see that this is well balanced with rest as well.

Opportunities to relax

We acknowledge that everybody’s definition of relaxation is different. It could be spending time with friends, reading a book, watching TV, having a bath, having a sleep, or going for a run. Controlled deep breathing is another really helpful technique for resetting the body to its pre-anxiety state.

Distraction is another method of helping our minds to recover from stress and anxiety. Dr Damour describes two forms of distraction.

  • The first is “hard fascination”, where you do an activity that’s so absorbing that it crowds out all other thoughts. These types of activities can include lifting weights at the gym, playing a musical instrument, doing a difficult puzzle, going to the movies, or anything else in which you become totally immersed.
  • The second is “soft fascination”, where the activity is familiar or not particularly taxing. Because it only takes up part of your brain, there’s room free to mull over problems or come up with solutions. For instance, says Dr Damour, have you ever noticed that you often get your best ideas in the shower? Other “soft” distractions can include going for a walk in nature, gardening, knitting, or driving your car without listening to music or the radio.

The Bible is full of stories that demonstrate how we need to rest along with learn well and work hard. Jesus needed time to rest and recover after particular times of giving of himself. Jesus also encourages us to come to Him to find rest for our souls: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11: 28-30.

Let’s take the time over the coming weeks to rebalance our lives, ready for the next exciting term of learning ahead.