Get Outside: Nature Supports Educator Wellbeing
I walk most days. I walk for fitness. I walk my dog. I walk my children to the bus. If the children are with me the walks are peppered with conversation. If I'm walking on my own (or just the dog and I), I typically have my headphones on - engrossed in a podcast or audio book, focussed on getting to my destination and back again.
Yesterday morning I took a different type of walk. My day was set to be a little different than usual, as I wasn't working. I had a small amount of time to spare before heading off to my children's school for a sporting event, and on a whim I decided to walk a different way. I stopped at a beautiful state conservation area at the edge of the lake and walked there instead.
I made a conscious choice not to put my headphones on, and instead I walked in silence. Well, it definitely wasn't silence, but it was certainly different to listening to a podcast.
I heard various bird calls, the sounds of boats in the distance on the lake, small rustling sounds in the undergrowth (okay, that one can make you a little uneasy to be fair!)
But it wasn't just what I heard. This walk was about all of the senses.
As I wound down the track toward the lake (the biggest salt water lake in the Southern Hemisphere), the salty scent drifted toward me. It mixed with the damp earthy smell of the trees that appears after rain.
I traipsed the path as it twisted around the lakes edge, watching tiny birds flit about as I walked across bridges that spanned small creeks and inlets. I passed not another soul.
And then I arrived at some steps. The steps took me down to the lake, where I clambered onto a large boulder. There I sat, in the morning sun, appreciating the incredible place I call home. I did break the rules (my own rules!) and put my headphones on with a guided meditation. Let me be honest - I suck at meditation. I've tried it so many times and I find it very difficult. But something about this place told me to try again. So I did. And it worked. I completely relaxed. What had been a bit of a challenging week suddenly felt better. I felt energised.
Why am I telling you this and why is this valuable for you as an educator?
We're burning out. Our sector is struggling. Every time I visit services or speak to educators I hear first-hand the toll that this role is taking on people. And while there is most certainly change required in our sector to better support educators, we also hold some personal responsibility for our wellbeing.
Some of the benefits of being in nature include:
- A stronger immune system
- Improved blood pressure
- Improved mood
- Increased focus and energy
- Improved sleep
And it's not just me that says this! A 2008 article notes the results of a study revealing a significant decrease in the chemicals involved in our stress response (e.g. adrenaline) after spending time in nature. (Li, Q. et al, 'A Forest Bathing Trip Increases Human Natural Killer Activity and Expression of Anti-Cancer Proteins in Female Subjects', Journal of Biological Regulators and Homeostatic Agents, vol. 22, no. 1, 2008, pp 45-55.)
In fact, there are countless research papers on the benefits of nature for our health and wellbeing.
So what can you do?
In early education and care, we are fortunate to typically spend quite a bit of time outdoors with the children. But let's be honest - during that time many of us are observing, supervising, answering questions, accessing resources, finding hats and all number of other things.
We need time in nature alone, to recharge. Here are some tips:
I typically work in an office, and now make a habit of taking phone calls and walking around outside instead of sitting at my desk. It's good for my body and my wellbeing.
Let us know how you connect with nature in the comments!