Photo by Devon Divine

Just like a song, every blog article needs a great line to pull you in right from the start. Something that’ll catch the imagination, and won’t let go. 

I’m trying to find something that’ll make the term “psychological detachment” sound enticing and thrilling. Something that’ll get your attention and not let you go until you’ve read the whole piece.

Mmmm, how about this? 

A study published in the May issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry found that people who became depressed late in life had a 70% increased risk of dementia, and those who’d been depressed since middle age were at 80% greater risk.

80%! Gulp!

Too negative? Too depressing? Mmmm maybe.

.   .   .

I don’t want this post to be one of those gloom and doom types. No,  this post should be read as a beacon of hope. Maybe my starter line to grab you all in should be; 

This is what you can do today to help you with your tomorrow!

Last year we did a brief survey of around 150 New Zealand principals in a quest to find the answer to “what strategies do principals use to effectively and quickly recover from stressful events”. It seems that some principals are able to bounce back a lot quicker than others. How do they do this?

We found that the “bounce-a-backer-ers” did four things really well.

  • Firstly they found time to exercise regularly.
  • Secondly they found time to talk to their people (confidants, people they trusted) about the crap they were going through.
  • Thirdly they found time for Me Time! … that time that was just for them, and only for them. Time to do something they loved, without interruptions.
  • And fourthly … they had a wonderful ability to rationalise the stressors that they were going through. They appreciated that bad times never last, and nor do good times. That the things that worry us are often miniscule in the big picture of things, and that ultimately they weren’t alone in dealing with these issues. Powerful stuff.

Great, perfect! Sorted!

Now all we need to do is appreciate these things and put them into place and we’ll all be as resilient and “broad shouldered” as these successful principals! 

But nothing is really that simple is it.

All of these things take practice, and need to be turned into habits … both physically and mentally. And all of these have a time element. You need to prioritise time for them to be beneficial.

And it turns out that there are a couple more key elements that also help. They’re both important for recovery, and to put it not too finely, they both need to happen daily.

Daily recovery is vital for giving us the ability to bounce back. Proper recovery allows you to take on the next day with the “vim and vigour” that your school (and you) deserve.

The alternative is known as burn out, which easily turns into depression, which in turn leads to that jaw dropping dementia statistic that grabbed you into this article!

So what are these two elements?

Internal Recovery – this is about giving yourself some respite and relief from stressful situations whilst at school/work. Switch tasks, go for a walk around the playground, take time out for yourself. These don’t have to be long times, but it’s important that you give yourself a break. In olden times this was also known as a lunch break, or morning tea!

In many work places outside of schools these breaks can even be taken off site – imagine that! The key of course is to give yourself a break regularly. Mix it up, and don’t forget to do it. Got a spare minute or two before a meeting – don’t check your emails, instead just take some time. Pause, chill, stop. For a minute or two or three.

External Recovery – this is what we do outside of our work hours. The real key here is to develop this thing called psychological detachment. Often we think that we’re well onto the road to recovery by doing things such as reading, catching up with social media or socialising. These are all good things to do. But the big key is to do these things that detach you from your work.

If you’re catching up on some reading, but it’s work related then your recovery isn’t going to be as useful. If you’re socialising with friends, but you spend the whole time talking about work – again, although initially useful to unload, over time it doesn’t have the same recovery effect. And have you ever found that watching TV full of bad news and gruesome shows doesn’t work like it used to – well, maybe it’s time to actually switch that box off so that you can detach yourself from many realities that you simply have no control over.

Psychological detachment isn’t easy though. Recently, I spent some wonderful time at Lake Tekapo in the South Island of New Zealand, but instead of just enjoying the place for what it is, I spent most of the time ruminating on a school issue. It takes some serious practice just to be in one place, and to enjoy being in that one place, without the stressors of school or your work place creeping in. 

Many who are particularly good at psychological detachment find that “attaching” themselves to other things can be useful.

In a nutshell – get a hobby.

And be passionate about it. Put your “vim and vigour” into that. In the past I’ve played sport, and at present I’m in a band. It’s very hard to do a competent job of doing a lead guitar solo that runs across the fret board, if you’re still “fretting” about school or work. The key, as I’ve said many times, is to find something that takes you daily away from being attached to workplace thoughts and concerns.

Taking time to master your recovery, every day, so that you can face the next day with the energy and enthusiasm it deserves is at the heart of beating burnout. It’s also at the heart of living for today, and not about “just getting yourself to the weekend, or just getting yourself to the next holiday break”. 

This is what you can do today to help you with your tomorrow!

(For a little bit more on this read Rajvinder Samra’s piece.)

Steve

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