Promoting positive mental health in schools, a workshop approach

Regular readers of this blog will already know that I teach food and nutrition to secondary school pupils and coordinate health education including emotional resilience and mental health interventions. It is this amazing role that can stretch me, for which some days seems an infinite number of ways, but also provides me with so many opportunities to share my passions and impact adolescent health.

This week I delivered a workshop to 80 trainee teachers. Now, anyone who is around teachers a fair amount will know that we are not the easiest audience. Teachers are performers, used to connecting and they expect a particular standard of delivery from their speakers, and so it is always more nerve wracking than other audiences I have had the pleasure to speak to. However, they were a lovely bunch and although it was Friday afternoon and some of the ideas were a little whacky and possibly uncomfortable to some of them, they were most welcoming and open minded.

This was so exciting to me, as in the words of a primary school headteacher present on the day, “this is where it all starts”. Our children are literally in the hands of our school teachers, and the impact one person can have on a multitude of young spirits can be significant. I finished the day by asking how many of them had been inspired or even changed by an adult role model in their lives, and as the majority of hands went up, it was a goose bump moment as I reminded them that in this chosen career they have the opportunity to be that person to many young people.

The workshop

The workshop was a mixture of our perception on stress and how to build a personal toolbox of healthy strategies, whilst recognising and hopefully replacing the unhealthy strategies already habitual, as well as the child mental health issues they would encounter as a teacher, creating empathy in the classroom and the practical side for example following safeguarding procedures.

The work of Dr. Kelly McGonigal is particularly fascinating, as she changed her own perception and how she discusses stress with her own patients, when hearing research about how our perception of stress changes the impacts to our health. It seems that if we view stress and challenge as a normal part of life and an opportunity for growth and learning as well as being able to accept and release fear, then we do not suffer as much from the negative symptoms of stress and anxiety.

And so, stress is an evolutionary process, given to us out of a necessity for survival. Can our mind differentiate between a sabre toothed tiger hot on our tails or an imminent deadline looming? Some argue not and so if we perceive that all of us experience stress, we can move onto laying foundations for resilience and building a toolbox of healthy strategies to protect ourselves from the effects of overwhelm and fear.

5 Foundations for resilience

1.View stress as a part of life
It may help you to watch the Kelly McGonigal Ted talk

https://www.ted.com/talks/kelly_mcgonigal_how_to_make_stress_your_friend#t-722870

2. Build your own toolbox of healthy strategies from new or old interests, for example, meditation, breathing, EFT/tapping, Reiki, playing a musical instrument, walking or other activities, singing, joining a choir, journalling/writing

3. Eat well
Food and mood is a huge area of research as we know that what we eat impacts on hormonal imbalances and gut health, also nutrient deficiencies can cause symptoms of anxiety. It is important to note that mental health conditions are multifactorial to include biological, psychological and social factors. However, research is showing links between consuming a healthier diet. Studies have indicated that the mediterranean diet could reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as consuming green tea. As I write a combination of foods within the MIND diet are being tested as part of a research project, to see if consuming foods which are already showing evidence of dementia prevention e.g. green leafy vegetables, berries and lowering dairy, fruit and potato intake could slow cognitive decline.
Nutrition tips:
reduce sugar intake
increase beans, greens and wholegrains
cook from scratch and reduce the processed foods
drink plain water and stay hydrated

4. Keep active
Exercise is already a well known part of many doctor’s social prescriptions. Doing something everyday to keep active can support positive feelings and provide healthy results.

5. Connect, laugh and feel lucky
Prioritising time with friends and family, laughing bonding and planning in activities, breaks and holidays promotes feelings of happiness and wellbeing, and gives you something to look forward to. Knowing you are loved and liked is important, just as contributing and giving is a balm to your soul. Connecting and contributing provide you with feelings of gratitude i.e. feeling lucky.

Have a great week and I hope you get a few moments to reflect and change your perceptions of stress.

 

Lots of love and light,

 

Kelly x

 

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