Committee for Children Blog

Getting Back to Basics to Meet Your Baseline Needs and Build Resilience

Tia Kim

Our first Winter Well-Being video this year is all about how to meet your foundational needs in order to support your overall health and well-being. In this blog, I’ll dig a little deeper into the research behind the advice Dr. Cailin Currie and I provided in the video.

To recap, the tips we offered for you, your family, and your colleagues and students are all designed to help you establish a positive emotional baseline, or state of feeling before an event occurs. How you feel before something happens affects your interpretation of the event, your emotions about it, how you behave at the moment, and the potential consequences of the event.

So, if you encounter something stressful when you’re already feeling on edge (have a negative emotional baseline)—like hitting red lights when you’re running late—you may react poorly in a way you regret, which can add to your stress. But if you have a positive emotional baseline, you may be able to react to a stressful event in a calmer, more rational way that provides a better outcome.

Foundational self-care activities, such as eating and sleeping well and being physically active, can support a positive emotional baseline, for the simple reason that feeling well-rested, nourished, and comfortable in your body helps you feel balanced and better overall. In the video, we offered these three tips to help you meet your foundational needs:

  1. Commit to a sleep schedule, so consistent, quality sleep is part of your routine
  2. Keep a weekly food journal to help you eat in a way that makes you feel good
  3. Make movement a regular, fun part of your day

These tips are supported by research showing that tracking a behavior you want to improve will help to change the behavior.1 Here’s a closer look at more of the research that informed our suggestions.

Sleep Matters

Almost 25 percent of school staff say their daily activities are impaired by a lack of sleep.2 Sleep deprivation is associated with a wide variety of health problems, including immune system dysregulation, metabolism and appetite issues, and learning and memory difficulties.3 Sleep also affects the way people respond to stress: in a study, sleep-deprived individuals were more reactive to negative experiences.4

To help you improve your sleep, we suggested creating a consistent sleep schedule, which has been shown to help you fall asleep and wake up more easily.5 Tracking your sleep with a sleep diary, like this one from the National Sleep Foundation, can help you stick to your schedule and also be able to note how you’re feeling when you get enough rest versus when you don’t. A few ways you can improve the quality of your sleep are to skip daytime naps, avoid taking sleep aids or drinking alcohol to fall asleep, and use your bed only for sleeping (rather than a place to watch TV, check email, and so on).

Food and Mood

Food and our moods can often be connected. For example, if I don’t eat, I can get very “hangry.” To help prevent this, if I’m about to go into a meeting where a lot of focus or thoughtful discussion is needed, I make sure I eat a healthy snack beforehand so I’m in a better space to handle the discussion. Research shows that stress may contribute to unhealthy eating habits and vice versa, which can create a harmful cycle.6 When people are stressed, they are more likely to reach for foods that are higher in fats and sugars and are less likely to exercise. 6 But when the body doesn’t get the nutrients or physical activity it needs, a person’s metabolism and blood sugar may be affected, which in turn can lead to mood swings, fatigue, and difficulty focusing.6 Sugar and caffeine, in particular, can offer a short-term boost that’s followed by a crash in energy or mood, and they may also cause trouble sleeping.6  

Keeping a food journal or tracking your meals in an app like MyFitnessPal can help you become more mindful about what you’re eating throughout the day. Committing to eat more veggies and snack on fruit and nuts instead of candy, for example, can be a good place to start—but tracking that commitment via a food journal will help provide the behavioral support to follow through on your plan.1

The Effects of Exercise

Regular aerobic exercise can buffer against sensitivity to stress and professional burnout.7, 8 To begin a new exercise habit, start small and choose something simple that you enjoy, like brisk walking, jogging, or doing a virtual yoga class. If your activity is too hard or you don’t feel comfortable doing it, you’re more likely to stop exercising.9 Use the power of tracking here by keeping a workout log or calendar to monitor your progress and celebrate your milestones. While experts recommend that you do at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week,10 don’t be intimidated by this number—it amounts to just over 20 minutes per day, and you can break this into smaller chunks throughout the day as you’re getting started and still see benefits.11

