Stressed Out?

More Remedies for Reducing Teacher Stress & Burnout

stress-1837384_1920_johnhainWelcome back to our series on music teacher (and other professionals) self-care.

First, as presented in this insightful article by Chris Mumford, we confirm the notion that “stress is inevitable,” but “how you respond to it can spell the difference between a long, rewarding career or one cut short by burn-out.” Based on new research, he offers some surprising (and even counter-intuitive) techniques to better deal with it, including these “9 Stress Management Strategies Every Teacher Needs to Know.”

  1. Breathe (properly)… When you’re experiencing intense levels of stress, breathe in deeply (put your hands on your stomach and feel it expand out), for four seconds, then exhale evenly for four seconds. Keep this up for two-three minutes for maximum effect. 
  2. Embrace the stress… Viewing your stress in constructive ways [reframing] will actually cause your body to respond to it differently and prevent long-lasting physical damage.
  3. Be imperfect… Teachers are often prone to perfectionism and its ill effects: they often feel that they aren’t doing enough, or that their mistakes are magnified because of the importance of their job. If you find yourself feeling this way, fight back.
  4. stress-2379631_1920_DavidqrPractice emotional first aid… Do you beat yourself up when you experience failure or make a mistake? [Find] ways to break the negative patterns of thought.
  5. Be grateful… We have to stop, quiet our minds, and create “stop signs”—little reminders of things that we should be grateful for every day.
  6. Limit “grass is greener” thinking… You will have challenges anywhere you go.
  7. Work smarter, not harder… Find ways to delegate some of your work, or invest in tools or technologies that will make your life easier. 
  8. Ask for help… doesn’t make you weaker, it makes you better at your job.
  9. Make a connection… When you connect with another person, your body produces oxytocin, which is a chemical that helps repair the heart. If you help your neighbors, family, etc., you’re much less likely to experience the negative effects of stress. 

 

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Just Breathe… According to the Navy SEALS!

The calming, deep-breathing practice (#1 above) can be learned by reviewing a host of resources, including the book Maximizing Your Human Potential and Develop the Spirit by former Navy SEAL Mark Divine, as well as these websites:

Examples of two different NAVY SEALS breathing exercises advise us on how to reach a more relaxed state:

TACTICAL BREATHING (to alleviate “fight or flight” tension)

Place your right hand on your belly, pushing out with a big exhale. Then breathe in through your nostrils, slowly drawing the breath upward from your belly to your upper chest.

Pause and exhale, starting from your chest and moving downward to the air in your belly. Imagine your belly button touching your spine.

Once you’re comfortable with a full, deep breath, repeat it, this time making the exhale navy SEALStwice as long as the length of the inhale. For example, inhale to the count of four, pause briefly, and exhale to the count of eight. Repeat three times.

Stephanie Vozza

BOXED BREATHING (to help ground you, sharpen concentration, and become more alert and calm)

Expel all of the air from your lungs
Keep them empty for four seconds
Inhale through your nose for four seconds
Hold for a four count (don’t clamp down or create pressure; be easy)
Exhale for a four count
Repeat for 10-20 minutes

Reuben Brody

 

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Mind Over Matter

Our own minds may be our own worst enemies. Have you read the insightful article “Sustaining the Flame – Re-Igniting the Joy in Teaching Music” by Karen Salvador in the December 2019 issue of Music Educators Journal? She offers research-supported strategies for nurturing courage, peace, and resilience as well as suggested habits of thinking and action. Samples of “cognitive distortions,” a term of which I had never heard previously defining “irrational beliefs,” is addressed by “reframing” our inner voice during specific incidents of emotional distress.

MEJ December 2019Her common examples of cognitive distortions include the following. Do any of these sound familiar?

  • Disqualifying (discounting) the positive events
  • Jumping to conclusions
  • Filtering (focusing entirely on the negative elements of a situation)
  • Double standard (placing unreasonable/unattainable expectations for ourselves)
  • Personalizing (or “taking something personally”)
  • Polarized (placing people or situations in unrealistic “either or” categories)

Additional recommendations by Nicole Stachelski for combating stress and burnout are listed in the article:

  1. Laugh with your students
  2. Eat your lunch (take a break or enjoy social time)
  3. Schedule regular physical activity
  4. Drink more water (and visit the bathroom as needed!)
  5. Prioritize your work and set boundaries
  6. Keep a consistent bedtime
  7. Delegate – don’t be afraid to ask for help
  8. Focus on what’s really important

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More Ideas — Just Pick One!

Take a gander at this excellent Scholastic.com teacher blog-post by Nancy Jang summarizing “15 Ways to Reduce Teacher Stress.” Can you try at least one new strategy this week that resonates with you and your life?

  1. Close the door during prep time.
  2. Make a SHORT and DOABLE “Must Do” and “May Do” lists.
  3. Delegate items to parent volunteers.
  4. Lay out your outfit and prepare your healthy lunch the night before.
  5. Get a full eight hours of sleep.
  6. Don’t correct every piece of paper.
  7. Work out!
  8. Get up early!
  9. Stay away from negativity.
  10. Don’t take things home.
  11. Plan time every week/day to enjoy something that is not remotely related to teaching.*
  12. meditate-1851165_1920_PexelsLearn something new.
  13. Plan a trip.
  14. Don’t over-commit.
  15. Take ten minutes a day and mediate.

*Probably one of my own worst habits was not modeling number 11 above. No matter how busy you are with your daily in-school teaching and extra-curricular music/coaching activities, the full recommendations are important to consider:

Spend time with your family and friends, travel, work on your garden, read for pleasure, take a hike. Learn how to turn off being a teacher. Balancing your time to just be YOU (not the teacher you) allows you to be renewed and have more mental energy for your students.

Nancy Jang

A few more ideas are offered by Jennifer Gunn in her blog-post from Concordia University “How Educators Can (Really, Honestly) Unplug – And How Stress Affects Us.” As always, it is suggested that you read the entire article at the link provided.

  • Practice mindfulness
  • Get a change in scenery
  • Focus on some serious self-care
  • Make plans with friends
  • LOL
  • Unplug, literally
  • Schedule your work time and your fun time

 

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Balance

Work Life Balance ZelinskiIn almost every health and wellness article, we hear the emphasis of prioritizing and seeking a more equitable use of personal time, achieving what Ernie Zelinski, author of the best-selling book How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free, refers to as “work/life balance.” Future blogs on samples of “super stress reducers” in “setting boundaries,” time management, and innovative organizational tools will be forthcoming.

Several books are also recommended readings for addressing the issues of teacher health and wellness. We have already reviewed several of these. More to come.

 

Our next journey to an in-depth look at music educator self-care will explore more fully TEACHER BURNOUT. To stay up-to-date on past and future articles, publications, and workshop presentations on this topic, be sure to revisit the “Care” section of this blog-site.

 

Resources

 

PKF

 

Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com

  • “laptop-woman-education-study-young” by Jan Vašek
  • “stress” by johnhain
  • “stress-despair-burden” by Davidqr
  • “boat-teamwork-training-exercise” by skeeze
  • “mental-health-wellness-psychology” by Wokandapix
  • “stress-relief-help-sign-relax” by Pete Linforth
  • “meditate-meditation-peaceful” by Pexels
  • “handstand-beach-sea-ocean-sand” by MatanVizel
  • “wooden-train-toys-train-first-class” by Couleur

wooden-train-2066492_1920_

 

 

 

 

 

 

© 2020 Paul K. Fox

Do You Always Feel Exhausted?

Our second in a series on publications and other resources for self-care, health, wellness, and remediation of stress and burnout of music educators addresses one of the core issues for all of us — chronic fatigue.

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The medical definition is comprehensive:

Fatigue is a lingering tiredness that is constant and limiting. With fatigue, you have unexplained, persistent, and relapsing exhaustion. It’s similar to how you feel when you have the flu or have missed a lot of sleep. If you have chronic fatigue, or systemic exertion intolerance disease (SEID), you may wake in the morning feeling as though you’ve not slept. Or you may be unable to function at work or be productive at home. You may be too exhausted even to manage your daily affairs. — WebMD

In the NAfME community forum Amplify, another colleague turned me on to the book Exhausted — Why Teachers Are So Tired and What They Can Do About It by Paul Murphy (2017). Most of this blog will focus on a review of this work. I also recommend you visit his very informative website of blog-posts: Teacher Habits.

If you’re like most teachers, being tired at the end of the day is a way of life. We’ve become so accustomed to it that it’s hard to imagine how things could be any different. We get through out mornings with coffee, our afternoons with Diet Coke, and the ends of our school days with the iron strength of our will. We leave the building exhausted, having so much at work that there’s little left over for our families or even ourselves.Paul Murphy

So, what is the scope of the problem? What can we do about it?

 

What Is a Teacher?

Are you a teacher? If so, are you also a classroom work foreman, logistics manager, guide, drill sergeant, disciplinarian, cheerleader, data entry clerk, cultural advocate, or analyst?  Maybe you are all of these things and more.  Maybe, we need to look at educators in a new context of what teaching really is in most schools, and whether it should be given cultural, economic and technological change.

Merriam-Webster’s says “teach” is a verb, with several simple definitions that repeat themselves but ideologically are these five things:

  • to cause to know something
  • to guide the studies of
  • to make known and accepted
  • to impart the knowledge of
  • to conduct instruction regularly.

LeiLani Cauthen

Personally, I have always glorified the mission and “calling” of becoming an educator.

Teachers model the “habits” of

  • ornament-1899065_1920_xsonicchaosFocus
  • Self-discipline
  • Self-motivation
  • Self-assessment and self-improvement
  • Work ethic
  • Highest standards of behavior, appearance, and ethics

We serve as

  • Fiduciaries, looking out for the welfare of students
  • Model exemplars, both on and off school time
  • Self-starters, intrinsically motivated and goal-oriented
  • Professionals 24/7 – always “on the job”

This bar is further raised by the public’s and our very own highest expectations of the “nine characteristics of a great teacher” by Maria Orlando in Faculty Focus:

  1. A great teacher respects students.
  2. A great teacher creates a sense of community and belonging in the classroom.
  3. A great teacher is warm, accessible, enthusiastic and caring.
  4. A great teacher sets high expectations for all students.
  5. A great teacher has his own love of learning.
  6. A great teacher is a skilled leader.
  7. A great teacher can “shift-gears…”
  8. A great teacher collaborates with colleagues on an ongoing basis.
  9. A great teacher maintains professionalism in all areas…

I wouldn’t have it any other way! But these standards must take a toll on our health, wellness, and work/life balance!

 

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Stress and Data on Teacher Exhaustion

Do you find yourself tired most of the time? Quoted in Exhausted by Paul Murphy, does this sound like YOU?

  • “I’m exhausted, and every weekend, I spend at least one day in my pajamas.”
  • “I feel like work never ends.”
  • “I love my students, and I have a really good class this year, but I’m done and ready for a break.”
  • “I was so tired that I ended up missing out on family’s holiday dinner.”

Why is this so prevalent? According to Paul Murphy, “the answer, in a word, is STRESS! Teachers are incredibly stressed-out people, especially when they are at work.”

He shares some scary statistics:

Because our culture tendency to demand more of educators, that stress is on the rise. In 1985, 36% of teachers reported feeling great stress at least several days a week. Today, that number is 51%. Only doctors report higher levels of stress on the job.

