Dear … exam stress

Dear Sophia,⁠

Five years ago, you posted this image to social media, trying to send some positive hopeful energy out, because frankly, you were somewhat of a mess. Exam pressure did that to you. Two and a half hours later, you walked out and the heavy burden was lifted because, as you put it, “it went better than I thought”. ⁠

Repeat after me: I will pass this finance exam. I will pass this exam. I will pass this exam.

This week social media reminded you of this snapshot of a moment captured in the black-and-white photo you chose to accompany the post and it got me thinking of my students and exams they may have to do next term. What would I say to them about the pressures of exams?⁠

When I was 16, 17, what advice would have I wanted to have heard before going into exams? Those were the questions I asked myself as I sat down this morning with my cup of coffee. Reflecting on this, these are the advice I would give my younger self, but also to my students next term.

  1. Exam pressure can be scary, but remember this: we can’t do more than the best shot and effort we put into preparing for this exam. Don’t strive for perfection.
  2. Don’t let exams take over your life. You need balance; prioritize your study but make sure you carve out time to socialize as well as spend time having fun with your interests and hobbies.
  3. Clarity comes when the mind is still, not when it is busy. So take time to switch off, relax and calm the thousands of thoughts that must be racing through your mind.
  4. Spend at least 30 minutes of your day moving. Whether that be through walking, running, yoga, dancing or working out.
  5. Remember that everyone learns differently, so how you study will be different to others. Find the study regime that works for you, and create a structure.

Exam time is a stressful time and this is one of the reasons why resilience is so crucial for a balanced mental health during this time. Though whilst this letter is addressed to myself, I hope that it is helpful for anyone who needs reassurance as they enter exam times.

Breathe.

Couple of reflections in this time of uncertainty, where we have seen humanity shine in times of adversity (spontaneous balcony concerts in Spain and Italy) but also the ugliness of humanity come to light (um, hello panic buying of toilet paper).

It is a juggle and a half to keep teaching the curriculum and emotionally manage classes of students who are unsettled, because the world is unsettled.

Managing my own emotions, whilst trying to be calm and positive for students, has led to exhaustion. My emotional and mental wellbeing wobbled for a bit, but it has stabilized and is now steady … just.

What has really helped me these past two weeks has been taking a break on social media platforms, filtering what type of information I intake, making time for myself and yoga. I’ve managed to binge watch several seasons of Heartland, get up-to-date with Doc Marten and had several individual dance parties in the kitchen. Plus, afternoon naps with the kittens curled up next to me didn’t hurt.

Pause, catch your breath and recharge.

This has helped me get a balance, and be able to attack the large pile of marking that I’ve bookmarked for this weekend. It has also helped me assess a few things.

In this season of uncertainty, let us share more of the loving-kindness that we are capable of. Don’t let fear isolate us unnecessarily. Because I am an educator, my natural inclination is to share resources to help others. So, below are some tips for those who are feeling overwhelmed:

  • Do one action each day that generates happiness for you and for others. If you are stuck for ideas, look at Action for Happiness’ “Coping Calendar“. There are 30 actions you can implement to help you cope in times of uncertainty.
  • Switch off social media for a short period of time. We can all be easily overwhelmed with the thousands upon thousands of posts about Covid-19, so it’s okay to take a break and detox for a bit.
  • Listen to music that helps calm you. I’ve been playing Spotify’s “Musical Therapy” playlist a lot recently. Even though I get a few grumbles, I have noticed how it calms them and helps them focus.
  • Rest up. This is often easier said than done, but try and get 8 hours of sleep, hydrate and make sure you are eating regularly.

Let me know what you do to help you stay calm in moments of uncertainty.

Limbo

For months, I have been thinking about Liebe + Letters. Blog posts have been forming in mind, only to evaporate when I try to put words onto paper.

It’s been hard to write, or more accurately, finish blog posts ready to publish. There are some many unfinished drafts that I don’t even know if they will ever see the light of day.

I’ve thought about the type of posts I write and whether or not I should change the format. Whether I should write less about reflections about life lessons and more about the minutiae of my life.

A lot has happened since my last update. Finished at my old school, relocated back to Perth and moved houses, started at a new school, became mama to two little kittens and (re)learning how to manage full-time teaching.

It’s left this blog to be in limbo, and frankly, I hate being in limbo. I like certainty, structure and routines. Knowing where I am going, and what my plan for the day is. So not having a plan and being in limbo when it comes to my writing is … daunting. In many ways, it’s uncomfortable for me.

I know they say that being out of your comfort zone is where most of the learning and growth occurs. Yet in this murky zone of uncertainty, it is hard to be reassured by that saying.

Don’t get me wrong, I want to keep writing and get all of these ideas that are floating in my brain and out into the world to see where they go. I just want to know where some guiding markers are for this project.

There isn’t a concrete ending to this post – I have no idea where to go from here and maybe that is it. Maybe the whole key learning points in this is the organic nature of writing.

All I know is that you put one foot in front of the other, just focus on the here and now and see where that journey leads you.

