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Dear Teacher, Time For A Mental Break! | Blog | AAPC Publishing

Posted by Dr. Nihan on Mar 16th 2022

Dear Teacher, Time For A Mental Break! | Blog | AAPC Publishing

ENJOY YOUR INTEROCEPTION IN FIVE STEPS

I have been teaching Microbiology at Ankara University for six years, I have been a daughter of two teachers, and now most of my friends are teachers. So, one of the things that I know very well - teaching is one of the most challenging professions! It is even more so if you feel burnout while dealing with all the Covid, virtual education, mandates at schools, and at the same time lots of little eyes looking at you with big question marks in those eyes!

We all love the winter breaks, spring breaks, Christmas breaks to rest well and return to our lovely workplace with high energy and passion, right? But this does not work in this way nowadays! As mentioned by  WeAreTeachers Staff in their article, you are tired, exhausted, stressed! Also, you may feel ‘full’ and probably way away from your authentic self.

In 2021,  the State of the U.S. Teacher Survey was published, and the results revealed that the teachers’ mental health statistics are alarming! Nearly 25 percent of teachers said that they were likely to leave their jobs, 27 percent of teachers reported depression symptoms, and more than 75 percent of teachers reported frequent job-related stress.

Especially for special education teachers with a higher stress level, each moment should be considered a gift for working on their better mental health and wellness. James H. Potter from Stephen F. Austin State University studied in 2021 with the topic  “Teachers’ Stress, Anxiety, and Depression: What Are Special Education Teachers Experiencing? for his Ph.D. Thesis. And he has found out that the special education teachers in the study did have higher rates of psychopathology diagnosis and symptoms.

I have some exciting and good news for you! Exciting news, since the solution is within you! Good news, because science strongly backs up this method to find and stay at your most effective self. This works not only for you but also for your family and students!

INTEROCEPTION RIGHT THERE!

Maybe you’ve heard or studied interoception for your students before! Or you’ve already applied the “interoception skills” in your classroom. Or you’ve used certain interoception activities for them. Or you have not tried it yet, since you were not sure where to start from.

The question is – have you ever tried to check and improve your own interoception?

Let me remind you what interoception is. Interoception refers to the system with special nerve receptors that connects the organs, muscles, skin to the brain and carries all the messages between them. Because of this, we call interoception, The Eighth Sensory System”. When the brain gets the message from organs/muscles, it interprets the information and lets us know “how we feel.” Interoception is also responsible for helping us for controlling our emotions. Have we complained about how we are feeling nowadays and our emotions above? Okay – now we know the main control center for that issue, so how can we manage it?

ONLY FIVE STEPS - FOR BEST SELF:

Science showed us that our ability to understand (read) our emotions relates to how well we can self-regulate our emotional state. And more, if we can read our own physical signs and emotional state at a high level, we can also read another person’s emotional state at the same high level. Before jumping to other people’s conditions, let’s continue to focus on our best version! What happens if we can’t regulate our interoception well? Then we may have to welcome anxiety, depression, problematic social skills, even flexible thinking and problem-solving skills!

In this case, our aim is to have our best level of interoceptive sensing (sometimes, I find this similar to using a contact lens for your best vision when your eye is not healthy enough). And improving the interoception is something that you can definitely do!

1- Breathing Exercises

First thing first! Life starts with a single breath. And ends with our last breath. An average person at rest takes about 16 breaths per minute. And a person who lives to 80 takes approximately 672,768,000 breaths! But hold on – how many of those are we aware of?

There are specific different breathing exercises for interoceptive awareness support that I cannot take all of them in this short blog; however, I want you to simply play the “breathe of awareness” game. After reading this paragraph, just close your eyes, get yourself in a comfortable position if possible, and just breathe… in and out… notice the coolness of each new incoming breath and the warmth of each outgoing breath. Don’t focus on the speed of your breathing but try to realize that when you breath deep and slowly, your body gives more profound and robust messages as a response. Just breathe and say “thank you” for the opportunity of each breath!

You can do this simple breathing exercise to “quick connect to yourself” and appreciate your being, breath, and ability to be here now.

