Over time, we have seen the conceptualisation of resilience shift from being a trait – you either have it or you don’t – to a characteristic, something you can change over time that is very internally focused. Ultimately, resilience is a process one has to continuously cultivate. This was the message in Wellbeing lessons before half term.
Nutrition can help you build resilience, so you aren’t as affected by stress and are able to weather the storm when difficulties and struggles come your way. This is a good thing because it means that when it comes to using your diet to up your resilience, you can continually work to improve (and if you decide to have cake for dinner one night, it doesn’t mean you have failed!)
Often I hear students complain of fatigue, poor concentration, low mood, anxiety and sleeplessness; before exploring the wellbeing of their mind, we need to examine their food lifestyle. Potential deficiencies in vitamins and minerals (few adolescents are eating an optimal diet), what they are choosing to eat and drink (see food pyramid below), portion size and timings (breakfast is vital for teenagers) all affect mood, sleep, motivation and wellbeing.
Arming adolescents with nutritional knowledge and the self-awareness of how food affects their bodies and mind is key to building resilience and wellbeing. For further information on diet and nutrition for teenagers, I recommend following The Nutrition Guru, Tina Lond-Caulk. Tina has just released The Teenage Health & Wellness Guide. As well as tasty and nutritious recipes and advice, the book also includes recommendations such as encouraging teenagers to consume a daily quality multivitamin and mineral, and the importance of supplementing vitamin D, magnesium and calcium. The latest scientific research also strongly suggests a link between mind health and gut microbiome; Symprove is an excellent choice of daily probiotic.
If we focus on eating for wellbeing, realise that we can love and take care of ourselves and have self-compassion, and focus on what we’re consuming, we tend to be healthier in both body and mind.
The focus for wellbeing this term is on cultivating resilience, the cornerstone of which is self-awareness. This week, students have completed a wellbeing assessment using the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (WEMWBS) to measure good wellbeing. The assessment was used to facilitate a discussion about how we need to be using our Wellness Jar to ensure we look after our mental health, which we hope will increase our scores on the WEMWBS when we complete it again in the coming weeks. You might wish to complete the assessment yourself as it could scaffold a reflective, sharing conversation. Access the WEMWBS here.
To aid introspection and develop self-awareness, Blocks 4 and 5 have been practising mindfulness. Jon Kabat-Zinn brought contemporary mindfulness to mainstream medicine and psychology through clinical intervention programmes such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and I trained in Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) at the University of Oxford. At Bedales, we are using meditations from Calm. Calm incorporates mindfulness practices from MBSR and MBCT without religious or spiritual discourse; it features meditation for sleep, anxiety, focus, motivation, self-esteem and gratitude, as well as gentle movement, stretching, nature panoramas and music designed to help you focus and relax. Calm provides the structure and guidance necessary to facilitate a daily meditation practice and mindful awareness. There is also an ‘Emergency Calm’ meditation that provides relief for feelings of being overwhelmed or stressed.
Students in 6.2 or Block 5 who are about to embark on a week of assessments may wish to consider using Calm’s ‘7 Days of Calming Anxiety’ course, which is available as a free trial on the Calm app. As we have been discussing in Wellbeing lessons, we must all take responsibility for maintaining our mental health and placing self-care alongside our other commitments. Key to resilience is self-awareness of stituations that may ignite stress and/or anxiety, and the actions we take (self-care) to manage them. The ‘7 Days of Calm’ series was a huge help to me and explained to me why we feel anxious, how to pause and feel those thoughts instead of pushing them away. It was insightful and, of course, calming.
In Wellbeing, we are taking the opportunity during online learning to delve into the practical strategies that we should all have in order to cultivate a resilient spirit. Resilience is at the heart of wellbeing. Over the coming weeks, Blocks 3-5 will be focusing on practising the five pillars of resilience; fostering healthy emotional and mental health strategies for life; learning to manage the uncomfortable and struggles in life; mindfulness practice; and connection and support.
All five pillars of resilience are crucial, but in the coming weeks we will focus on developing self-awareness, self-care and mindfulness practice in our Wellbeing sessions. This week, Bedalians have produced a ‘Wellness Jar’ detailing the activities they are going to do on a daily and weekly basis (plus emergencies and treats) in order to be resilient, thus developing healthy emotional and mental health for life. Have a look at my Wellness Jar below. Students have been asked to share the contents of the Wellness Jar with their loved ones.
Additional strategies for fostering resilience discussed in our Wellbeing lessons have included the importance of keeping routines going – including 9-10 hours of sleep, meal times, exercise, play, cognitively stimulating activities, work and relaxation – so that days have rhythm and structure and are not spent inactive. Endless time without structure, meaning and purpose is unhealthy for the body and mind.
There are a number of resources available for parents and teenagers for mental/emotional health issues. Young Minds has a free helpline for parents (0808 802 5544, available 9.30am-4pm, Monday to Friday), as well as a useful website. Helpful information can also be found on the Royal College of Psychiatrists website. Young people can access support from helplines, text lines and online chat services at any time – Childline (0800 1111), Young Minds Crisis Messenger (text YM to 85258) and the Mix (0808 808 4994).