The costs are high. A recent study of the U.S. Department of Education found a 10% of new teachers don’t return for second year. Nearly 185 new teachers are gone within five years. Many young people, perhaps persuaded by on his federal and Teacher should buy what they see on social media, won’t even entertain the thought of teaching. Between 2009 and 2014, enrollments in teacher preparation programs fell about 35% in the U.S., reducing the supply of available teachers by nearly a quarter-million. — Paul Murphy

These figures are supported by other sources as well. The American Federation of Teachers reported here that “61% of educators say their work is always or often stressful,” and, worse yet, “50% say they don’t have the same enthusiasm as when they started teaching.”

Teacher-stress-lede

In addition, according to James Anthony in “7 Conclusions from the World’s Largest Teacher Burnout Survey” posted here, 75% of teachers complained of health problems such as shortness of breath, dizziness, heart palpitations or chest pain, or regular headaches or stomach aches — symptoms often associated with a failure to deal with stress. His conclusion? “This is a worrying sign that pressure and workload of many teaching jobs is having a very real physical impact on many teachers.”

 

From the Back Cover of the Book

You should definitely grab a copy of Exhausted. Paul Murphy promises you will learn:

  • Exhausted by Paul MurphyWhy even good days with your students leave you drained.
  • What tired teachers have in common with doctors, major league baseball managers, and interview committees.
  • How Jeb Bush’s failure in the 2016 presidential primaries is related to your own fatigue.
  • What long distance runners, one of history’s greatest weightlifters, and a Stanford psychologist can teach you about the powerful influence of your mind.

He says you will find solutions to these problems and understand:

  • What teachers can learn from baristas and airline agents.
  • What supermarket layouts can teach us about the dangers of decision making.
  • Why AC/DC doesn’t belong in your classroom.
  • What an insurance agent’s plane crash can teach us about belief.

Who is this Paul Murphy guy? His own bio, the last section of the book, is unique:

Paul Murphy is a third-grade teacher in Michigan. This fall, he started his 20th year in the classroom. His writing focuses on improving the lives of teachers, both inside the classroom and out. He enjoys reading, writing, travel, exercise, craft beer, and Cheetos. His feet are perpetually cold, he bites his nails, and he regularly (and almost instinctively at this point) changes the lyrics to songs to make them inappropriate, much to the chagrin of his wife and daughter.

cat-3623703_1920_ Susanne Jutzeler, suju-foto

 

The Science of Exhaustion

The best way to review the innards of a publication and get to the nitty-gritty may be to frame a few guiding questions, to follow an outline summary on which to reflect while reading many of the early chapters:

  1. How many decisions do you make before you ever teach a single class every morning? What effect do they have on you?
  2. What is the link of willpower (ego depletion* and delayed gratification) to exhaustion?
  3. What do doctors say about the constant exercise of self-control and blood glucose levels, and why is the time of the day critical?
  4. What is “morning morality” and what does it have to do with planning your day as a teacher?

*Psychologist Roy Baumeister coined the term “ego depletion” after he found that humans have a limited supply of willpower.  He compares willpower to a muscle, which can strengthen but also wear out with use. Ego depletion has a general effect, meaning that using self-control in one area of your life erodes your ability to self-regulate in other parts of your life. Baumeister found that exerting self-control results in a significant drop in blood-sugar levels.  Low blood sugar leads to physical fatigue, which is why you’re so tired, even though the heaviest thing you lifted was a textbook. Paul Murphy

A few of my observations. Willpower is actually “won’t-do-power,” and represents the chronic stress teachers and other professionals place on themselves everyday: saying “NO” to such things as sleeping-in an extra 10-15 minutes, staying on your diet by passing by that Dunkin Donuts shop on the way to school, forgoing the idle chit-chat from the teacher’s room on the way to the photocopier, not allowing yourself to be distracted by a TV program instead of doing your own homework, delaying an update of your social media sites or reading personal email instead of finishing your lesson plans, grades, or the forms the principal requested for completion by the end of the week.

In other words, facing up to all of those grown-up expectations that grown-ups must do! There’s no room for youthful indulgences or “goof-off time” as an adult!

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Paul Murphy says, “Whatever you call it… resisting temptation, will power, self-control, self-discipline, grit, perseverance, self-regulation, or determination, science has proven that it exhausts us.”

Teachers endlessly self regulate. We hold back sarcastic rejoinders, walk away from lazy students when we what we really want to do is lecture them, keep her honest thoughts about the principles latest he’ll conceive ideas to ourselves, respond professionally to disrespectful emails from parents, work with students when we want to do anything but, plan the next day one would rather check Facebook, and bite our tongues when we’d like to drop F-bombs. We force ourselves to work when we feel like taking a break. We redirect students when we’d rather just let the behaviors go and avoid the resultant excuses and conflicts. We keep teaching even though we really, really have to pee. Teachers use a lot of willpower. — Paul Murphy

Couldn’t say it better myself!

Another personal observation also seems to be supported by Paul Murphy. I have found that “earlier is better” for doing creative tasks, solving problems, or completing highly detailed work. Most mornings (in retirement), I reserve my first two hours for writing. Others say that the AM is best for practicing or composing, when you feel the freshest! The closer to having a meal or having slept all night (which revitalizes our supplies of self-regulation and blood sugar), the better for tackling something hard… which for a teacher might mean facing the challenge of a “difficult parent” phone call, student discipline report, or conference with an “unhappy” administrator.

 

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Strategies for Releasing/Postponing Tension

Paul Murphy recommends that, instead of using up your willpower reserves to fight off the urge to snap at someone or suppressing your anger, “simply notice something else that requires less willpower” or distract yourself. Postponing can also be effective: Have your tantrum “not now, but later.” (Schedule your nervous breakdown for another day?) Often, once some time has passed, you may find your frustration has abated.

Another technique for alleviating stress is to actually do a deliberate exercise to release your emotions and desires… in a more controlled and constructive way.

I sometimes receive an email from a parent or supervisor that angers me. My instinct is to return fire. That’s a bad instinct, but it doesn’t mean I have to hold in those feelings. It also doesn’t mean I should vent to other teachers or my wife. They’ve got their own problems, and nobody really wants to hear mine. What I do instead is write my honest, no-holds-barred rebuttal. I let it all out, hammering the keyboard and plastering my screen with vitriol. I read it and re-read until it effectively conveys the righteous indignation I so strongly feel.

Then I don’t send it!

It released my anger, and it’s there for me to revisit. On those few occasions when I have gone back to reread these unsent missives, my anger is gone. I wonder why I was so outraged at the time. They’re actually embarrassing to read. If you do this a few times, you begin to realize that your initial feelings are often an overreaction (and also the result of depleted willpower and low blood sugar) and it becomes easier to avoid indulging them.Paul Murphy

 

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Intense Emotions = Model Teacher?

Who is a better teacher? An energetic, passionate, and always “fired-up” one, or a professional who exerts a calm, introspective, and less intense attitude? Some studies do show that an enthusiastic, engaging teacher who is passionate about his subject is more effective than a “dull” or less dynamic teacher who seems to dislike his job, but what of the costs? Again, in Murphy’s book, we have more research to the rescue: “…Science has proven that intense emotions tire us out!”

I’ll explain why teachers should aim for a feeling of inner calm for large chunks of their day. I’ll argue that the expectation we have for ourselves and other teachers to be constantly enthusiastic is counterproductive in the short-term and ultimately damaging to the education system in the long-run. And I’ll explain how being calm will not only conserve your energy, but will make your classroom a better learning environment for your students.Paul Murphy

Another reason to buy his book!

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The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Waste!

Finally, our very own thoughts are amazingly powerful tools. Our brain can either help or make things worse! “If you believe a task is going to be difficult, it will be.” We all know that “positive talk” can alleviate the effects of stress, and can inspire greater levels of achievement. But, what about the relationship of negative thoughts to fatigue?

Almost every distance runner talks of hitting a wall. In 2012, Spanish researchers wanted to know what went through runners’ minds as they neared exhaustion, and they found exactly what you’d expect: the harder the runners work and the longer they run, the more negative their thoughts become. No surprise there.

runner-808932_1920+skeeze.jpgBut then a group of British and dutch researchers asked an interesting question. They wondered if everyone had it backwards. Did the discomfort of physical fatigue cause the runners to think negatively, like everyone assumed, or did the runners negative thoughts make them more physically tired and sore? It was a chicken and egg question.

The researchers found 24 healthy adults and had each complete a grueling ride on a stationary bike until they were exhausted. Then they were sent home for two weeks. During that time, half of the subjects were trained in positive self talk, a technique many sports psychologist coaches teach athletes to combat negative thinking that can lead to poor performance. The other 12 subjects were left alone. Then the researchers called them all back to hop on the bikes again.

On average, those who receive positive self talk training performed more than 17% better on their second ride than they had on their first. There was no improvement among members of the control group.Paul Murphy

He goes into great detail that the driving force behind our exhaustion may not even be the hours we work, the challenges we face in the classroom, or the lack of support we perceive from administration or parents. It may rest in our thoughts. And, he analyzes the negative effects of “worrying” and the concept of “mind over matter!”

 

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The Schedule That Doesn’t Help

Tiger Woods was known for so many “firsts” and breaking numerous golfing records in his early career. Many credited his success to his extreme focus, perseverance, and self-discipline. It was documented that he practiced golf 7-8 hours every day and worked out two or three hours more:

  • tiger-woods-79694_1920_ David Mark6:30 a.m. an hour of cardio
  • 7:30 a.m. one hour of lower-body weight training
  • 8:30 a.m. high protein/low-fat breakfast
  • 9:00 a.m. two hours on the driving range
  • 11:00 a.m. practicing putting
  • 11:30 a.m. playing nine holes
  • 2:00 p.m. healthy lunch
  • 2:30 p.m. two to four more hours on the golf course
  • 6:00 p.m. back in the gym working on upper-body
  • 7:00 p.m. dinner and relaxation

Then we learn about his personal “crash of 2009” when everything seemed to unravel:

  • Extra-marital affairs
  • Personal calls to escort services
  • Wife, discovering his “extra-curricular” activities, assaulting him
  • DUI arrest
  • Divorce
  • Destruction of his reputation
  • Injuries
  • Poor golf play

Certainly, Tiger had some deep-seated psychological issues. But I can’t help wondering if his remarkable self-discipline left him depleted to the point that he was unable to fight off his most distracted urges at the close of his ego-depleting days. Yes, he only had to focus for five hours during a round of golf, but Tiger Woods used will power from the time he woke up to the time he started texting port stars. His is a cautionary tale for anyone who spends large parts of the day exercising self-control. As teachers, there are lessons to be learned. Paul Murphy

Your own strict daily regiment may also contribute to your feelings of “total exhaustion.” Music teachers are usually their own worst enemies. We take on responsibilities for the hurry-2119711_1920_TeroVesalainensake of the music program, add a new ensemble, schedule after-school time to teach a solo or instrumental part, and plan more weekend and evening “learning activities” or events beyond the scope of most other academic subject teachers. It was not unusual for me to be at school by 6:45 a.m., eat lunch in my car on the way to my second or third assignment as an itinerant, stop for a quick “date” and dinner out with my wife, return to school for band, orchestra, or musical practices, and not get home until 9 or or 10 p.m. As a retiree, I now ask, “What ever happened to all of this stamina and endurance?” Pushing wheel chairs only four hours a day three times a week at a local hospital, I sometimes find myself wanting to take a “power nap” when I get home! Never you fear: the healthy “calendar of a retired music teacher” is as busy (and hectic) as full-time employment… We always say, “I wonder how I ever had the time to do all of these things and work at the same time!”

