Reflections on Mental Health Maintenance

In my teaching practicum last fall, I dedicated a few minutes at the start of each class to talking about what people did for themselves that week.  I thought this would be particularly important for TAs, considering all of the newness in their lives: new status as grad students, new status as teachers, new colleagues, new places to live, and so on.

Course evaluations suggest that this ended up being an important part of the class for them.  Which was good to hear, since often people did not volunteer that much.  But after some further reflection, I now think that just hearing the director of your program validate your personal time, and remind you that it’s not just OK but a good thing to make time for yourself, was probably the most important part of those discussions.

Anyway, given all of the upheaval these past few weeks, I thought it’d be a good idea to do some writing not just about my work but about how I’m taking care of my own state of mind during all of this.

Here’s a calming image! Hope it helps!

I don’t have a lot to say about this, but I do have a few things that seem to be working for me.  I’ve been reading on twitter that some people have really well-crafted schedules, but that doesn’t really work all that well for me.  Well, I should clarify: I would love to have a careful schedule to follow through the day, but I have a toddler at home.  We’ve got a rough schedule for him in terms of eating, naps, bath time, and stuff like that, but there’s a lot of fluidity.  Sometimes a toddler wants a piggyback ride, and he finds your arguments about urgent emails unconvincing.

So, in this environment, I’ve created a list of things to keep my head in a good place:

  • Exercise
  • Walks
  • Writing for myself
  • Reading for myself
  • Meditation

Now, to be clear, I read and write all of the time for my job.  But the research connected to my job is also a hobby for me—I just enjoy doing that kind of work.  So when I say reading and writing “for myself,” I might still be doing work related to my field, but it’ll be without any immediate and pressing need in mind.  I mentioned reading The Innovator’s DNA a few days ago—that would be a good example of this.

I try to do a few of these every day.  As long as I can check a couple off of the list, I’m usually doing all right.  And if my luck is bad enough, I might not be able to do any of them.  That’s all right for a day or so, but after that I find myself turning to unhealthy food and too much television.

So, anyway, that’s what I’m working with at the moment.  It’s a good combination of stability and flexibility: I can work a number of those into any given day, most of the time, but I can also sit down to read with my kid without thinking “I’m supposed to be meditating right now!” or something like that.


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