Feel Well This Winter

Teaching consistently ranks among the highest-stress professions, second only to nursing.12 Much of that stress is due to factors outside of your control, but you can take steps to protect your own well-being. As a caregiving professional, you give a lot of time and energy to others, so your self-care becomes even more necessary. And when you’re feeling better, your students will feel the benefits, too: socially and emotionally resilient teachers are more likely to actively monitor the classroom, engage students in learning, demonstrate patience, listen attentively, and maintain their composure during challenging student encounters.13, 14, 15

I hope you feel equipped to use these research-based routines that nurture your well-being. Starting with the basics is a great way to build your resilience.


 References

1. Abraham, C., & Michie, S. (2008). A taxonomy of behavior change techniques used in interventions. Health Psychology, 27(3), 379–387. https://doi.org/10.1037/0278-6133.27.3.379

2. Amschler, D. H., & McKenzie, J. F. (2010). Perceived sleepiness, sleep habits and sleep concerns of public school teachers, administrators and other personnel. American Journal of Health Education, 41(2), 102–109. https://doi.org/10.1080/19325037.2010.10599134

3. Walker, M. P., & Stickgold, R. (2004). Sleep-dependent learning and memory consolidation. Neuron, 44(1), 121–133. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2004.08.031

4. Yoo, S-S., Gujar, N., Hu, P., Jolesz, F. A., & Walker, M. P. (2007). The human emotional brain without sleep—a prefrontal amygdala disconnect. Current Biology, 17(20), 877–878. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2007.08.007

5. Finley, C. L., & Cowley, B. J. (2005). The effects of a consistent sleep schedule on time taken to achieve sleep. Clinical Case Studies, 4(3), 304–311. https://doi.org/10.1177/1534650103259743

6. Gonzalez, M. J., & Miranda-Massari, J. R. (2014). Diet and stress. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 37(4), 579–589. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psc.2014.08.004

7. Salmon, P. (2001). Effects of physical exercise on anxiety, depression, and sensitivity to stress: A unifying theory. Clinical Psychology Review, 21(1), 33–61. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0272-7358(99)00032-X

8. Gerber, M., Brand, S., Elliot, C., Holsboer-Trachsler, E., Pühse, U., & Beck, J. (2013). Aerobic exercise training and burnout: A pilot study with male participants suffering from burnout. BMC Research Notes, 6, 78. https://doi.org/10.1186/1756-0500-6-78

9. Phillips, E. M., & Kennedy, M. A. (2012). The exercise prescription: A tool to improve physical activity. PM&R, 4(11), 818–825. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pmrj.2012.09.582

10. Laskowski, E. R. (2021, September 22). How much should the average adult exercise every day? Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/expert-answers/exercise/faq-20057916

11. Physical Activity Advisory Committee. (2008). Physical activity guidelines advisory committee report, 2008. https://health.gov/sites/default/files/2019-10/CommitteeReport_7.pdf

12. Gallup. (2017). State of America’s schools: The path to winning again in education. https://www.gallup.com/file/services/178769/Gallup%20Report%20–%20State%20Of%20Americas%20Schools.pdf

13. Beltman, S., Mansfield, C., & Price, A. (2011). Thriving not just surviving: A review of research on teacher resilience. Educational Research Review, 6(3), 185–207. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.edurev.2011.09.001

14. Jennings, P. A., & Greenberg, M. T. (2009). The prosocial classroom: Teacher social and emotional competence in relation to student and classroom outcomes. Review of Educational Research, 79(1), 491–525. https://doi.org/10.3102/0034654308325693

15. Kunter, M., Klusmann, U., Baumert, J., Richter, D., Voss, T., & Hachfeld, A. (2013). Professional competence of teachers: Effects on instructional quality and student development. Journal of Educational Psychology, 105(3), 805–820. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0032583