However, to put it in perspective, here is a copy of my former professional schedule that I was (mostly self-) assigned to teach grades 5-12 strings in three buildings, manage the fall play and spring musical, assist the marching band, work with the superintendent on school district public relations projects, prepare for PMEA and NAfME music festivals, and serve as my district’s Performing Arts Curriculum Leader.

Schedule 2013

As an administrator, the number of “contact hours” over the maximum was irrelevant; it was never an option to submit a grievance to the teacher’s union. Actually, I accepted the responsibility of planning what I thought was necessary for the success of my program, my students, and my music staff… no matter what the cost! Sound familiar?

 

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Other Remedies to Lower Tension and Exhaustion

This is just “the tip of the iceberg” for an analysis of the book Exhausted. Part two which we have not covered here is entitled “What To Do About It.”

More recommendations for better time management, remediation of teacher burnout, development of a self-care plan, and techniques for stress reduction will be addressed in future blogs. At this point, from three excellent sources, these tips may steer you towards improved rest, personal life/work balance, and general health/wellness. Stay tuned for more at https://paulfox.blog/care/.

Numbers 1-6: Paul Murphy: Exhausted: Why Teachers Are So Tired and What They Can Do About It http://teacherhabits.com/about/

Numbers 7-15: Raphailia Michael: “What Is Self-Care, and What It Isn’t” at PsychCentral https://psychcentral.com/blog/what-self-care-is-and-what-it-isnt-2/

Numbers 16-22: Lesley Moffat: I Love My Job But It’s Killing Me https://squ.re/2TaXoAr and (also see this blogpost)

  1. Work less/fewer hours
  2. Time before school is worth more than twice as much as time after school
  3. Use class time to check student work
  4. Leverage technology
  5. Don’t grade everything
  6. Stop assigning things
  7. Create a “NO” (I will not do) list
  8. Promote a nutritious, healthy diet
  9. Get enough sleep
  10. Follow-up with medical care as needed
  11. Use relaxation exercises and/or practice meditation
  12. Spend enough time with loved ones
  13. Do at least one relaxing activity every day, whether it’s spending 30 minutes unwinding, listening to music, or taking a walk
  14. Do at least one pleasurable activity every day, from going to the cinema, cooking, or meeting friends
  15. Make opportunities to laugh
  16. Take a break from social media
  17. Seek out ways to compliment others
  18. Allow someone to go ahead of you in line at the store
  19. Set your alarm for nine minutes earlier and use those nine minutes to listen to an inspiring song
  20. Turn off notifications on your phone and/or avoid electronic devices for the first hour of your day
  21. Take deep breaths when you encounter spped bumps and stop signs/lights during your daily commute
  22. Stay hydrated

PKF

 

Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com

© 2019 Paul K. Fox

Is Your Job Killing You?

Book Review: I Love My Job But It’s Killing Me – The Teacher’s Guide to Conquering Chronic Stress and Sickness by Lesley Moffat

Have you read this “International Bestseller” written by a band director?

Where was this when I was still teaching full-time, managing a crazy 24/7 schedule of music teaching and administration, fulfilling a myriad of self-assigned extracurricular activities like band, choir, strings, fall play, spring musical, adjudications and festivals?

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How many of you struggle to

  • Fall and stay asleep?
  • Avoid “brain fog” and exhaustion brought on by stress?
  • Alleviate (or ignore) aches and pains or illnesses that interfere with your work?
  • Reclaim and maintain enough energy to support your work and family life.
  • Resolve feelings that your life is falling apart or you are “burned-out?”

Well, instead of sitting around and whining about your hectic schedule or other challenges in your life, ruining your health, mood, and relationships with your family, friends, and students, or “throwing in the towel” and giving up altogether… take a look at this comprehensive guide to walk you through the problem — “baby steps” towards a complete self-care plan — providing assessments and action plans towards better personal health and wellness.

This blog provides a few highlights from Lesley Moffat’s work.  You owe it to yourself to break down and buy this inexpensive and easy-to-read paperback! Although it is meant for individuals who are serious about starting a comprehensive self-improvement project, this book is not long nor laborious! With a supposed “read time” of 132 minutes (according to the back cover), I would devote probably a couple weeks to thoroughly consume it. For even more clarity, I have even taken to reading sections of it to my wife, also a retired music teacher! Both of us have “been there” in coping with many of the issues of job-related stress and life-style choices.

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The Why — Chapter 12: “Put on Your Own Oxygen Mask First” (Page 109)

After a quick scan of the first couple chapters, I recommend jumping to Chapter 12 to absorb the priority of “me first” in order to be able to care for others. I love the airline safety announcement analogy about “place the oxygen mask on yourself before helping others.”  The central focus of her book, this is something I ignored for 35+ years.

You must take care of yourself. First. You can’t give what you haven’t got.

This is perhaps the hardest lesson of all, yet it is so important. Chances are you got where you are because you ran yourself ragged taking care of other people’s needs. I bet you never said no to requests to be on one more committee, drive carpool, watch a friend’s kids, and every other favor someone made of you, yet I’d also bet there’s a good chance you never take the time to take of your own needs. When was the last time you read a book for fun? Or went to a movie you wanted to see? Or pursued a creative endeavor that made you happy? Or any one of a million things you want to do? I bet it’s been a long time. —  Lesley Moffat

 

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Lesley Moffat’s website where you can order the book: https://squ.re/2TaXoAr

The Who — Chapter 3: “My Journey” (Page 15)

What an incredible story! Lesley Moffat gets personal and tells her own tale of total exhaustion, lack of mental focus (she calls ADHD), numerous aches and pains, arthritis, weight gain, bouts of illnesses like pneumonia, restless leg syndrome (a sleep disorder), and migraines, needed medical procedures like back surgery, hip replacement, bunion removal, etc. At times, her narratives are explicit and most graphic.

This profession is hard. Until my generation, women weren’t high school band directors, so there were no role models for me to look up to when I struggled with finding a balance between raising a family and having this career path. I had to learn things the hard way and make up my own solutions when there weren’t resources for me to use. My peer group is primarily men. How could my male band directing colleagues relate to my struggles? They may have kids, but they didn’t have to spend nine months making those babies while teaching (an exhausting combination that cost me a miscarriage during a band trip), and then pump breast milk during their planning periods to feed each of those babies for the first six months of their lives. And how many of them had to ask a spouse to make a ninety-minute drive with their newborn baby in the car behind the school buses where the band had to play for basketball playoffs so they could nurse the baby in the bathroom when they weren’t directing the band? — Lesley Moffat

The good news? Moffat reports that after a long and often discouraging search to restore her health and vitality and “to get back to the job I love,” today she has found peace, health, and happiness, and is back in the classroom with a renewed vigor, on her way to fulfilling her personal and professional goals.

 

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The What — Chapter 4: “Let’s Get Started!” (Page 23)

Lesley Moffat introduces her mPower Method (and a perfection alliteration) of four key components: meals, movement, music, and mindfulness. She says it all starts with administering a self-evaluation called the Mojo Meter (sample of the 40 questions below):

  1. I have a lot of aches and pains. T F
  2. I often feel tired after eating. T F
  3. My memory doesn’t seem to be as sharp as it used to be. T F
  4. Other people have mentioned that I seem down, upset, or not myself. T F
  5. I experience a lot of brain fog.* T F
  6. etc.

*She describes examples of “brain fog” more than a dozen times throughout the book. Do you experience any of these symptoms?

Brain fog isn’t a medical condition itself, but rather a symptom of other medical conditions. It’s a type of cognitive dysfunction involving:

  • memory problems
  • lack of mental clarity
  • poor concentration
  • inability to focus

Some people also describe it as mental fatigue. Depending on the severity of brain fog, it can interfere with work or school. But it doesn’t have to be a permanent fixture in your life. https://www.healthline.com/health/brain-fog

In her Mojo Meter assessment, if you answered “true” to 11 or more of these statements, then Moffat responds, “I know why you are here… It’s time to reclaim your health and energy, so get ready to amaze yourself.”

 

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The How — Chapter 9: “SNaP Strategies” (Page 79)

If you want to change your life, first change your mindset. You can’t find opportunity when you are looking for excuses. — Anonymous

Moffat’s “My SNaP Strategies” (Start Now and Progress) will give the reader examples of ways to develop new skills by changing habits one step at a time. Some of my favorites:

  • Take a break from social media.
  • Seek out opportunities to compliment others.
  • Allow someone to go ahead of you in line at the store.
  • Set your alarm for nine minutes earlier and use those nine minutes to listen to an inspiring song.
  • Turn off notifications on your phone.

In addition, she urges you to “do the homework” and dive into her Action Plans at the end of most chapters.

 

Mojo Meter on Meal Planning
I Love My Job But It’s Killing Me Page 47: “mPower Method Mojo Meter for Meals”

More Sneak Peeks

  • Using the observations you made in the self-administered Mojo Meter forms, the end of Chapter 5 offers an extensive “plan” for evaluating and removing the foods to which you may be allergic. (See above assessment form.)
  • I can heartily endorse her suggestion of using a food journal in Chapter 5, keeping track of every food choice and “how it makes you feel.” My wife discovered her sensitivity to gluten, and removing it from her diet has made all the difference!
  • One of her funniest anecdotes described her first-days participating in a yoga class! (Chapter 6)
  • Do you have on-hand and regularly use specific self-designed music playlists for meals, exercise sessions, and getting ready for bed? (Chapter 7)
  • A simple definition (but not so easy acquisition) of “mindfulness” — “being fully present in the here and now.” (Chapter 8)
  • Check out her “advice for driving during rush hour” (Chapter 11), tips for staying calm during all stressful moments: slow down, simplify, sense, surrender, self-care.
  • On Pages 9 and 10, there are amazing “before” and “after” photos of the author!

 

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Coda: Summary of Advice for Better Self-Care (Chapter 10)

  1. Take deep breaths when you encounter speed bumps and stop signs during your daily commute.
  2. Write a cover page to your syllabus outlining appropriate times and methods for parents and students to contact you.
  3. Have a work space that is exclusively yours, including a “do not disturb” sign, closed door, and/or noise-cancelling headphones.
  4. Talk to your boss about reasonable expectations, including how many after-school and evening events are anticipated.
  5. Enlist the help of others (volunteers, boosters, etc.).
  6. Start your mornings in a way that charges you up for the day.
  7. Re-evaluate your work space and make changes changes that will be conducive for more efficiency.
  8. Plan meals and make time to eat them.
  9. Stay hydrated.
  10. Incorporate time to upgrade yourself.
  11. Ask yourself, “Does this choice align with who I am?”
  12. Come up with a self-care plan that is sustainable.

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This is just the “tip of the iceberg” analyzing pathways for improved health and wellness. We are thankful that Lesley Moffat was so bold and open about sharing her own journey. Everyone can “take home” the causation of being “sick and tired of being sick and tired” and wrap their arms around implementing new strategies towards a happier living!

 

Author’s Bio (excerpts from the book)

Moffat authorNow in her fourth decade as a high school band director, Lesley Moffat has worked with thousands of people, helping them not only achieve musical goals (including repeated performances at Carnegie Hall, Disney Theme Parks, Royal Caribbean cruise ships, and competitions and festivals all over the US and Canada), but also teaching them how to develop the long-term life skills they need to be successful in the world.

Lesley has been a presenter at the National Association for Music Education (NAfME) and WMEA Conferences, served on the board for the Mount Pilchuck Music Educators Association, and has been an adjudicator and guest conductor in the Pacific Northwest.

