Dr. Pearson on Instructor Wellness

Remember airline travel? Back in non-COVID times, we were all too familiar with the pre-flight safety briefing which provided us with essential details to heed in the event of emergency.  Admittedly, that was often the point where my thoughts turned to work – How many papers could I mark on this flight?  Would I be able to review that entire journal article before landing? – the lifesaving advice but a background murmur.  What I reflect upon these days, is the notion of the oxygen mask.  The passenger should always fit their own mask before helping others: seemingly a no-brainer in an emergency.  And yet, when we think about putting ourselves first in a day-to-day sense, this ostensibly easy task is not always so easy.  And why is that?  Given the year+ we’ve just experienced, the pandemic has most certainly played a role.  But for many post-secondary instructors, the work-life balance conundrum is nothing new as we strive to meet our 40-40-20 demands whilst focusing on the less formalized, yet ever so important needs of our students.  Add to that family responsibilities and there is often very little in the tank to address personal wellness; it can feel like we are never fully “off."

As a faculty member specializing in health promotion and a Certified Professional Co-Active coach, something I often ask my students and clients is “So what? What is important about this to you?” Reflecting on our personal values, our core beliefs that make us who we are, can provide us with tremendous insight into our actions (or lack thereof).To that end, what is important about wellness to you? In essence, giving ourselves permission to ‘fit the oxygen mask’ can go a long way toward enhancing not only our own dimensions of wellness (e.g., physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, environmental), but enable us to better focus on other people and tasks that we hold dear. And make no mistake - the permission piece is huge! Guilt anyone? Committing to personal wellness is a conscious decision, and one that will look different for everyone. Even taking what may seem like a small step is valuable; every bit counts.

Now that the summer is upon us and pandemic restrictions are lifting, the timing is ideal to re-evaluate what it is that fulfills us – Being in nature? Relationships? A sense of freedom or adventure? As we continue to recuperate from the past year and refocus for the next, it may be helpful to consider the following when seeking to enhance wellness:

  1. Set SMART goals – The literature tells usthat our goals should be specific measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-based. Having both short-and long-term wellness goals is important for staying on track and feeling like we are moving forward successfully.
  2. Saying yes/no – Saying yes to one thing often means saying no to another (and vice versa!). What are you willing to say yes/no to in service of your personal wellness?
  3. Move more, sit less – Being active and outdoors have both been shown to influence our physical and mental health positively. Thankfully, Thunder Bay and Orillia offer us a bounty of beauty to take advantage of this time of year!
  4. Be kind to you –Practicing self-compassion can improve well-being, resilience, and happiness. While this intentional act is very individualized, common elements include engaging in positive self-talk, accepting personal imperfections, and finding ways to nurture mind, body, and spirit.
  5. Stand still – As professionals, we are typically very future focused. While well-meaning, this ‘lens’ can detract from the gifts found in this moment. A mentor once said to me: “Don’t let thoughts of the future, steal from your present.”

 Dr. Pearson image

Dr. Pearson’s most recent research project is focusing on wellness in the university classroom: a partnership between researchers and staff from the School of Kinesiology, Department of Psychology, and Student Health and Wellness. Stay tuned this summer for a brief survey intended to capture Lakehead course instructor viewpoints.

June 2021 Teaching Commons Newsletter - Faculty Spotlight