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Mental Wellness:

A Grad School to Life Perspective on How Mental Health Applies to Me

I’m going to write a bit about mental well-being (not mental health per say, but the states of disillusionment that can affect our mental wellness and can lead to mental health concerns for sure). And how I find support when challenges try to set me back. 

This piece is a bit about perspective and juxtaposition... I’m not exactly sure how to frame it, however, I’ve seen a lot about the mental health of graduate students lately and I figured, well, this IS my life, and it has been since 2012. Its been a seven year journey of grad school, through a masters and a PhD; all the while I’ve been working full time and playing my part in supporting a thriving family; and though it’s not been an easy one, it’s a life I’ve chosen, and it’s one I love. 

Like anything anyone has taken on that involves hard work, resilience, and stick-toit-ness, despite inevitable set backs, this journey like many others started with and continues to be a passion. Grad school has taught me respect for learning and knowledge, higher powers, and points of view; it has reminded me about the pitfalls of expectations, comparison, self-judgement and self-doubt, and it has reminded me of how some expectations can be detrimental to our wellbeing, if we’re not careful to keep our passion, purpose, and goals in check. 

I want to begin this reflection with a quote (from the end of the article linked at the bottom) as it spoke to me on so many levels: “Poor mental health is a fact of life in graduate education” ... 

... Though I agree, I would argue, poor mental health is a fact of life, period, and if we don’t stop, take stock, and work with ourselves and others when life becomes overwhelming, we’re doomed. 

I’d also argue the statement could describe almost any challenging endeavour in life, such as that of the life of a new mom, a divorcée, the life of one navigating in a disruptive relationship, life as a new teacher, life in just about any scenario where pressure to perform, without the skills or supports to manage is a reality. Pressure, we undoubtably put on ourselves, and sometimes unwillingly or mistakenly, or ignorantly put on others when we celebrate accomplishments or our own successes. 

Grad school, taking on a new career, planning a pregnancy, becoming a parent, starting a new business venture, setting and following through with personal health goals, starting a new life, embarking on a new relationship, mending an old one, beginning a marriage, writing a book, starting a project, planning a long trip, etc. Etc.... these are each ventures for which we knowingly or unknowingly set up expectations for ourselves (often, unusually high ones), and then we find ourselves comparing our results or our realities to others, or worse our own highest expectations. The achievements and accomplishments of those we deem as perfection unwittingly drive us to an insanity that perpetuates a state of ill health and if we don’t catch ourselves or support one another that’s when our mental health can suffer immensely (speaking to the article directly here). 

Expectations become platforms that we aim towards and because of that, with bulls eye precision we can get lost in how far off the mark we end up, how hard it is to even hit the mark, and then we can begin to see all kinds of others around us doing the same things, but somehow doing them better, with more vigilance, success, cheerleaders, etc. And the more we pay attention to our seeming failures, the more power we seem to give them. 

It’s a point of convergence; a juxtaposition of us against others and even against ourselves. This perspective can burden what were once altruistic, lofty, passionate, persistent, and very purposeful goals and weigh them down with defeat. 

The overwhelming sense of not measuring up (even to ourselves) can render us in a state of fear and we all know what can happen when fear takes up shop in our heads. Our thoughts, feelings, and eventually actions, start to resist, fight back, and before we know it, we are in full on fight, flight, or freeze mode  (also known as anger, anxiety, or depression) and whether diagnosable or not we are living on the edge of not good enough, fast enough, strong enough, smart enough, pretty enough, thin enough, savvy enough, persistent enough, loving enough, etc. Etc. It’s a vicious cycle. 

What we can’t explain we chalk up to good or bad Khama, coincidence, or what was meant to be, further alienating ourselves to success and welcoming defeat; which in and of itself also perpetuates a cycle.

The stress of not good enough, the stress of failure, the stress of setting your sights on the prize and putting aside everything to get there, the stress of taking a break, asking for help, stepping back, or accepting reality....This is where our mental wellness can find itself fighting demons, juxtaposed to our original passions, innocence, intent, or goals. 

In my research, I have collated much around teacher burnout, but I liken the reality to parent, student, and simply any form of burnout all together. That point in which we feel like giving up is better than forging on; that’s a place that really impacts my processing, especially when I consider the passion and power that drives one when we excitedly begin any new adventure! 

Where I have found solace is in training myself to not compare my work, my achievements, my successes or failures in life to anyone else’s, including my own perceptions of where I should be. I simply, be. There’s no race, there’s no winners, there’s no reason to feel like our way compares in any way to another’s. The human condition is full of diversity, an ebb and a flow, and thank god for that. It is in fact what creates helpers and ‘helpees’ and it’s by the grace of a higher power that we’re not all at the same place at the same time. 

It’s hard work, and it takes daily reminders to be ok with what the world places before me, be it good, bad, or downright ugly. I can’t resist it, no matter how badly I want too. I must must persist into areas of light, seek out helpers, even if they be small or few and far between, and if I’m lucky, I find the flow of where it all began. 

Swimming upstream could land me in a place, I never want to be, worse yet, land me in the exact same place I’ve always been, the one Einstein spoke of, whereby, one is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result. I’ve been there before, more than I’d like to admit, and I’m happy to remind myself, never again. 

I won’t swim upstream, I accept all situations, invite circumstance, and flow with where it wants to take me. I have learned this through managing devastating losses, tumultuous relationships, and personal and professional pitfalls and blunders all along the way. I have had many teachers and helpers, mostly strong women, a couple intuitive men, and hundreds of children and families for whom with I’ve worked with and lived who have taught me about resilience and it’s power over defeat in the face of insurmountable turmoil. 

These amazing people in my life, the culmination of that which embodies worth, perspective, and self understanding and care, teach me that when life seems like self sacrifice is the only answer to our stress; support can (in the best way) unravel it all. 