After completing her undergraduate degree at Indiana University, she returned to her roots and moved back to the Pacific Northwest, where she and her husband, George, raised their three daughters, all of whom were students in her high school band program. Fun fact: Lesley, George, all three of their daughters, and Lesley’s dad have performed at Carnegie Hall.

PKF

 

Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com

 

© 2019 Paul K. Fox

Care of Music Teachers

Something New is a-Coming

You cry and you scream and you stomp your feet and you shout. You say, “You know what? I’m giving up, I don’t care.” And then you go to bed and you wake up and it’s a brand new day, and you pick yourself back up again.Nicole Scherzinger

Wellness seeks more than the absence of illness; it searches for new levels of excellence. Beyond any disease-free neutral point, wellness dedicates its efforts to our total well-being – in body, mind, and spirit. Greg Anderson

 

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What is that saying? “When you point at someone, there are three fingers pointing back at you.” Or if you prefer the biblical reference (Jesus), “Don’t focus on the speck in your brother’s eye while ignoring the log in your own eye.”

Increasingly common, I find that our colleagues in music education do not model habits of good health and work/personal life balance. All fingers point at both my wife and I, as when we were at the pinnacle of our full-time careers (prior to retiring in 2013), teaching strings grades 3-12 in multiple buildings, preparing for concerts and festivals, designing curriculum, producing musicals, running marching bands, etc. often felt like a “runaway train ride” — a stressful 24/7 schedule with the two of us squeezing in time to meet for dinner in between our after-school rehearsals, and later “falling into bed” to snatch 5-6 hours of sleep, three to four days per week, ten months a year.

That said, I “see” little research, pre-service, in-service, post-service training, or even online dialogue about the wellness problems associated with our profession:

  • Overwhelming workload, long hours, and challenging classroom situations
  • Inconsistent hydration and consumption of a balanced diet
  • Irregular amounts of daily aerobic physical exercise
  • Insufficient quantities (length, depth, and frequency) of rest and sleep
  • Infrequent use of sick days or vacations as needed for restorative health
  • Misuse of the voice at work
  • Inadequate hearing conservation and protection from over-exposure to sound
  • Deficient scheduling of opportunities for mindfulness, meditation, and/or reflection
  • Deprivation of personal outlets for creative self-expression (not related to the job)
  • Lack of time to explore hobbies, interests, and socialization with family, friends, and loved ones

With the simplistic title of “Care,” blogs archived within the new section of this blog-site here will dive into these issues, remedies towards fostering a better “life balance,” and suggestions for the development of a self-care plan. Quoting from the timely article in the June 2019 issue of NAfME Music Educators Journal, “Health and Wellness for In-Service and Future Music Teachers” by Christa Kuebel, “Those in our profession need to increase awareness of the prevalence of stress and mental health concerns in music education.” We need to address methods for reducing job-related depression, anxiety, stress, loneliness, feelings of impotency, and “burnout,” which can lead to negative student outcomes, lowered professional standards, absenteeism, illness, and teacher attrition.

 

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Definitions of Wellness

A state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. — The World Health Organization

A conscious, self-directed and evolving process of achieving full potential. — The National Wellness Institute

According to the Student Health and Counseling Services of the University of California, Davis Campus, “wellness” is an active process of becoming aware of and making choices toward a healthy and fulfilling life. Wellness is more than being free from illness; it is a dynamic process of change and growth.”

8 dimensions of wellness

Further elaboration of their eight dimensions of wellness is provided here:

  • Occupational
  • Emotional
  • Spiritual
  • Environmental
  • Financial
  • Physical
  • Social
  • Intellectual

They conclude: “Each dimension of wellness is interrelated with another. Each dimension is equally vital in the pursuit of optimum health. One can reach an optimal level of wellness by understanding how to maintain and optimize each of the dimensions of wellness.”

 

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It’s Time to Bring on the “Experts”

Even though I would have told you “I am loving every moment of it” during my 35+-year career in music education, I would be the last person anyone should turn to for helpful advice on self-care. I cannot say I ever “practiced what I preached” lectured to my music students on taking care of themselves physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially. So, for this forum, we will bring in leading authorities and even a few “frontier blazers” who have agreed to share new ideas in alleviating “the problem,” so well defined in the MEJ article by Christa Kuebel:

Music education has been shown to be a field in which stress and burnout are common. We must address this difficult realization in order to make changes for the health and success of our current and future teachers. Our concert seasons will continue to come and go, and our responsibilities will not decrease in number, but taking time to consider how to take care of ourselves may allow us to fulfill our responsibilities in safe and effective ways throughout our entire careers.

“Health and Wellness for In-Service and Future Music Teachers” by Christa Kuebel

 

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Coming Soon…

Already, we have found a wealth of people who have perspectives and “prescriptions” that may help. We are anticipating future submissions from (or reviews of) the following self-care advisors:

  • Aforementioned MEJ article, teacher self-care assessment, and excellent bibliography by Christa Kuebel
  • Contributions by Lesley Moffat including her book I Love My Job, But It’s Killing Me and details about her Band Directors Boot Camp, “Music Teacher Mojo Meter,” and her website “Building Better Band Programs Without Burning Out”
  • Recommended by NAfME member Jennifer Dennett, the book Exhausted – Why Teachers Are So Tired and What They Can Do About It by Paul Murphy, who also has an extensive website and other books on “teacher habits”
  • Future wellness research and writings by Theresa Ducassoux, who has been accepted into the Google Innovator Academy, a program for teachers to work on tackling challenges in education
  • Survey of “prioritizing teacher self-care” articles posted by Edutopia
  • Other online sources

 

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This is Where YOU Can Help!

If you find something interesting, please comment on it at this forum, or send an email to paulkfox.usc@gmail.com.

PKF

 

Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com

 

© 2019 Paul K. Fox

Retirees: It’s Not YOUR Sandbox!

It's Not Your Sandbox!

It is time that this saying should be made into a bumper sticker, added to a t-shirt design, or automatically displayed on the home page (or screen-saver) of all retired music teachers’ smartphones, tablets, and computers.

I first mentioned this notion as “surrendering your urge to be an agent of change” in a previous blog, entitled “Retiree Concepts.”

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As observed in many unhappy incidents involving fellow retirees, this deserves a repeat mention here with much greater emphasis.

[Teachers] consistently seek ways to reform “the system,” much like efficiency experts. In other words, ‘break it if it needs fixed,’ or seek new practices or approaches to solve problems or improve the student learning. This means we seldom accept the status quo or “that’s the way it’s always have been done.”

I found that in my volunteer work, when I come up to a challenge like a policy that isn’t working, I look for better ways of doing it. Teachers always self-assess and seek changes for “the good of the order,” but these “systems” are not our classrooms. Educators were expected to “modify and adjust,” revise our lesson targets, rip down old bulletin boards and put up new with more exciting media, re-write curriculum, etc., always with the mission to “build a better mouse trap” for the more efficient delivery of instruction to all.

In retirement, this can be frustrating. You can’t tell somebody else how to run their operation. Some people do not want to hear criticism, nor do they care what your opinion is, nor do they want to change their traditions or fine-tuned (?) step-by-step procedures. You on the other hand want things to improve, e.g. better training, more consistent application of the rules, etc., and therefore you feel “unrequited” stress.

Throughout my whole “professional life,” I never looked the other way. I try to fix things. But that’s not everybody’s inclination, and the world is not going to come to end if someone doesn’t take your advice. As retirees, remove the unnecessary hassle. You have two choices. Resign from the activity, or step back from being its self-appointed critic, accept the situation, and let everyone go back to playing their own way in their sandbox. — Paul Fox in “Retiree Concepts”

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My own personal hands-on experience with this has to do with volunteering to push wheelchairs at a local hospital. Taking it very seriously, I was thoroughly trained on all aspects of the transport of patients, including the mandated safety rules for locking both wheels on the wheelchair, going down backwards on ramps and into elevators, and the avoidance of hazards like discharging someone to their car “over a curb” or other obstacles. We knew the hospital policies for contact precautions (isolation), carrying oxygen tanks, and moving overweight patients.

But, almost daily, we watch other medical personnel pushing wheelchairs failing to adhere to these “basics” – resulting in safety infractions too numerous to count!

Yep, it’s not our sandbox!

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Retiring professionals have to learn to de-stress and take ourselves “out of the loop” for every organizational decision, training program, and generation/enforcement of an practices, policies, and regulations of an institution. The reason we retired in the first place was to enjoy the privilege of leaving all of this behind.

As teachers, we embraced “moral professionalism.” That meant, according to E.A. Wynne in “The Moral Dimension of Teaching (Teaching: Theory into Practice, 1995), we were charged with the responsibility to “follow to the letter” school policies and procedures, and if we saw somebody who wasn’t compliant or “on board,” we were supposed to instruct or intervene. (As “fiduciaries” looking out for the students’ best interests and welfare, we were required by law to report serious misconducts.)

Wynne also confirmed that, when a rule was simply not working, we were also obligated to firmly but tactfully suggest a better way of do something.

Past tense! Now that we’re retired, we no longer need to solve these kinds of problems – they belong to the head-honchos. The people who have the privilege (or curse) of “running the show” may not appreciate hearing from us. What was that saying by Robert Heinlein? “Never attempt to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and annoys the pig.”

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More importantly, stressing over someone else’s poorly run “sandbox” will cause you to waste energy, become irritated and short tempered, lower your mood, raise your blood pressure, withdraw from socialization and the things you like doing, or begin to hate with whom you are interacting. No, it’s not worth trying to teach that pig to sing!

Finally, here’s a little more sage advice from “the experts” on stress and retirement. Please pardon any of their references to the term “senior.” GOOD LUCK!

PKF

© 2019 Paul K. Fox

 

Photo credits in order from Pixabay.com: “sandbox” by RAMillu, “children” by qimono, “doctor” by geralt, “children” by Ben_Kerckx, “young” by vinsky2002, and “wooden-train-toys-train-first-class” by Couleur.

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Unconditional Love (Dogs!)

Pets + Retirees… They Go Together!

dog-2729805_1280_gdjHappy Valentine’s Day to all of my readers. I could not think of a better way to “celebrate” our appreciation of “heart-day” with reflections on what our pets bring us… adulation, affection, attachment, companionship, devotion, enjoyment, good will, involvement, passion, stimulation, tenderness, understanding…

“The power of love!” They say that all you have to do is look at the face of a sleeping baby, or cuddle up next to a puppy or kitten, and it will slow down your respiration rate, lower your blood pressure, reduce cholesterol and triglycerides in your blood, and increase in your body the levels of serotonin and dopamine, two neurochemicals that play big roles in the promoting feelings of calm and well-being.

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From personal experience, having two of the most adorable and loving dogs… If you’re contemplating retirement and you have never owned a pet, let me be the first to tell you:

“Pets can change your life.”

I invite you to peruse several other blogs I’ve written on this subject:

If you are almost ready to retire, or you’re going through your first couple years of your post-employment “internship,” there’s a good chance that psychologically it would be good for you to “get out of Dodge” as you adjust to your new status. This might be a good time for you to take a cruise, tour Europe, go ice fishing up north, or plan a long road trip out west. Pack up everything and takeoff. Celebrate all those years that you put your nose to the grind stone.

But eventually, you may want to come back “to nest,” and “taste” a little transitioning into things that seem to go well together, e.g. small doses of (human) babysitting, grandparent/child interaction, and/or rescuing a pet. Becoming a homebody may also suggest the consideration of planning small or large renovation projects: fix up your garden or backyard, design your ideal kitchen, remodel the bathrooms, do a garage remake, downsize and de-clutter, etc. After the first several years of simply resting and exploring the options of your self-reinvention, NOW might be the perfect moment to add a furry friend to your family!

