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Hanging by a Thread?

Seven simple tips to manage holiday stress at school, home, and everywhere else
a frayed rope about to break

Mindfulness — a set of skills that helps us be more present, calm, and focused — can be valuable for busy educators. But when the holiday season piles more onto an already full plate, taking time for oneself can fall off the to-do list.

“It’s always ‘go, go, go,’ throughout the school year,” says Metta Karuna McGarvey, Ed.D.’10, a visiting fellow at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and an expert on mindfulness as a catalyst of adult social and emotional development. “There’s so much that educators want to give others that it can be hard to carve out the time that’s needed to take care of yourself.”

While the holidays can make it even harder, McGarvey offers some simple ways to slow down and relieve the pressure that can build this time of year. These are steps any educator can take to help increase resilience, navigate challenges, and cultivate the strengths that successful education leaders rely on.  

Strength, Not Stress

McGarvey’s tips for maintaining mindfulness amidst the holiday frenzy:

  1. Sleep.
    “This is the most important one of all,” says McGarvey. “Nothing goes well when we are sleep deprived.” She recommends turning off devices, slowing down, and cultivating calm at least 30 minutes before bedtime, as well as getting at least 7 to 7 1/2 hours a night (for most people). “Do this first, then try one or more from rest of the list.”
  2. Slow down.
    “Educators are constantly ‘on’ during the school year and are especially in need of stillness,” says McGarvey. “Take 10 or 15 minutes each day to just be. Take a walk, make a cup of tea, do yoga, have a hot bath, or just sit and notice the beauty around you.”
  3. Exercise.
    “We all know it’s important, but the discipline it takes to exercise regularly will also help you to be more disciplined in other areas of your life.” Keep at it, urges McGarvey: “For many people exercise doesn’t become pleasurable until done regularly for a few months.”
  4. Express gratitude.
    “Each night before you fall asleep, contemplate three good things about your day or your life,” recommends McGarvey. Savor each one for a minute or two and let yourself feel deep appreciation.
  5. Be present.
    Many educators give so much at work that they can feel spent by the time they get home. At least once a week, listen with your whole heart to the concerns of a friend or family member — and ask for the same in return. “This is a powerful practice that reconnects us deeply to those we love and nurtures the relationships that are essential to happiness in life,” says McGarvey.
  6. Smile, laugh, and lighten up.
    Resilient people have a playful and humorous outlook on life. “Watch a funny movie, hang out with friends, look for opportunities to have a little fun every day,” says McGarvey. “Laughter lowers the stress hormone cortisol and releases endorphins. Just take a minute or two a couple of times each day to think of something that makes you smile.”
  7. Get organized.
    “Setting aside an hour or two to prioritize and schedule all of the big things that need to happen between now and the holidays — at work and home — is a real stress tamer. And it will help you let go of and not sweat the small stuff — another inner strength.”

Additional Resources

  • Learn about Inner Strengths of Successful Leaders, a professional education institute McGarvey chairs that guides educators in the most effective practices in mindfulness.
  • Listen to this Harvard EdCast in which McGarvey and Professor Emeritus Jerry Murphy share insights into the growing practice of mindful leadership.

Usable Knowledge

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