A Decade in Review

Standing at Cosy’s Beach, feeling the wind whip around my face and letting the fresh sea air soak into my bones, I stood reflecting on where I have been, where I am going and where I could go.

Despite all it’s messiness and challenges thrown at me (from what felt like left, right and centre), 2019 has been a year where I have grown from out of my shell and into a more confident being. This has not happened overnight, but rather as a result of the lessons I have learnt over my formative years that are my 20s.

My 20s (and simultaneously the decade) started with the freedom to explore what I thought I wanted to do career wise, which was a blend of NGO activism and media PR. The volunteering and the work I did cemented my belief of the change young people are capable of and learning that if you want to achieve something, you need to put effort into it.

Mid-decade was the start of the end of my naivety. Taking steps out of my previously sheltered life, I clashed with the complexities of reality where consequently, I had to learn harsh lessons. In response, I learnt to trust my instincts and that if my gut is telling me something is wrong, then something is most definitely wrong.

As I started to scrape myself back off the ground, I started to find my feet, found my confidence again and soared. Throughout the past few years, the end of the decade, the path (that seemed foggy and unclear to younger me) started to become clearer. My decisions, my experiences started to all slot together to show my calling – teaching. Despite some bumps in the road, I finally found my passion.

Looking towards the next decade, there is still a part of me that wishes that the chaos (that was present this year) will settle down over the next decade, but the wiser me knows that this is wishful thinking. I know that I am stronger and more capable of smoothing the chaos that is life into a somewhat smoother ride than I have been able to previously.

The past 10 years were eventful, but I grew and learnt new things. Here’s to another 10 years, where I hope to work towards my dreams and goals and continue to grow to be the best person I can be.

Love,
Sophia
x

Few thoughts at the start of the end of the school year.

It’s the last week of school, and I’m exhausted. Like exhausted-to-the-bone exhausted and I’m not doing well emotionally.

My emotions have been out of whack and my demons have come out to taunt me because I’ve simply not have had the energy to deal with them healthily.

Constant negative thoughts – am I doing the right thing? Am I interesting to talk to or am I only good at talking logistics and planning things? Am I fun to be around or just a bore? – are swirling around my head.

Note, I am okay. This is just a downswing in my mental health. I am sharing this because a) context is important and b) I’ve had some realizations about full-time teaching.

If you have teacher friends, tell them that they are valued. This time of the year is taxing – emotionally, mentally and physically. If they are first years out, they are going to be exhausted. Invite them round for dinner, and some quiet boardgames. Let them know they are valued and important.

If you are a teacher, please, please make sure you schedule some self-care and self-love. Our patience and energy levels may be running out so it’s all the more reason to look after oneself. Make sure that in this season of busyness, you look after yourself.

Because that’s what I’m doing sitting at the beach, in the sun soaking up the sea breeze. In the midst of the crazy, end of year wrap up, I’m setting boundaries and looking after myself. It’s the first step to combatting these insecure, negative thoughts and a step towards a positive mental health this crazy season.

Love,

Sophia

Xx

Dear … anxiety

Anxiety takes form in different ways. Whether it’s your perfectionism influencing your need to be in control of everything in your immediate vicinity (whilst internally you’re panicking), painful spikes of disassociation as you’re frozen but your brain is racing, or not knowing your flight response was triggered until you’re in a safe environment emotionally breaking down.

It’s being tense and shallow breathing and the rapid calculations of the quickest way out. It’s the constant twirling of the rings on the hand. The jittering of the leg.

Quite often, this anxiety struggle is below the tip of the iceberg that is our public persona. If you know the tells, you’ll probably see the anxiety peek through, but otherwise for the most time, it’s hidden. Because making it obvious to others attract attention and when you’re anxious, that’s the last thing you want.

That’s why it’s not as simple as “you shouldnt worry so much” or “oh, just come out – it isnt that hard”.

So be gentle and kind with others, for everyone is fighting a battle you may not know of.

Yours,

Sophia

xx

A letter about … self-worth

Recently I’ve been having conversations with friends around mental health, and I’m about to embark on a small series of lessons looking at advertisements and society expectations of beauty. I’m hoping to get a discussion going about mental health and self-worth in these lessons.

One thing I’ve noticed in my conversations is the amount of times we “compare” our worth to someone and we get caught up on not feeling worthy. And yes, I’m guilty of it. I compare myself to another teacher and I’m getting annoyed that my active teaching time isn’t at that standard. Or that my worksheets weren’t engaging enough. Or that my classroom is too noisy. Or this, or that, on and on my comparison goes.

I was sharing my concerns with my mentor recently, when he just turns to me and goes “how long have you been teaching? A year? See, exactly. You’re doing really well.”

And he’s right. I’ve only just starting on this teaching career; I’m bound to make mistakes and then grow from the lessons I learnt from then. It’s good to observe other teachers, pick up pointers but it’s not healthy to compare myself with them and get stuck on it and let it become the basis of my self-worth.

So, this is for everyone who needs a reminder – you are important.

Yours,

Sophia

X