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Why get a pet?

Goodnet (“Gateway to Doing Good”) summarizes nine reasons you should adopt a pet:

  1. Pets have their perks when it comes to your health. (More on that later.)
  2. A pet will love you unconditionally. (Thus the title of this blog!)
  3. Adopting a pet is easy on your wallet. (Pet rescue from a shelter is less expensive.)
  4. Adopting a pet means saving a life. (Millions of animals are euthanized per year.)
  5. By adopting a pet, you’re giving an animal a second chance. (Another go at life!)
  6. Pets keep you active. (Dog walking provides owner aerobic exercise.)
  7. Pets bring joy and fulfillment. (Pet care enhances a sense of purpose for retirees.)
  8. dog-3243734_1920_kandykandooPets boost your social life. (Research indicates pets decrease social isolation.)
  9. Besides, how could you possibly resist this face?

 

Medical benefits including psychological health

There’s an avalanche of online research that backs up claims that pet ownership is actually “good for you!”

Pet owners know how much their furry friend improves their quality of life. But it’s not all about unconditional love—although that actually provides a wellness boost, too. On an emotional level, owning a pet can decrease depression, stress and anxiety; health-wise, it can lower your blood pressure, improve your immunity, and even decrease your risk of heart attack and stroke.

— Alexandra Gekas

 

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Here are my “top dozen” reasons and resources to peruse:

  1. Having a pet decreases stress: Promises Treatment Centers
  2. Caring for a pet lowers your blood pressure: WebMD
  3. Owning a dog reduces cholesterol and triglyceride levels: Harvard
  4. Pets keep you fit and active: Gerontologist
  5. Daily dog walking helps you to lose weight: Healthy People
  6. Owning a dog can help detect, treat, and manage disease and injuries: HuffPost
  7. Pet therapy eases pain management and reduces anxiety: Loyola University
  8. Pets may reduce doctor’s visits: American Psychological Association PsycNet
  9. Having a dog may make you (at least feel) safer: LifeHack
  10. Pets help you build friendships and find social support: Harvard
  11. Dog owners are less prone to depression: GrandParents.com
  12. Pet ownership adds meaning and purpose: BestFriends

 

Believe it or not, pets can be the best medicine, especially when a person is dealing with chronic pain such as migraines or arthritis. Just like Valium, it reduces anxiety. The less anxiety, the less pain…

People who have pets are less harried; there’s more laughter in their life. When you come home, it’s like you’re George Clooney. You’re a star. This is a primary reason pets are used in various forms of therapy.

If you have a dog around, your blood pressure is lower. A lot of it goes back to reducing stress: You might lose your job, your house, your 401(k)—but you’ll never lose the unconditional love of your pet.

— Dr. Marty Becker, DVM, veterinary consultant for Good Morning America and author of the book Your Dog: The Owner’s Manual.

 

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Increasing your regular habits of exercise

The experts say that physical activity promotes flexibility, muscle strength, stamina, and balance, and helps us to remain mobile into our 70s and 80s. Caring for a pet may help! For example, studies from the National Center for Biotechnology of the U.S. National Library of Medicine (like this one) indicate that older adults who walked dogs with frequent moderate to vigorous exercise are associated with lower body mass index and faced fewer limitations to their daily living activities.

Having trouble sticking to an exercise program? Research shows that dogs are actually Nature’s perfect personal trainers—loyal, hardworking, energetic and enthusiastic. And, unlike your friends, who may skip an exercise session because of appointments, extra chores or bad weather, dogs never give you an excuse to forego exercising.

In 2008, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that only 16 percent of Americans ages 15 and older exercised at all on an average day! This is where your canine personal trainer can help.

—Dawn Marcus

walking-2797219_1280_mohamed_hassanHow much exercise is enough? Well, according to the World Health Organization, the “best practices” of a good health and wellness program includes:

  • 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity daily for children 5 to 17 years old
  • 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise five days per week for adults 18 to 65 years old, plus strengthening exercises two days per week
  • 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise five days per week, with modifications as needed in seniors over 65 years old, plus flexibility and balance exercises.

The good news? From Bark, “Researchers at the University of Western Australia found that seven in every 10 adult dog owners achieved 150 minutes of physical exercise per week, compared with only four in every 10 non-owners.” We already know that grabbing that leash, whistling for the pup, going for a brisk walk, and getting out to see what’s going on in your neighborhood, may help to reduce stress, depression, lethargy, the risks of obesity, and many other medical problems.

 

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The all-essential quest for “mattering” and “feeling needed”

In the past blog “Retiree Concepts,” I mentioned the book, Revitalizing Retirement: Reshaping Your Identity, Relationships, and Purpose by Nancy Schlossberg (definitely an excellent buy), and reviewed the issues of “marginality” (bad) and “mattering” (good). The essential question is worth repeating here: “Do you feel “needed” and that you “make a difference” to others?”

Caring for a pet does a great job of fulfilling our need to find in our retired lives the “purpose, community, and structure” referred to Ernie Zelinski in his book, How to Retire Happy, Wild and Free.

As we grow older—especially after we retire—it can be difficult to find structure and meaning day in and day out. Dogs take care of that.

— Kristen Sturt

They force people to continue to do things. So, even if you’re not feeling well emotionally or physically, the dog doesn’t care. I mean, they care, but they still want you to feed them and take them for a walk.”

— Kristi Littrell, Adoption Manager at Best Friends Animal Society in Utah

At Walter Reed Army Medical Center, they’re using dogs to help soldiers dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. They’re finding the guys who have a pet are able to re-enter society a little bit easier. They’re showing a decreased suicide rate, one of the biggest health threats [veterans] face. These guys who have a pet have someone they’re responsible for, someone who cares about them. And they don’t have to explain what they’ve been through.

— Dr. Katy Nelson, associate emergency veterinarian at the VCA Alexandria Animal Hospital in Alexandria, Virginia

 

It’s not only about the tangibles – physical, medical, mental

It’s simple… every day, my pooches make me feel good!

Oh, we have all witnessed the “life-changing power of pets” (Psychology Today) and the tremendous social bond partnering a dog (or cat) with a human. We agree, “Pet owners have big hearts and bestow good feelings on both animals and people. Having a pet does not replace a human social network, but rather enhances and enlarges it. Cats, dogs, birds—and pets of all species, shapes, and sizes—bring wellness.”

our two pups 051216 - 1On personal observation, I can attest that walking my dogs in the neighborhood can be one of the most contemplative (almost meditative) experiences of the day. I commune with nature, let my imagination wander (dream “wide-awake”), notice things I have never before stopped to see, hear, or smell, and reflect on my life goals. I find the “pause” in my daily routine (or should I say “paws”) makes me feel refreshed, thoughtful, more calm, tolerant, and patient while at the same time more alert and focused, and always leaves me in a better mood.

Dr. John V. DiAscenzo, my talented friend and PMEA music education colleague with great background in research, would now demand of me, “Show me the specific studies that support your claim that walking dogs make people feel happy!” Got it! I found numerous references, including this article from the National Institutes of Health.

 

You can’t buy this kind of shared love… a snapshot

  • No matter how good or bad my day is, the moment of my return to home, stepping into “puppy heaven,” Gracie and Brewster rushing up in full gallop to lick (kiss) and welcome me, jumping up as if to say, “Oh, we’re so glad he’s back!”
  • The vigorous wagging of her tail and the “happy dance” Gracie does when I reach for her favorite bone
  • The “nesting” impulse of Brewster as he paws his towel on top of our bed, just before he curls up in a small ball, leaning into the small of my back (giving me great lumbar support) and falling asleep
  • Gracie pushing Brewster out of the way when jockeying position to receive pats on the head from a visitor
  • canine club 2Expert cuddlier Brewster flipping on his back so you rub his tummy, and when you are distracted, gently pawing at you begging you not to stop
  • Gracie’s “happy barks” and squeals of excitement when mommy brings in the supper dish
  • Gracie jumping up onto the extra desk chair to watch daddy type on his computer (we even had to buy her own chair)
  • Brewster winning a contest for the most puppy-pushups (up/sit/down) in dog (people) training classes
  • Having totally original “dog-o-nalities” and never failing to amaze me every day, being awakened by them at 6 a.m.
  • But, after going out, all three of us climbing into the La-Z-Boy® combo recliners and falling back to sleep, Gracie between my legs with her chin on my ankle, and Brewster on my left shoulder like a violin shoulder pad

 

Lowering the numbers of neglected pets in overcrowded sanctuaries

Finally, although perhaps not the most significant rationale for a retiree to go rescue a pet, these are estimated animal shelter statistics from the ASPCA and the American Pet Products Association (source):

  • Approximately 6.5 million companion animals enter U.S. animal shelters nationwide every year. Of those, approximately 3.3 million are dogs and 3.2 million are cats.
  • Each year, approximately 1.5 million shelter animals are euthanized (670,000 dogs and 860,000 cats).
  • pit-bull-2047469_1920_rescuewarriorApproximately 3.2 million shelter animals are adopted each year (1.6 million dogs and 1.6 million cats).
  • About 710,000 animals who enter shelters as strays are returned to their owners. Of those, 620,000 are dogs and only 90,000 are cats.
  • It’s estimated that 78 million dogs and 85.8 million cats are owned in the United States. Approximately 44% of all households in the United States have a dog, and 35% have a cat.
  • According to the APPA, these are the most common sources from which primary methods cats and dogs are obtained as pets:

appa stats

LiveScience posted “A Blueprint for Ending the Euthanasia of Healthy Animals.”

Do you have Kleenex handy? Read “10 Shelter Stories That Will Make you Smile.”

Simply put, if you have it in you to consider pet adoption, your action will probably save the life of a sheltered animal and give it (and you) a second chance!

 

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Additional resources

Do you need more research? Be sure to visit the final link in the bulleted list below, which also has an exhaustive bibliography worth viewing.

 

CODA: The “‘last words” as a recap and a final website for you to check out:

Studies have shown that owning a pet can be physically and mentally beneficial for people of all ages. In the case of senior citizens, just 15 minutes bonding with an animal sets off a chemical chain reaction in the brain, lowering levels of the fight-or-flight hormone, cortisol, and increasing production of the feel-good hormone serotonin. The result: heart rate, blood pressure and stress levels immediately drop. Over the long term, pet and human interactions can lower cholesterol levels, fight depression and may even help protect against heart disease and stroke.

— Seniors and Pets

But, you knew all about this, right? So, what are you waiting for?

For me, I gotta go… and take Gracie and Brewster out for another walk!

Have a Happy PET Valentine’s Day!

PKF

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© 2019 Paul K. Fox

 

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Besides the numerous pictures of Gracie and Brewster, photo credits in order from Pixabay.com: “puppies” by kko699, “dog” by GDJ, “people” by Herney, “animals” by Gellinger, “dog” by kandykandoo, “dog” by maja7777, “walking” by mohamed_hassan, “dog” by haidi2002, “pit-bull” by RescueWarrior, “dog” by groesswang, “kitten” by creades, “pretty-girl” by TerriC, and “dog” by Leunert,

 

 

Stress, Burnout, & Stage Fright in College

Resources for Music and Music Education Majors

Increasingly,  in some parts of the country there are new shortages of qualified, experienced, skilled, and engaging public and private school teachers, even in the fields of Performing Arts. (For examples, see https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/08/28/teacher-shortages-affecting-every-state-as-2017-18-school-year-begins/?utm_term=.c599b1d39405.)