Beginning in Block 3 with the theme ‘Empathy’, Bedalians are encouraged through the Wellbeing curriculum to develop emotional and cognitive empathy, whilst demonstrating empathetic practice through a healthy curiosity for the lived experiences of others. I hope the 6.2 Wellbeing speaker this week – the convicted murderer and columnist Erwin James – inspired students to embody such practice.
Erwin was released from prison in August 2004 having served 20 years of a life sentence. At the time of his conviction, he was an inarticulate and ill-educated individual with, in his own words, “massive failings to overcome”. From unpromising beginnings as a prisoner with bleak prospects, it was encouragement from a prison worker that inspired Edwin to embark on a programme of part-time education. Six years later, he graduated from the Open University with an arts degree majoring in history. Around the same time, he began writing for The Guardian, with the paper publishing his first article in 1998 and a regular column, ‘A Life Inside’, from 2000.
Block 3 have been prompted to reflect on ‘character’ from The Guardian article, The real Lord of the Flies: what happened when six boys were shipwrecked for 15 months. For centuries western culture has been permeated by the idea that humans are selfish creatures. That cynical image of humanity has been proclaimed in films and novels, history books and scientific research. But in the last 20 years, something extraordinary has happened. Scientists from all over the world have switched to a more hopeful view of mankind. As we are living through this unprecedented lock down and as our theme in Wellbeing for Block 3 this year is ‘empathy’ I felt this cross-curricular article would resonate with Bedalians. The real Lord of the Flies is a tale of friendship and loyalty; one that illustrates how much stronger we are if we can lean on each other, and that we should always look for what is good and positive in people. As a Block 3 student reflects: “I enjoyed reading this article a lot. I found it very interesting and I enjoyed the expectations vs reality of it all. Books make it appear as if people being trapped on an island together will lose all sanity. Good to know that isn’t necessarily true!”
For Block 4’s theme on identity this year we have been exploring self-awareness and acceptance. Dr Brene Brown’s research and teachings permeate the entire Wellbeing curriculum provision at Bedales, so it was opportune to task students with watching her two TED talks. Dr Brown is perhaps best known for TEDx talk, The Power of Vulnerability. Recorded at an event in Houston in 2010, the talk is one of the five most popular in TED history, with more than 60 million views. It summarises a decade of Brown’s research on shame, vulnerability and courage.
By Al McConville, Director of Teaching and Innovation
The crucial role of sleep in learning and wellbeing has been much in the press recently. As scientists gradually understand more fully the underlying processes of memory and cognition, it is increasingly clear how central a good night’s sleep is to optimal functioning.
At a recent Friends of Bedales meeting, a group of staff and students presented the latest research on sleep and adolescence, and how it relates to our practice, now, and potentially in the future. What, for example, would the impact of a later start to the school day be…?
I produced a handout sharing some key messages harvested from several books: Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep; Till Roenneberg’s Internal Time; Sarah-Jane Blakemore’s Inventing Ourselves: The Secret Life of the Teenage Brain; and Dan Pink’s When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing.
Sleep is strongly correlated with success in laying down new memories and other elements of cognitive performance, including focus, understanding, speed of processing and problem-solving; age appropriate levels of sleep lead to better memory and optimal cognitive function overall.
During the day we store information in our short-term memory bank, the hippocampus. It needs to be cleared out daily to make space for new memories; that clearing out, or transfer to long-term memory in the cortex, happens primarily at night. Short-term memory capacity is refreshed in proportion to the number of ‘spindles’ that occur during sleep.
There is a strong biological setting in all individuals which dictates their natural waking/sleeping times – chronotypes. It’s not good for you to try and work against this; very little ‘entrainment’ (i.e. getting used to forced alternatives) is possible.
Sleep deprivation is correlated strongly with the full spectrum of mental health issues.
Even a relatively small but regular shortfall of the necessary sleep leads to sleep deprivation indicators.
The most important sleep for strengthening memory and learning (REM sleep) tends to happen at the tail end of the cycle, when the sleep is most ‘spindle-rich’, which is also the bit that is most often cut short.
Teenagers need nine hours’ sleep on average; 8-10 hours is the range. However, their chronotypes shift later by 1-3 hours during adolescence, so their natural bed/wake times shift later.
There is evidence from America in particular that shifting the same start time of schools back leads to improved academic performance. Locally, Alton College (sixth form only) starts at 10am.
Even with enough sleep, there are variations in the cycle as to when we’re most cognitively capable of doing different kinds of work: earlier in the cycle is better for analytical thinking, while later in the cycle is better for more creative, ‘diffuse’ work.
There is a big slump in attentiveness in the early afternoon for most people, adequately slept or not. This is somewhat later for teenagers. We’re ‘bi-phasic’ – people who know when their ‘slump’ is can (ideally) plan less cognitively demanding activities for that period.
Naps perform something of a corrective to sleep deprivation, though are only really a sticking plaster, since a full cycle is necessary to perform all the functions of sleep.
Watch out for alcohol – for memories to be fully, reliably ‘laid down’ takes several days, or rather several sleeps, and alcohol can wipe out new neuronal growth three days after a new memory is formed. Nicotine also reduces the depth of sleep.