2- Mindfulness

There are many myths about mindfulness that keep us away from it, like “cross your leg,” “do not think anything during it…” Nope – mindfulness can be practiced even while walking in a 10-20 feet long place. For sure, you can lie on your back or sit with crossed legs, as well. Just don’t feel stressed “to be within the rules” or “stressed with perfectional/professionalism.” Because we will focus on ourselves, not perfect but the most loved one! When you are ready, you can exercise one of the most popular and loved mindfulness techniques – body check mindfulness meditation.

You will simply focus on your breath first, then take your attention slowly on each part of your body to see how it feels. For example, when you are scanning your neck, do you feel any tension? How do you feel it while you are breathing – is there any increase in the tension, or do you feel relaxed? This exercise is one of the most effective ways to increase your body awareness and connection to your inner self. Please don’t forget that a strong relationship with your physical body brings a solid connection to your emotions, managing them positively, and reliable social communications.

3- Yoga

Probably you have already tried yoga at least once, or you may be an expert. Yoga is an excellent activity for all body and mental health improvements. However, we will look at yoga from a different perspective now. Let’s work on one specific pose – Tadasana (or Samasthiti). You just stand up and find your body balance. When you feel comfortable, you may try to close your eyes. And listen! Listen to your body from head to toe. Any pain? Any difficulty keeping your balance? Any change with your breath? They are the messages from your body that you are missing or don’t want to hear during your daily busy lifestyle! Then – when they start to scream for you to recognize, you feel mental pain. For different yoga poses, we can focus on other body areas. At the end of the activity (even five minutes lasting one), you will be thankful for your connection!

4- Probiotics

Oh! my dear probiotics! I have been in love with them for around fifteen years now, and they still amaze me every day. As a microbiologist, probiotics and their health benefits are my other expertise areas. I can write so many ‘books’ about this topic, but for now (because of the limited place of the blog), I advise you to add natural (if possible) probiotics to your daily diet. Consuming different probiotic strains at least 2-3 times a week is not complicated. And it carries your gut health to another level. At that point, think about ‘serotonin.’ It is a chemical messenger (both hormone and neurotransmitter), acts as a mood stabilizer, key for healthy sleep, mood booster, magic touch for living longer, and so on… And on the excellent serotonin levels, actually, you need healthy guts!

5- Listen and talk

This may be my favorite item on this list! It may sound silly initially, but I suggest you give it a chance. We listen to ourselves and talk to us back! But the rule is “be positive”! We need a mirror. Just look at yourself in the mirror. And ask: “how are you?”. Now respond with your feelings. For example:

- “I have a headache; I am tired and thinking about the laundry that I have to do before going to bed! – AND I am happy to realize these feelings; I appreciate the life I have and doing my best to keep this (or) working for a better one. I am thankful for the clothes I have and the roof on me.”

Realizing the strong connection between your brain, gut, muscles, internal organs, skin is the first step for interoceptive awareness. Respecting this connection, taking actions to improve awareness, and being thankful for yourself are the other steps to feel calm, happy, healthy, and away from stress. When you are firm with your inner self, you can regulate your emotions and reflect your positive look to the world around you.

HOW TO USE INTEROCEPTION FOR YOUR STUDENTS:

Actually, most interoception activities are based on a similar concept for young and adults. Basically, think about yoga poses that you do while asking what you feel – so you can adapt this to your students to teach them how their bodies are messaging them during a yoga pose. Also, using body charts and asking them to draw the emotions effectively increases their interoceptive awareness.

Besides the typical interoception activities for your class, you can give another gift, actually. The best gift for them would be improving your own interoception. Thus, your students could benefit more from your beautiful soul, and you could enjoy a routine workday!

Thanks for reading the blog, and please don’t hesitate to share what you think!

Also, if you would like to read more about how you can use your interoception and microbiome for your most effective self, you may want to read  The Interoceptive Mind.

Dr. Nihan

Critchley H. and Garfinkel S.S., 2007. Interoception and Emotion. Current Opinion in Psychology, 17:7-14.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.copsyc.2017.04.020