At the same time, although it may not seem to be hustle-and-bustle-1738072_1920_geraltdocumented to a great extent, stress, burnout, and stage fright have become real concerns for music education majors completing their coursework, juries/recitals/concerts, methods exams, student teaching, and other field experiences. This may be affecting statistics on college enrollments, graduation rates, and job placements!

It would seem we should be recruiting more music educators (not losing them as “failed” music/music education majors). Where should we look for answers to this problem?

“Burnout is fatigue and diminished interest caused by long-term stress. It is characterized by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and lack of personal accomplishment. In the university music atmosphere, stress and burnout are prevalent accepted as part of the culture. Symptoms and causes of general stress and burnout have been well researched, but much less has been presented on college musicians’ burnout, let alone how to deal with it.” — Helen Orzel

 

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The purpose of this blog-post is to share studies, surveys, and articles of research on the causes for stress and “drop-outs” of music and music educator majors, along with proposals of remedies for reducing college student anxiety and recommendations for alleviating the problem of attrition.

An overview of collegiate performance anxiety elucidates numerous emotional triggers:

  1. anxiety-2019928_1920_WokandapixCollege funding
  2. Academic pressures: acquiring new knowledge, understandings, skills, etc.
  3. Competition (both in self-perception of achievement and in relation to peers)
  4. Trends in seeking perfectionism
  5. Coping with being away from home
  6. Sleep deprivation
  7. Challenges with personal relationships
  8. Development of new strategies and systems of personal organization and time management

If you find additional sources or statistics, please pass them on. Click on the above comment link so we can add them to this discussion.

 

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College Student Stress

The best summary I have found on this subject is from the recently released Fall 2018 issue of the state journal of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association (PMEA) – PMEA News. (For full access, become a member of PMEA.) Read the article on page 52, “Music Major Anxiety – Causes and Coping” by Kevin Shorner-Johnson, National Association for Music Education (NAfME) Society for nafme_society_research_music_edMusic Teacher  Education (SMTE) PA State Chair and Director of Music Education at Elizabethtown College. He talks about anxiety as “the leading mental health issue among adolescents and college students,” and examines the stressors of academic expectations, time management, “perfectionism,” and amygdala and cortex-rooted stress disorders, as well as cultivating practices of self-care and coping skills.

Shorner-Johnson recommends the book, Rewire Your Anxious Brain: How to Use the Neuroscience of Fear to End Anxiety, Panic, and Worry by Catherine Pittman and Elizabeth Karle (2015).

“Pittman and Karle provide beautiful guides and checklists that may assist students in building coping skills such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, prayer, yoga, exercise, and chanting. Coping strategies can allow us to enter into tension, getting to know origins and triggers, and transforming anxieties into new forms of centered awareness. Like music, coping strategies are skills that can only be cultivated through practice. When we practice self-care, we rewire associated connections and empower new responses.”  — Kevin Shorner-Johnson

 

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For a comprehensive survey on the stressors of music majors, peruse the illuminating thesis of H.J. Orzel (2010) “Undergraduate Music Student Stress and Burnout.” She states that her study has a two-fold purpose:

  • Examine sources of stress and burnout for undergraduate music students, and
  • Examine existing methods of controlling stress and burnout.
  • This information can also be a tool for college music students needing
    help with stress and burnout.

“A college musician’s environment can significantly influence stress levels. Environmental stressors include overworked professors unable to provide support,
competitive peers, lack of resources such as practice space or counseling services,
overburdened schedules, and high standards and expectations set by institutions…
Developing and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help reduce the effects of environmental stress, promoting resilience.” — Helen Orzel

In her conclusion, she mentions these possible strategies to alleviate stress:

  1. stress-391657_1920_geraltLearning to “manage your burdens,” class schedules, assignments, calendar, etc.
  2. Improvement of personal time management towards greater work/life balance
  3. Development of coping skills for new environments
  4. Exploration of new practice venues and study routines
  5. Allocation of more time with supportive peers
  6. Learning to make manageable choices, setting of limitations and reasonable expectations for making future commitments
  7. Practice of relaxation, slow breathing, and meditation exercises
  8. Strategies for reduction of performance anxiety and “stage fright”
  9. Reflection on and rehash of personal mission, goals, and motivations, and “what first inspired them to pursue music”

 

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H. Christian Bernard II from the State University of New York at Fredonia offers his research-based article Contemplative Practices in Music Teacher Education, describing efforts to incorporate contemplative studies within a music curriculum (Sarath 2006), mindfulness instruction on the music listening experiences (Diaz 2013), mindfulness-based stress reduction intervention instruction (Shapiro, Schwartz, and Bonner 1998), short-term meditation practices on attention and self-regulation (Tang lonely-1510265_1920_PoseMuse2009), “deep listening” as “a way of hearing in which we are fully present with what is happening in the moment” (Barbezat and Bush 2014), contemplative movement activities including methodologies of Orff, Kodaly, Dalcroze, and Gordon adapted for other music teaching contexts (Benedict, 2010), walking meditation, tai chi ch’uan, yoga, and labyrinth walking (Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, 2016), contemplative reading, writing, and other self-help practices.

“Contemplation is not the opposite of thinking but its complement. It is not the emptying of the mind of thoughts but the cultivation of awareness of thoughts within the mind. Through contemplation, the mind is open to itself.”                                               — D.P. Barbezat and M. Bush.

“Utilizing contemplative practices including meditation, reading and writing, movement, and listening can offer students and teachers opportunities for meaningful experiences while simultaneously reducing levels of stress and anxiety. While mindfulness is a prerequisite for all contemplative practices, this secular and academic application goes beyond deepening of awareness and compassion to also include deepening of thinking and learning. Care should be used when selecting resources and activities, as the use of contemplative practices should always serve as an aid to, not a replacement for, effective music teaching and learning.”   — H. Christian Bernard II

Bernard also provides an excellent bibliography for further study, and has also written many other related articles:

 

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Burnout

An outstanding series of YouTube video presentations dives into what “five different research studies have to say about burnout and the undergraduate music education major, and the implications these studies have for students, professors, and administrators when it comes to managing the stress often associated with this degree.” As a requirement for her graduate music psychology class, Meghan Johnson presented “Burnout and the Undergraduate Music Education Major: Surviving the Stress” in 2010:

Additional resources regarding pre- and in-service music teacher burnout:

 

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Performance Anxiety

Dr. Natalie Ozeas, formerly Professor and Head of Music Education at Carnegie-Mellon University (CMU), shares a new local initiative for addressing the problem of stage fright by Anne Jackovic Moskal, a member of the Pittsburgh Benedum Orchestra and solfege teacher at the CMU School of Music.

“The text that I use for my class is Musician’s Yoga by Mia Olson. We work a lot with meditation, especially focused towards the music we are currently working on. We practice by either listening to recordings or simply thinking of the whole work in their mind and how to continuously breath through it. The thought is that they will be able to move past anxious moments in performances and feel the constant breath instead. Additionally, we take meditation walks and practice the same method. Some of these methods are addressed in this book. We also have a physical practice to reinforce breathing through challenges. However, a significant part is to stretch, repair, restore, and strengthen our bodies from the damage of long practice sessions.”                            — Anne Jackovic Moskal

There are a myriad of sources on the web geared to performers for lessening stage fright, including blogposts like “A Few Things Every Musician Should Know About Stage Fright” by Noa K Kageyama from BulletproofMusician.

 

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NAfME members have free access to numerous articles on performance anxiety. Several articles published in the Music Educators Journal (MEJ) include “Stress in the Lives of Music Students” by David J. Sternbach (January 2008), “The Other Side of Stage Fright” by Donald L. Hamann (April 1985), and “Stage Fright – Its Cause and Cure” by Rowland W. Dunham (1953).

“To help your students reduce stress, address the ways they critique their practice and prepare for performance… Excessive self-criticism in practicing can be a predisposing factor for performance anxiety.” — David J. Sternbach

nafme“When musicians think about performing, they eventually think about performance anxiety — ‘stage fright.’ Performance anxiety can be defined as a physical and mental deviation from a ‘normal state’ and is perhaps one of the most misunderstood areas of performance practice… A reduction in anxiety levels especially with musicians with extensive formal training may actually diminish performance quality. For musicians with low mastery skills, the prudent approach would seem to be to undertake more formal training.” — Donald L. Hamann

“Here is the cure for stage fright. If you have strength of mind and a conscientious determination, you can walk onto the stage for a solo with almost the same certainty you have in practicing. There is the added and thrilling incentive now of an audience. By ignoring what you may fancy to be their opinion of you — which does not matter anyway — you have a new angle: giving emotional joy, spiritual nobility, or dramatic stimulation.With an honest artistic outlook, stage fright goes out the window. In its place you have the pleasure of adding something to he lives of your listeners.”               — Rowland W. Dunham

 

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Additional resources on stage fright and other anxiety issues:

 

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Finally, even though there is so much more to cover, a good “coda” on the subject of stress in music school might be to look at the article “Reality 101” by Gary C. Mortenson in the December 1991 issue of Music Educators Journal. Citing the University of Massachusetts student Erin Martin’s column “Real World 101: A Needed Course” in the October 1990 issue of U. — The National College Newspaper, college students could use help in areas not traditionally included in undergraduate curriculum:

  1. hurry-2119711_1920_TeroVesalainenJob placement
  2. Financial planning
  3. Raising a family
  4. Stress management

Mortenson creates several excellent “mock scenarios” fostering critical thinking and problem solving of teacher-student relationships, teacher-parent relationships, and criticism and stress that are issues in every teaching career.

“Life would be much easier if we could learn to handle real-world problems before we have to face them on our own.” — Erin Martin

“Teaching requires the ability to manage a variety of challenging situations. It is as complex and changeable as the society we live in. In college, future teachers assimilate a great deal of information that prepares them to share knowledge with their students. No one, however, can teach all of the skills needed to make complex decisions on all possible future real-life circumstances. These must ultimately be arrived at on an individual basis according to one’s own instincts and conscience. By giving more thought to how the problems and issues that confront students, parents, and colleagues will affect us, however, we can better equip ourselves to respond in an intelligent way to these challenges.” — Gary C. Mortenson

 

UPDATE (January 3, 2019):

Just after the release of this blog-post, the timely article “The Mindful Music Educator – Strategies for Reducing Stress and Increasing Well-being” by Dana Arbaugh Varona came out in the NAfME Music Educators Journal, Volume 5 Issue 2, 2018. (See https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0027432118804035.) You must be a member of NAfME to read the December 2018 issue in its entirety.

PKF

© 2018 and 2019 Paul K. Fox

 

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Photo credits in order from Pixabay.com: “stress” by TheDigitalArtist, “hustle and bustle” by geralt, “people” by tweetyspics, “anxiety” by Wokandapix, “woman” by Comfreak, “stress-2883638” by geralt, “stress-391657” by geralt, “woman” by Pexels, “lonely” by PoseMuse, “stress-22670” by geralt, “cello” by enbuscadelosdragones0, “trumpeter” by klimkin, “marching-band” by skeeze, “hug” by markzfilter, “hurry” by TeroVesalainen, and “laptop” by JESHOOTScom.

