Christmas Landcare – community based self-care
I am sitting on an old bench on my sister’s kitchen veranda, a private moment of self-care before a busy day. The old, now disused, pool on my left, vegetable gardens and water tanks on my right. Drinking my morning coffee I look out to where the hazelnut trees fight with the kangaroos for the water from the reticulation system. A constant battle in the drought struck landscape. The breeze is cool in the early morning, but the sun warm, the promise of another hot day. There is the whiff of smoke in the air. A reminder of the fires burning 5 hours away.
Today is the Landcare Christmas lunch. And I’ve been invited to attend as a guest. We’ll set up the tables and Christmas tree in the old woolshed. Likewise, disused. But not just because of the drought – the farm now runs dorpers. A self-shedding breed, much prized for its meat, not wool. The herd is small, down to a few breeding ewes, a sign of the lack of feed on the ground and the need to handfeed the remaining stock. The drought continues.
It’s hitting this community and others hard. The Landcare Christmas lunch will be an opportunity to catch up with neighbours sharing the same prospects. A time to support each other, just to say, I am here for you. Landcare’s objectives are to help support local farmers help each other, looking after the land, the waterways, and the people. It’s the people that are the focus of today’s lunch. To support their “social, mental and physical health” (Outcome 12, NSW Landcare Program, 2019). The Landcare trailer with its barbeque, a community purchase for supporting their regular gatherings, is waiting, ready to fry some traditional Aussie Christmas fare.
They won’t talk about the drought, of course, the lack of feed, burying the starving cattle, selling the final herd. This is a moment to step out and just be. A moment of self-care, within a community setting. Yet, surrounded by the reminders of what was, the cobwebbed leather sheering belt a token of a distant, better time, when feed was plentiful, when large herds filled the pens.
Teacher community self-care?
It occurs to me, as I watch the chatter over lunch, as teachers we don’t do this form of self-care. The closest we might come is the lunch time natter with colleagues, or the after-school drinks with friends on Friday. But this organised, government sponsored community self-care, that takes us away from our immediate workplace and connects us with others with the same purpose, is missing in in our profession.
And yet teaching is also a high stress occupation. Recent survey results, published in The Conversation, showed that over half of Australian teachers suffer from some form of anxiety and depression. Many cite their work environments and workloads as being significant sources of stress. More worrying, 17% of those surveyed reported behaviours linked with probably alcohol abuse or dependence. Those drinks at the pub on Friday? They’re probably not the best option! So how do we deal with issues? What can we do?
The first thing is to recognise what self-care is and how it can contribute to relieving stress. Self-care is any activity that we do intentionally in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health. Self-care is not about unwinding after work (those drinks at the pub on Friday), it’s about finding an activity or exercise that refuels you, something that helps you re-energise yourself.
It’s important in a giving profession that we learn give to ourselves first. Many teachers find self-care difficult to do. We get busy, responding to the tyranny of the urgent, the marking, programming, endless reports which take all weekend and then some. If you are a teacher, then you know the drill! And so, we put off the self-care, the visit to the gym, the creative activity, the time away with non-teaching friends. We give into the demands of our profession and refuse to say no to new requests from the administration. And think, ‘I’ll have some downtime on Friday’! Yes, I’ve been there too!
Time to break the cycle
So how do we break the cycle of work overload, not looking after us, and initiate some new ways of self-care. Ways that helps us create a greater capacity for coping with the stresses of work. Ways that will increase our resilience. And ways that will help reduce some of the symptoms of mental health, such as anxiety and depression. And doing so intentionally, on a daily or weekly basis.
I like the list put together by the team at Everymind. They list several ways to look after yourself physically, spiritually, by creating time for yourself, and nurturing those important relationships! They include suggestions such as eating well, staying fit, getting enough sleep, limit alcohol use, making time for yourself and interests you enjoy, learning something new. But the aspects of their list I like best, and links back to what we find in the Landcare Organisation, is the suggestion to get involved in community groups, connecting with others to keep strong.
In a profession that is demanding and high-stress , the opportunity to connect with others outside of our immediate workplaces, may be the key to supporting teachers’ well-being and mental health. Self-care, but within a community setting.
Learning from the farmers
I am almost envious of farmers. Perhaps envy isn’t the right word. But I value what I saw at that Landcare Christmas lunch. A group of people coming regularly together to support each other. Their connection is through the land, caring for the local the water ways, sustainable practices in land management. Yet their gathering that day was just as intentional, supporting each other socially and mentally as human beings facing similar challenges in a shared industry.
Teachers need such an opportunity. Not Friday drinks, nor the end-of-year school Christmas function. And not just a list of tools or resources. But small group gatherings, across schools and school systems. Groups that meet intentionally, regularly, and are supportive of each other as human beings in a high stress profession, whose demands seem never ending. Gatherings that are about intentional self-care, at a time when it is needed the most.