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Supporting School Staff Through the Winter

As we move into the winter of 2020, Seasonal Affective Disorder will be an all-too familiar condition for some, that will bring symptoms of depression and anxiety. This is a condition that generally hits in the winter months due to a lack of light and warmth. But there are things we can do to combat these symptoms and try to support ourselves. Now more than ever, our mental health should be a priority. Here are some ideas from the wellbeing team about quick wins to try and beat the blues

By Meg Lancaster on 01 Dec 2020

As we move into the winter of 2020, Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, will be an all-too familiar condition for some, that will bring symptoms of depression and anxiety. This is a condition that generally hits in the winter months due to a lack of light and warmth. It is already apparent that many more people are suffering this year, and many will experience it this year for the first time.

The normal signs that you are suffering from SAD are feeling weary, run down, less energised, or depressed during the winter months. But there are things we can do to combat these symptoms and try to support ourselves. Now more than ever, our mental health should be a priority, and here are some ideas from the wellbeing team about quick wins to try and beat the blues:

Create a supportive environment

If you are leaving for work in the dark and returning home in the dark every day, with limited contact due to working in bubbles, maintaining contact and enjoying your work space is paramount. Try to add some life to your classroom with plants or bright colours. Also, aim to speak to a colleague on a personal level every day, even if just to check in and see how they are. Leaders can encourage these personal relationships and warm spaces by giving staff the freedom to add cushions or other personal touches to their spaces, and can set up messaging services such as a Teams chat specifically for personal contact. Be thoughtful, if you know you have staff who live alone or are struggling more than others, can you offer your own time to build that personal connection? Share a recipe or a story and show them they are valued on a personal as well as a professional level. Staff will value the dedication to their own wellbeing during these dark and often lonely months.

Try to structure sunshine into your day

As much as possible, aim to get outside in the open air once a day for a mood boost. If you are not lucky enough to live near a green open space, walk the streets and look up at the trees, the sky, and the birds and take it in as much as possible. Can you walk to and from school in the morning? Or structure an early morning walk in, to see the sunrise?

Leaders can support staff to get more sunshine by encouraging staff to finish at the end of the school day and enjoy some of the sunny afternoon hours at home. In school, why not try to schedule an outdoor meeting? Walk around the playground or school field and have your discussions, good for your step count, serotonin levels, and maintaining personal contact when you might have otherwise been meeting online.

Diet and Exercise

We all know that our health is improved by consuming more fruit and veg, but we it is the best way to boost our mood too. Vitamin D, which we absorb from the sun, is found in lots of fruits and vegetables, and can be taken as an additional supplement. Also, Zinc and Iron can help boost your energy levels if you are struggling with the winter months.

Leaders can support staff with thoughtful actions through the winter months. We all love a mince pie and a hot chocolate, but a fruit salad or fruit kebabs to go with it is a great boost of vitamins and a commitment to healthy lifestyles too. I have also seen healthy lunch boxes being ordered in for key meetings and staff which is a great idea.

Exercise is a crucial part of our health and wellbeing, and is the best way to boost your mood and improve your sleep, too. If you are suffering from SAD, try to exercise outdoors, if you don’t have the time in the working day to fit in half an hour of exercise, aim for a brisk walk during lunchbreaks that increases your heart rate for 10 minutes. If you pair this with yoga or simple mobilisation exercises in the morning and evenings to stretch and revitalise, you will certainly see the benefits.

School leaders can be wellbeing super models with exercise with easy wins. No one is expecting you to start hosting your own Joe Wicks sessions before school (!) but consider what is possible for your staff. Do you have a staff meeting on a Wednesday evening after school? Why not begin with an accessible exercise to liven people up and get the blood pumping? Also, reward those who are building exercise into their healthy lifestyles by celebrating those who cycle to school or walk the dog in the morning. You could also consider a competition to get everyone involved, such as a squat challenge. Sharing these achievements together is a great mood booster, brings the team closer, and is great exercise!

Bringing Staff ‘Together’ this Christmas!

Another important consideration for School Leaders this month is how they are going to bring the festive cheer and spirit to the school staff this year. A time of year that is so special to everyone, where we show gratitude for each other, share in happy moments, and make memories for the coming year, Christmas is about much more than just mince pies, it is about team building. A month of fun and celebration, and one that we can still thoroughly enjoy, even with the current circumstances. Now that we know that Greater Manchester will be in Tier 3, we cannot plan for a drinks or dinner event until at least the New Year. Therefore, it’s time to get creative so we can still enjoy some December fun…

Events in School

We are working in bubbles, but are there ways we can still have Christmas fun in a covid secure way for example, School Leaders could consider a Christmas gift for everyone that they can leave on desks or in bubble spaces. Small Christmas hampers for staff to enjoy together in their bubbles on the last day, with mince pies, Christmas sandwiches, and alcohol-free fizz means staff can have their own mini parties.

Another treat for staff would be a little gift for each of them, left on desks or in pigeon holes. It doesn’t have to be costly, even just a card with a personalised note of thanks is a great boost and will bring the team together, especially if you have a Teams chat were people can share thanks and their own kind messages.

For a whole staff group to get involved with, why not try a game of Elf on the Shelf, and move the elf to a different classroom each day? Staff won’t know where he is going next, and it will be great fun for both staff and pupils to see that they have landed in their room. Disinfect thoroughly before passing on!!

Virtual Fun

Engage with all of your colleagues and connect with some you may not have spoken to for a while by arranging a virtual Christmas event. You could get organised and use a website such as Elfster to organise the traditional Secret Santa, with gifts arriving at your door rather than in the staff room or restaurant!

Alternatively, why not try a Christmas quiz, game of Crimbo Bingo or hold a fun carol service via Zoom or Teams? Keep it light and fun and engage with everyone to bring the team spirit.

Another idea and a tip to keep staff going into the new year could be to delay Christmas until we have more options for meeting face to face. You could let staff know in advance that there will be a Christmas party in February or March, and even start the Christmas countdown again in the Spring Term. Why not go the whole hog and have a Secret Santa then too? It has been a strange 12-months for many reasons, people are already very flexible with their plans, so who’s to say that Christmas in March won’t be just as joyful!

The Wellbeing Team are full of ideas for engaging with colleagues and bringing some happiness, calmness, and wellness to staff in any school setting. If you would like more ideas or support, or feel your school could benefit from a Wellbeing overview, please get in touch with us today.

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