Unique Retiree Resources

It is always a privilege to receive email or comments from many of you regarding my past blog-posts at this site. I truly appreciate hearing from you – agree or disagree – and, whenever possible, I will “pass along” your recommendations and perspectives.

hospice-1793998_1920_unclelktThe “mission” is to help you with the transition to retirement and, when they are relevant, to communicate links to helpful sources of information. Many of these are not applicable to every retiring music teacher. However, if not issues for a family member, you might know of a friend, neighbor, colleague, or someone else who could use some direction in these eclectic topics:

  • Housing purchases/rentals, maintenance, and improvements
  • Personal security
  • Downsizing
  • Health care, eldercare, and physical fitness
  • Disabilities
  • Advance care planning
  • Medical Alert systems
  • Mattress purchase recommendations
  • Sleep guides and disorders
  • Grieving and coping with loss

We started this exposé with a previous blog, “Seniors Helping Seniors” at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/2017/05/28/seniors-helping-seniors/.

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Elmer George invited all of us to peruse his new website: elderville.org. It is called Resources for All Elders, and it shares lists of websites, blogs, and fact sheets on numerous senior-related themes – everything from “daily safety tips” to “volunteering.”

elderville.comSeveral great examples, his set of February 2018 articles (https://elderville.org/blog/) discuss “Five Ways Seniors Can Avoid Stress and Hassle During This Tax Season” and “Three Ways Seniors Can Get Healthy at Church.”

Specific to housing concerns, Elmer emailed me these additional avenues of help:

 

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Elizabeth Reynolds reached out to me with research on criteria for choosing the best medical alert system: https://www.reviews.com/medical-alert-systems/.  She said, “After hearing that there are 800,000 fall-related hospitalizations each year, our team created this resource in an effort to change that number.” Elizabeth added, “Our hope is that our guide may assist readers navigating their options to minimize this risk in the event of a fall.” At first, I thought her posting was a well-concealed advertisement for a particular company, until I explored her entire www.reviews.com website. Knowledge is power. Elizabeth has assembled a wide variety of resources in these areas worth further reading:

  • Reviews.comHome Services
  • Insurance
  • Financial Services
  • Home Products
  • Health and Fitness
  • Beauty
  • Pets

 

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Speaking of reviews, something on which you would not probably seek advice is what mattress to purchase or finding other aids for improving your sleep. Well, if you know anyone who has had trouble getting to sleep or is seeking methods of being well-rested, let me be the first to recommend https://www.bestmattressreviews.com/, shared by Jenny Thompson. She claims her “team” has been researching the science behind sleep and reviewing sleep products to see if they really have the effects that the companies claim to have. I admit, her extensive online resource first sounded a lot like a very large commercial, but I have never known such detail and vast criteria could be involved in assessing the merits of different mattresses and sleep accessories:

  • Types: foam, innerspring, latex, and hybrid
  • Sleep position: side sleepers, back sleepers, stomach sleepers, couples
  • Other benchmarks: firm, soft, cooling, crib, organic, pain management, and user type (mattresses for pet owners, runners, people with disabilities, etc.)

It is definitely worth your time to examine the article section on specific sleeping guides:

  • bestmattressreviewsSleep disorders
  • New and expecting mothers
  • Advice for children, teenagers, and college students
  • Mental health and sleep
  • Sleep and anxiety
  • P.T.S.D. and other problems

We may all know someone who has suffered the effects of Alzheimer’s. This one recently hit home to me as I just discovered one of my long-time music teacher friends was enrolled in a memory unit.

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According to this website, “Alzheimer’s disease affects as many as 5 million Americans. Scientists still don’t know how to prevent, slow, or cure the disease. Meanwhile, the death rate has increased 55% over the past decade and a half, and with the silver tsunami on the horizon, the number of patients is expected to explode. Sleep problems and Alzheimer’s are interconnected. People living with Alzheimer’s experience difficulty sleeping, while people who have sleep issues earlier in life are at greater risk for developing the disease.” We should all be aware of this link for more information: https://www.bestmattressreviews.com/alzheimers-and-sleep/.

 

spiritfinderFinally, out of the blue, Jennifer Scott contacted me with “healthy ways to cope with a loss” with these resources to help grieving families:

Reaching out to those who may be suffering with anxiety and depression, her helpful hints will go far to alleviate stress. I found parts of her website, http://spiritfinder.org/, are also very illuminating. Thank you, Jennifer!

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Bookmark the URL of this blog-post for future use. You never know when you might need some guidance on these miscellaneous subjects. Revisit past writings at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/for-retirees/.  Also, please stay “connected,” communicate your “views and news” in blog comments (click at the top of the page), submit your responses to the NAfME discussion platform Amplify (we have a special “retired member” community forum, or just send an email to paulkfox.usc@gmail.com.  As Tom Bodett said in commercials for a well-known motel chain: “We’ll leave the light on for you.”  

PKF

© 2018 Paul K. Fox

Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com: “countryside” by sasint, “hospice” by unclelkt, “grandparents” by sylviebliss, “granny” by brenkee, “bed” by pexels, “dementia” by geralt, and “beach” by qimono.

 

Retiree Concepts

Random Terms Re: Retirement Transitioning

dictionary-1619740_1920_stevepbThe “new” definition of retirement includes a unique collection of synonyms. Gone are the designations “seclusion,” “privacy,” “withdrawal,” “retreating” and “disappearing” based on archaic models of retiring when the average life expectancy at birth in the 1800s was 38 and in the 1900s was 47. (Merriam-Webster and others still show these words on their online dictionaries!) Now, some of the more creative descriptors for retirement are “renewment,” “rewirement,” “rest-of-life,” “second beginnings,” and “reinvention.” (Also see http://www.cbsnews.com/news/how-do-you-define-retirement/.)

In addition to these, there are a few nontraditional terms that may come up during the passage from full-time employment to “living the dream” (hopefully) in retirement. These will not show up in a typical book for retirees… but, understanding them can “make a difference” through this roller-coaster ride of coping with life-style changes/altered expectations, and finding creative new ways to self-reinvent and thrive.

 

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Marginality and Mattering

Do you feel “needed” and “making a difference” to others? The definition of “mattering” is “the belief that we matter to someone else.” This is an essential part of what author Ernie Zelinski of the best-seller Retire Happy, Wild, and Free emphasizes the importance of “finding purpose, structure, and community in retirement.”

“It has been suggested that one problem of retirement is that one no longer matters; others no longer depend on us… The reward of retirement, involving a surcease from labor, can be the punishment of not mattering. Existence loses its point and savor when one no longer makes a difference.”   – Rosenberg and McCullough Quoted in Revitalizing Retirement: Reshaping Your Identity, Relationships, and Purpose by Nancy Schlossberg (APA, 2017)

According to counseling psychologist Nancy Schlossberg, Rosenberg’s concept of “mattering” is “a universal, lifelong issue that connects us all.”  Her four dimensions of mattering are:

  • Attention – the feeling that a person has the interest of another;
  • Importance – the feeling that others care about what you want, think, and do;
  • Ego-Extension – the feeling that others will be proud of your successes and/or saddened by your failures;
  • Dependence – the feeling that a person can depend on someone else.

Although initially attributed to collegiate retention, persistence and “getting students connected” (https://sites.google.com/site/uscedco030/Home/theorist-pages/marginality-mattering-and-validation-theory-nancy-schlossberg-laura-rendon/schlossberg), Schlossberg defines “maginality” as “a sense of not fitting in” and which “can lead to self consciousness, irritability and depression. For some, these feelings can be permanent conditions.” Furthermore, “feelings of marginality often occur when individuals take on new roles, especially when they are uncertain about what a new role entails.”

Just like the sometimes tumultuous passage to and emotional ups-and-downs during your “life after the work?”

 

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PTSD

What does “post-traumatic stress disorder” have to do with leaving your job? Hopefully it does not apply to you, but…

If are among the surprisingly large number of music teachers who lost their job “involuntarily,” you may be undergoing the same “stages of grief and loss” often shared during the breakup of a marriage or the dealth of a loved one:

  • Denial (disbelief, numbness, shock)
  • Bargaining (preoccupation with “what could have been,” guilt, remorse)
  • Depression (sadness, loneliness, emptiness, isolation, self-pity)
  • Anger (feelings of helplessness, abandonment)
  • Acceptance (emotional resolution, healing)

checkmate-1511866_1920_stevepbFeeling you were “kicked to the curb,” “downsized,” “minimized,” or somehow “forced” to resign or retire comes from many scenarios:

  • Music or staff are eliminated from the curriculum or building in which you teach.
  • You feel you must retire early before the end of the contract to avoid losing existing medical or other contractual benefits.
  • While voluntarily retiring from the full-time “day” job, you hope to continue serving in the capacity as assistant director (marching band, musical, etc.), but are not re-assigned or asked to return.
  • The new head coach of the sport in which you have assisted for many years fires you to bring in his “cronies.”
  • The perception that the program to which you have devoted your whole career is being dissembled or de-emphasized for the next “flavor-of-the-year.”

Most mental health experts agree, you cannot self-diagnose PTSD. However, the “warning signs” are probably evident. If you are having trouble sleeping, difficulty with relationships, or find yourself feeling significantly depressed or lethargic, visit your health care professional.

 

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Losing old habits…

“Surrendering your urge to be an agent of change!”

The next retiree concept is more of a habit or tendency, something that those of us who retired from education may find it a little hard to stop doing at first. Among the core values of “moral professionalism,” we consistently seek ways to reform “the system,” much like efficiency experts. In other words, “break it if it needs fixed,” or seek new practices or approaches to solve problems. This means we seldom accept the status quo or “that’s the way it’s always have been done.”

I found that in my volunteer work, when I come up to a challenge like a policy that isn’t working, I look for better ways of doing it. Teachers always self-assess and seek changes for “the good of the order,” but these “systems” are not our classrooms. Educators were expected to “monitor and adjust,” modify our lesson targets, rip down old bulletin boards and put up new with more exciting media, re-write curriculum, etc. – always with the mission to “build a better mouse trap” for more efficient delivery of instruction to all.

comic-characters-2026313_1280_OpenClipart-VectorsIn retirement, this can be frustrating. You can’t tell somebody else how to run their operation. Some people do not want to hear criticism, nor do they care what your opinion is, nor do they want to change their traditions or fine-tuned (?) step-by-step procedures. You on the other hand want things to improve, e.g. better training, more consistent application of the rules, etc., and therefore you feel “unrequited stress.”

Throughout my whole “professional life,” I never looked the other way. I try to fix things. But that’s not everybody’s inclination, and the world is not going to come to end if someone doesn’t take your advice. As retirees, remove the unnecessary hassle. You have two choices. Resign from the activity, or step back from being its self-appointed critic, accept the situation, and let everyone go back to playing their own way in their “sandbox.”

 

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Caregivers anchor

Many retirees choose to be part- or full-time caregivers, perhaps babysitting or serving as the custodian of a senior family member.

If you are fortunate enough to have grandchildren (your own or adopted ones), enjoy them! Your generous super-competent daycare services may provide ever-so-essential attention to your loved-ones. “Playing with the kids” is wonderful for your own mood, perspective, and mental health. And, how many times have I heard the sage advice to “immerse yourself around young people and you will stay forever young!”

grandparents-1969824_1920_sylvieblissHowever, invest your time wisely. Retirees deserve a life of their own and opportunities for unstructured “time-off.” Don’t forget the other items on your “bucket lists” (like travel, “encore career,” and volunteering). Serving as your family’s childcare “safety net” is nice, but don’t let this schedule dominate everything you do in your retirement… trading one job for another… with no financial compensation (but a whole lot of fun, I know).

Sometimes the responsibility of taking care of an elderly family member comes to you unexpectedly (like an ill parent or grandparent). When this “all-encompassing” duty is thrust upon you, it may consume every free moment in your schedule.

