Let me paint you a picture…
You have been teaching solidly all morning, and the bell has finally rung for lunch. You step back for the stampede to the door, then patiently spend ten minutes comforting three of the more conscientious members of the class who have lingered to stress about an upcoming assessment. After you have eventually ushered them out, you rearrange your classroom to something resembling neatness and discover that one of the little darlings from the last class has left a wodge of gum which has stuck itself to your new blouse. You scrub at it with some paper towel, with the result that it becomes firmly entrenched in the fabric. Giving up, you reach for a jacket to cover the damage and head to the school canteen.
On the way, you pass two Year Nines trying to decapitate each other by the toilets. You pull them away from each other, send them outside to cool off, and follow the scent of bacon butties. But you’re too late: the only offering left in the canteen is a wilting egg and cress sandwich with a bite taken out of it. You turn on your heel and go back to your drawer in the Staff Resource Space, where you have left an emergency stash of cereal bars. But someone has got there before you: they’re all gone. Suppressing your hanger, you stick the kettle on and make a cup of tea: you now only have five minutes left of lunch anyway. While it’s brewing, you check your pigeon hole to discover an ‘invitation’ to a compulsory CPD session on marking taking place tomorrow. You make a note to cancel your trip to the dentist (you’ve rescheduled five times already, so what’s the harm?) and complain loudly to your HoD about lack of notice.
Finally, the tea is brewed. You reach into the fridge, grab the milk, and slosh it into your mug. Rancid globules of curds and whey float onto the surface: the milk is off. And that is the final straw. You start to feel the beginnings of a scream building in the pit of your stomach, climbing your oesophagus, rallying in your throat, ready to burst through your lips…
And this is when you go to your happy place.
I’m not talking about jumping on a plane to the Bahamas (although that would probably work even better, if I’m honest). No, I’m talking about detaching, disengaging your brain, and mentally transporting yourself somewhere safe. Even just for a few seconds.
It’s a technique that I started to use in pregnancy as a way of relaxing, and it served me remarkably well in labour. Since then, I have often used it in schools and in any tricky or stressful situation where things start to get on top of me.
Simply put, you need to think of somewhere you are contented. This could be a real place, or you could imagine somewhere entirely new. I found it easiest to invent my own happy place, and over the years it has built up in my head so that I have several rooms within the location, which I can choose to go to depending on my mood. I have furnished them in my own style, and I can control the weather there – so I’m never at the whim of the English climate!
It’s easiest to have a way into the happy place – somewhere you can mentally walk along so that you are slowly submerging yourself in the environment. I have a flight of steps and a corridor. By imaging myself travelling up the steps and along the passageway, I slowly become more involved in the environment I have imagined. And then, once I arrive, I can properly relax.
It’s not foolproof, I’ll admit. There are times when I am so wound up that I simply can’t transport myself to this place inside my imagination where the stresses and strains of everyday life don’t exist. But it has helped me many times, and I now have a real fondness for the place in my imagination that only I can visit.
And let’s face it, if this technique can save you from a full-on meltdown on those days when nothing is going your way, then it’s probably worth a try!
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