I actually think, despite many great historic philosophers and great literature enthusiasts, Vanilla Ice has said it best; in the worst of life circumstance: ‘stop, collaborate, and (most importantly) listen’. This is the recipe whereby, you, your supporters, and the universe, can find answers...if, we pay attention and are willing to problem solve, together. 

And, as for this grad school journey, with which, I too entered, with passion and a gut feeling that I called intent, I hope to end it the way it began: with purpose and though challenged along the way, I will aim to not lose sight of the beauty that brought me to this place. 

When stuck, like in any other realm of life that has challenged me, I will take time to sit back, take stock (that’s the Mindful part) and reason with myself about my expectations, my successes, my struggles, and hopefully allow myself the breathing room necessary to persevere. 

It is my hope this message can resonate with anyone who finds roadblocks or stumbles into unexpected territory while pursuing their true passions as well. We’re all in this together and if your journey ever finds you stuck, wondering where you began, or why... reach out and ask for help from someone who can provide at minimum, some perspective (aka: Stop, collaborate, and listen). 

There is someone closer than you think who can give you the pat on the back, the hug, or the push you need to keep going!

Mental Health at Home and Work

Posted 9/2/2019
Did you know that on any given week more than 500,000 Canadians are unable to work due to mental health concerns? Stress at home, work, and in life is as high as anywhere from 40 - 70%, as Canadians report more and more, distress or burnout at home or in the workplace as being, not just burdensome, but exhaustive. And though the often quoted statistic around 1 in 5 Canadians, who has a mental health concern at any given time is a well known statistic, a lesser known fact is that by age 40, 1/2 of Canadians has or is suffering from a mental health concern. 
 
I only mention these numbers to remind us that mental health, as an issue affecting many Canadians, is not something we want to ignore. Nor, however, is it an epidemic, that we need to fear infiltrating our homes and workplaces! 
 
What it is, is something we must recognize, normalize, and manage to reduce both the stigma and pandemonium that surround it sometimes; supporting people to feel ok reaching out when stress turns to distress and exhaustion to burnout, so through awareness, they know they will be heard, understood, and respected. 
 
When stress goes from a nagging urge to get everything done to an overwhelming impact on overall mental health and well-being we need to be armed with information; which leads me to the second reason we would highlight these staggering statistics. Our mental health is something we can have personal power over. With the right time and support, we can take measures to manage surmounting stress, and to ward off the intrusion of what sometimes feels like an unknown entity that just took up shop over our heads, and in our homes, or workplaces. 
 
When we are stressed at work or in life it can affect: 
✔️Productivity,
✔️Financial Performance,
✔️Risk Management,
✔️Organizational Recruitment, and 
✔️Employee Retention
 
These are big deals for our workplaces and organizations. When we are stressed at home it can impact relationships, self- care, and can foster stress contagion, whereby we spread our stress throughout from person to person, increasing the likelihood of it affecting the mental health, wellness, and behaviour of the entire family.  
 
Though long term and deeply ingrained mental health concerns can require intense therapy and support, much of the stress in our lives can be mitigated with a little information. Sometime even just knowing that stress is normal and purposeful can help. In one of our introductory workshops designed for communities, leaders, workspaces, and even families and schools, we teach about mental health, stress, and burnout through a process we have termed: AWARE~CARE~COPE. 
 
Through this process, we teach at each stage the human elements of who we are as individuals and how stress, the stress response system, and knowledge of its regulation and management can be a game changer for some in their understanding of self, other, and health. We open the door for you and your organization to start conversations and build awareness to know when you can support and step in, or when more services might be needed and where to go! 
 
We help you build emotional vocabulary so that everyone is on the same page and we teach about the background and difference between some of the terms people throw around today and what they truly mean. We teach you how to tell the difference between what you can support and change on your own and when to seek medical help. Stress and mental health don’t have to be mysterious concepts that scare or worry us, if we have information and learn about the importance of communication, collaboration, and camaraderie in the process of understanding and healing. 
 
Life is a journey and at its best it can be free from the burden of the stigma around this thing we call mental health. If you, your organization, or community is interested in getting in the know contact us and we can discuss your needs and your people! Health matters, at work, at home, and in the community; and we care about making a difference! 
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The Human Curriculum™ (HC)

Through experience and practice in the art and science of parenting (23 years), teaching (20 years), and supporting mental health and special education (7 years), I began my journey to the Human Curriculum™. The HC is the umbrella under which all aspects of what we do at Prairie Sky Education exists. As I am now nearing the the end of an educational journey, as a PhD Candidate at the University of Saskatchewan, I have begun collating all of what I continue to learn about people; how and why we behave; how we construct who we are in the world; and how we live, reflect, impact, and support others. It will always be an incredible journey, one which, I will continue to share with you through this space at the HC. Welcome, browse, and get in touch if you have something to share, ideas to indulge, or inquiries to which you seek understanding and action. 

judy@prairieskyeducation.ca

 

Our Calm® Philosophy

 

Calm Practices come from over two decades of experience and practice in parenting, teaching, and learning. As a mother, teacher, and student I went about my most recent journey through my doctorate in a bridged program called the cross-departmental PhD program at the University of Saskatchewan. It was there, I started to combine knowledge from Curriculum Studies with that of Educational Psychology and Special Education and this learning in conjunction with my lifelong experiences gave rise to the Calm ® philosophies and practices that exist today as workshops for parents, educators, and leaders. Explore our page or feel free to connect anytime to ask about a workshop or presentation for: 

- Calm Classrooms®

- Calm Parenting®

- Calm Workspaces®

- Calm Leaders®

- Calm Coaching®

And more!

 

Judy

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