This excellent advice is from the blog-site “A Place for Mom.”

Many of us do end up deciding to become family caregivers, a demanding role that often includes advocating for your loved one, coordinating providers, and performing home medical care tasks.

In fact, over 65.7 million Americans currently provide care for a family member or loved one, according to the National Alliance for Caregiving, and 36% of those are caring for an elderly parent.

Being prepared for the role of caregiver means taking a lot of different factors into consideration. You will need to ask yourself hard questions about how your own availability and care-giving capabilities will affect your ability to provide effective care — for your loved one and yourself.

  – https://www.aplaceformom.com/blog/2-24-14-caregiver-questions-to-as/

Several of the “big questions” from their site:

  1. Am I financially prepared for the extra costs of care-giving?
  2. Am I really capable of taking care of Dad or Mom all by myself?
  3. Do I have the social support and resources I’m going to need?
  4. How will care-giving affect my physical and mental health?
  5. Will I be able to make time for myself and my family?

seniors-1505938_1920_geraltAgain, that focus on “first things first” (remember the book of the same name by Stephen Covey?) and “take care of yourself, too!”

In her book In A Different Voice (Harvard University Press), author Carol Gilligan describes the philosophy of moral development based on “evolving steps of caring.”

  1. Decisions based solely on care for their needs. (GOOD)
  2. Decisions based on care for the needs of others. (BETTER)
  3. Decisions based on care for themselves and others. (THE BEST)

As mentioned in a previous blog, we could all hope to prescribe to Kathy Merlino’s “independent-living manifesto” ― being actively involved in her children’s lives, but NOT leaving them the ultimate chore of “taking care of mom!”

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“Stressed over the season”

Finally, while we are on the subject of care-giving, here are a few links to alleviating stress, especially around the coming winter holidays:

Also, although I wrote my own blogs about “the happiest time of the year,” (see https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/2015/11/29/tips-for-retirees-on-managing-stress-during-the-coming-winter-celebrations/ and https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/2015/12/22/random-acts-and-other-resolutions/, I found more wisdom re: “stress for seniors.”

Best wishes for you and yours to enjoy the festive season and a Happy New Year!

PKF

© 2017 Paul K. Fox

 

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Photo credits from Pixabay.com: “person” by RitaE, “dictionary” by stevepb, “volunteer” by maialisa, “stress” by thedigitalartist, “checkmate” by stevepb, “head” by johnhain, “comic-characters” by OpenClipart-Vectors, “grandfather” by kko699, “grandparents” by sylviebliss, “seniors” by geralt, “shopping-mall” by stocksnap, and “senior” by RitaE

Reflections on the Glory Days

Reconciliation: Somber Ruminations of a Retiree

And I hope when I get old I don’t sit around thinking about it
but I probably will
Yeah, just sitting back trying to recapture
a little of the glory of, well time slips away
and leaves you with nothing mister but
boring stories of glory days…
Glory days, well they’ll pass you by
          —Bruce Springsteen

Okay, admittedly, this blog may be a little on the “dark side” – so before and after you read this, be sure to go out and take a long walk, hug your spouse or your grandchild or a dog, find something fun to do, indulge in some ice cream – anything to recharge, bolster your mood, and “come back to life!”

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Reconciling with and Redefining Retirement

According to Merriam Webster, the full definition of “reconcile” is the following:

“…to restore to friendship or harmony, settle, resolve, make consistent or congruous, cause to submit to or accept something unpleasant…”

Also referring to online dictionaries like Webster, the terms retiring and retirement mean “seclusion from the world, privacy, withdrawal, the act of going away, retreating, or disappearing.”

bucketlistNope. I cannot accept these archaic definitions! My translation for what it means to face this life-style shift of changing perspectives and expectations, “Crossing the Rubicon” into retirement, is finding alternative but purposeful pursuits, fulfilling “bucket lists,” and reshaping fresh new goals leading to creative ways to self-reinvent and thrive.

The Stages and Emotions of Retirement

In the July 25, 2016 PMEA Retired Member Network eNEWS, I reflected on a few of the ups-and-downs of post-employment transitioning and the emotional journey of re-adjustment, “reinventing” yourself, or as Ken Blanchard and Morton Shaevitz advise in their book (by the same name), “Refire! Don’t Retire!”

In which “stage of retirement” do you find yourself? Are you resting and taking an extended vacation, or currently mapping out your post-employment “plans,” or already diving into your “golden years” with a full schedule of activities, or seeking new goals and your “life’s purpose,” or retreating from everything just to “get your head together?”  —Paul Fox

In a USA TODAY article (2014), Ken Dychtwald (gerontologist, psychologist, educator and CEO of Age Wave, a research think-tank on aging issues) labels the logical progression of Ken Dychtwaldfive stages of retirement that he predicts most people go through after leaving their full-time job. (See http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/personalfinance/2014/10/12/five-stages-of-retirement/16975707/).

  1. Imagination
  2. Anticipation
  3. Liberation
  4. Re-engagement
  5. Reconciliation

I think every retired person should read these, figure out on which step they are, diagnose their feelings, and “move on” toward the final stage of reconciliation.

“Thanks to the ever-increasing longevity, many of us will have decades to learn, teach, play, work and re-invent ourselves again and again after our core career has ended. Perhaps it’s time to retire retirement.”  —Ken Dychtwald

However, I hear from many retirees that, at some point, they experience a period of depression or sadness after they retire, even a profound sense of loss or grief. There are hosts of articles about this phenomenon:

It boils down to coping with a few of these emotional “bumps” along the way:

  • Loss of professional identity
  • Loss of goals, daily routine, and purposeful activity
  • Loss of social network and interaction with co-workers

In my article, “Surviving Retirement: Avoiding Turmoil, Traumas, Tantrums, and Other Transitional Problems” in the Winter 2015 issue of PMEA News, I mentioned how quickly we retired teachers seemingly become forgotten and obscure.

Someone wise once told me not to be alarmed when even your own music students forget you after two or three years. Not having you in class, nor hearing your name on the public address, nor seeing you in the halls, nor watching you direct an assembly, ensemble or musical, it is perfectly natural that your identity will likely fade away as the “graduates” leave and the new enrollees enter the building.

However, since I was still working with the marching band (and had been involved in so many other extra-curricular activities), I figured I might have a year or two before disappearing into obscurity. Surprise! One month from stepping down, I was walking my dogs at the high school and came upon a junior girl and her mother in a “driving training session.” I shouted out “hello” (my Yorkie-poo didn’t even bark), and the girl immediately rolled up her windows and moved away… “Stranger danger?” A few minutes later, when the opportunity presented itself (mom and driver switched seats), I introduced myself and received a blank look when I reassured them, “I just retired from this school. Surely you remember Mr. Fox?” Nope. Don’t expect it. Anyway, there are advantages to losing the spotlight and becoming totally anonymous.  —Paul Fox

This is normal. “Type-A” personalities and “peak performers” must make a concerted effort to limit linking the majority of their self-worth and identity to their employment! Echoed by author Sydney Lagier in “Seven Secrets to a Happy Retirement” at US News and World Report (http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/on-retirement/2010/07/20/7-secrets-to-a-happy-retirement), we should not be addicted to achievement. “The more you are defined by your job, the harder it will be to adjust to life without.”

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This is my favorite reflection implying our failure to let go of “our glory days,” used with permission from the very gifted poet Nancy Ellen Crossland (see her other writings at http://www.voicesnet.com/allpoemsoneauthor.aspx?memberid=1022350010):

Reflections on an Autumn Day

Where once they hung in glorious array
Golden tinged, copper swirled
Russet swatches
Now trodden and dampened;
What a sad display!

Where once waving and twirling
In crisp autumn days
Clinging to the ground
Plastered on soles of shoes
Forever appear to be bound,

Ah, but a few stalwart leaves hang
Grasping on for life
Another gust, a downpour or two
They also shall join those
trampled leaves askew,

So bid farewell, oh hearty ones
Another season shall again pass
You shall have your days in the sun,

Your brilliance shall never slip away
For always shall be remembered
Your autumn glory days. 

—Nancy Ellen Crossland    11/04/2010

 

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In addition, I noticed feeling these “retirement blues” when I attended the viewing of the late PA music educator Andrew Ruzzini. To be honest, at every funeral, the concept of facing our own mortality becomes more and more difficult. But, even worse, very few people attended Andy’s service, most of his students were unaware of his passing, and my heart ached witnessing the dismal response to the death of one of the most influential band directors in the early years of my former school district! We will all be forgotten?

The Legacy of Heroes and Mentors

The movie Mr. Holland’s Opus lays out a beautiful theme for music teacher retirees: that last scene and the speech of his former student, a clarinet player who struggled to get a good sound, now the governor of the state, was so moving.

Mr. Holland had a profound influence on my life and on a lot of lives I know. But I have a feeling that he considers a great part of his own life misspent. Rumor had it he was always working on this symphony of his. And this was going to make him famous, rich, probably both. But Mr. Holland isn’t rich and he isn’t famous, at least not outside of our little town. So it might be easy for him to think himself a failure. But he would be wrong, because I think that he’s achieved a success far beyond riches and fame. Look around you. There is not a life in this room that you have not touched, and each of us is a better person because of you. We are your symphony, Mr. Holland. We are the melodies and the notes of your opus. We are the music of your life.  —Adult Gertrude Lang, character in the movie Mr. Holland’s Opus
My own idol (ensemble director and violin/viola instructor), the “father of strings in the East Hills of Western Pennsylvania,” Eugene Reichenfeld lived to a ripe old age of 103 years. In spite of a few health issues, he was still teaching privately up to two weeks before he passed on. He was a tireless, very physical, extremely active, fullprospective-music-student-1440071y engaged man. One example, he transformed his backyard by moving a truckload of large rocks around his garden when he was 80 years old. I attended his 100th birthday party where he played an hour-plus recital with three generations of the Reichenfelds. He always told prospective teachers, “Surround yourself with young people and you’ll never grow old.” The comment I wrote in memory of Eugene Reichenfeld in the online guest book (legacy.com) came from the heart: “With our mentor’s passing, orchestra music and education in our area will never be the same. However, thankfully, Maestro Reichenfeld’s legacy is that he ‘passed on the baton’ and inspired so many future teachers to follow in his footsteps… sharing his love of and skill in strings for eternity! The music lives on!”

Three More Reflections for the Road…

I am grateful for finding the final column of Maryellen Weimer, Penn State Professor and Editor of the The Teaching Professor, sharing her thoughts on the things she will and won’t miss after 33 years of teaching: http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-careers/retirement-reflections-things-i-will-and-wont-miss/.

If you have the time (and the intellect – he is very deep), you should also read the “retirement notes” of Gary T. Marx: Hither and Thither No More: Reflections on a Retired, But Not Shy, Professor at http://web.mit.edu/gtmarx/www/hitherthither.html#note2.

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And, thank you, Corita Kent, for summing up the prescription to a happy, healthy, rewarding, and meaningful life… before, during, and after employment!

If you look too far ahead, living only for dreams, or too far back, living only to repeat the past, you will miss the fullness of the present. This is a lesson for both your professional life and your personal life. It is important to have balance in one’s life, so find the time to do the things that you enjoy — athletic or physical activities, the beautiful outdoors, visiting with friends, reading books, volunteering in your community. May you find the satisfaction of living a well-balanced and healthy life. —Corita Kent
PKF
© 2016 Paul K. Fox

More on Retirement…

For additional articles on retirement at this site, please click on “retirement resources” to the right, or one of the following links to other blog-posts: