There is little doubt that many of us feel the heavy weight of coronavirus-induced stress and anxiety despite our efforts in donning masks and becoming experts on optimal preventative protocols to ward off “the ‘Rona.” As we deal with this pandemic, our lives and livelihood are strewn into the unknown: The College Board and ACT scheduling is like a whack-a-mole game, school admissions are becoming test-optional overnight, and in-person learning is uncertain and politicized. Throw into the mix, now, almost 5 months of ‘social distancing,’ shelter-in-place, and mask requirements in public spaces, all of which were completely alien concepts to us before this pandemic. Anyone of us can understandably feel worried, disregulated, and isolated.
As we slide into this new normal, here are my top 10 recommendations that a tutor can integrate to counter this chaos and show up for your students focused, refreshed, and on your A-game. Experiment with these tools or experiences each day of the week, and then share with your students if you feel they need some extra support.
1. Back to Basics: Eating Well, Exercise, and Sleeping!
These three gems require little explanation, as these are the backbone of optimal health, whether it’s during an epidemic or any personal challenge. Stay away from processed food and eat healthy seasonal, organic, and local foods. Can’t get to the grocery store or plant a garden? There are CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) in many communities and a plethora of delivery options available.
Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise each day. A quick half-hour of movement, whether it be yoga, dancing, or just taking a walk through the neighborhood will not only enhance your physical health, but also increase your energy levels, alleviate stress and anxiety, and improve memory and sleep. You can also do virtual workouts with friends, yoga, dance, or online video tutorials—anything to get your body moving. Get creative and choose which activity you enjoy most!
Sleep 7-8 hours a night, or whatever is your regular number of hours you need to feel focused and refreshed the next day. You may become sluggish when you over- or undersleep. A good night’s sleep is necessary to start the day off right and provide you with the boost of energy needed to engage with your students.
2. Create Dedicated Space to Work
If you’re not commuting to the office, having a dedicated workspace will help anchor it as a place for you to focus and cue your mind to get ready to get work done, providing some order and structure in the uncertainty of shelter-in-place. If possible, consider placing your line of vision towards the door with your back towards a window to allow natural sunlight to shine on your work. Check out Feng Shui to promote positive energy “flow” and abundance.
3. Upgrade your Schedule
Part of the challenge for all of us—tutors and students alike—is navigating things out of our control while addressing things we do have control over. For many of us, more time at home with such reduced variation of movement or activity has the effect of time feeling less defined. Consider peppering your schedule with the following activities, and be specific about work hours and time to practice self-care:
- Continuing your education, through classes, instructional videos, or cultural events you’d be interested in exploring, either personally or professionally. With the internet, the options are endless!
- More Fresh Air and Movement! Try walks in the neighborhood
- Learn a new hobby! Garden, paint, play an instrument—the possibilities are endless.
- Down Time—Give yourself time off!
Allowing yourself to rest and participate in activities you enjoy will break up the monotony of shelter-in-place, leaving you feeling energized and ready to work with your student—and on your business!
4. Track your Emotional Landscape
Our students aren’t the only ones affected by the pandemic, a volatile election season, and the awakenings of our society advocating for much-needed broad social justice reform. Take a step back to look inward into what impact these changes have on you and notice whether you are feeling any unusual emotional shifts or exhibiting stress symptoms. Develop a strategy to address these by first feeling self-compassion. Take time to consider what your responses or symptoms reveal to you. This is a time of self-reflection. You can take this a step further if needed by incorporating various holistic modalities such as hypnosis, Neuro-linguistic coaching, Emotional Freedom Technique, and more. And you can do all of this remotely DIY, through videos or with a professional.
5. Nurturing Social Relationships!
Happy people are successful at socializing. While now is not the time for grabbing a brew with your buddies, it is easy to connect with friends and family through a virtual platform. You can even mix it up! Have dinner with family, organize watch-parties online, and check out different games to play with friends. Test Prep Tribe Friday happy hours are a great place to blow steam, find resources, and socialize with peers in the same field who are also going through the pandemic.
6. Begin a Mindful Meditation Practice
When there are distractions and outside influences that rattle your brain, the practice of being present and focused helps in whatever situation you may find yourself in. If you want to share what you gain from meditation with your students, make sure they have enough time to reap the benefits. Friend and colleague, Dr. Elise Bialylew, founder of Mindful in May, discovered through her own research that “just ten minutes a day of mindfulness meditation over one month was enough to support more positive emotions, reduce stress, increase self-compassion and strengthen focus in daily life.” (https://thriveglobal.com/stories/meditate-to-feel-the-benefits/) We got the time! So here is a quick primer in getting started:
Set aside 10 minutes, where you can sit comfortably, undisturbed and undistracted. Set your timer. With your eyes either closed or looking at an object (i.e. a candle flame, the clouds, your hands… anything!) focus on the in-and-out of your breath. As your mind wanders, as it will, refocus back on your breathing.
7. Heart Breathing for Calm and Focus
HeartMath offers a breathing technique that empowers individuals to attain a more calm and embodied experience. This heart-focused breathing is a conscious meditation that promotes breathing a little more deeply and thoughtfully than usual. Your aim is to keep your breathing smooth, unforced, and comfortable to establish a natural rhythm. Use HeartMath breathing when you want to feel more engaged and grounded. It helps to regulate your emotions and physical responses to stress, anxiety, and other unwanted emotions that may negatively impact your performance. It’s fast and you can do it anywhere! Learn it for yourself and teach your students who are headed into admissions tests. It’s a powerful tool to ground and become more effective and aware in whatever you’re doing.
Here are the directions:
- Stand or sit comfortably, facing forward.
- Find a focal point in front of you and stay focused on the entire time.
- Put your hand on your heart.
- Focus on your breathing and imagine that each inhale and exhale is emanating from your heart and is reaching your focal point.
- Take 5 – 6 seconds for each inhaled and exhaled breath.
- Do this for up to 5 minutes.
- Use when you need extra grounding and want to stay present.
HeartMath breathing for just a few seconds will make a difference.
8. Spend Time in Nature
Fresh air, sunlight, and communing with foliage and wildlife are great for the spirit. I’ve noticed on my walks that I’m able to track the blackberry cycle and new plant growth and I’m able to identify the bucks that are visiting my backyard now! Breathing fresh air and shifting your perspective away from your challenges toward the serenity of nature are perfect for physically refreshing yourself. Clearing your mind this way primes you for accessing your best cognition and top performance when you need to be present and focused for your students.
9. Listen to the Music that Helps you Achieve your Desired State!
Need more energy, perseverance, or want to feel happier? Identify which singer, music genre, or band gets you there. Need to relax and focus? Listen to our Full Potential Audio binaural beat 30-minute track while meditating or doing work, here. Music has the amazing potential to transport us emotionally, and that might be exactly what you would benefit from, right now.
10. Find Humor, and Laugh Every Day
Whether it’s COVID-19 memes or a Late Night talk shows that are broadcast from the hosts’ homes, be sure to get laughter into your week. Life is extremely serious right now, and counteracting it’s darkness with humor—dark or light—is simply good for your well being It’s a great and easy way to relieve stress, help your muscles relax, and release endorphins… and it just feels good!
Any and all of these protocols can set up all of us (and our students) for success, fully ready to confront and thrive in our surreal reality.
Bara Sapir, MA, CHt, CNLP, MBSR-T is Founder/CEO of City Test Prep, a test preparation company that incorporates holistic and mindful tools into the test preparation training. As a 20+-year veteran of the test-prep business, she lectures and conducts workshops for students, parents, educators, business people, and creative professionals seeking high-performance results at school, work, and in life. She is bicoastal, lives with her rescue pup, Chata, and has taken up gardening during shelter-in-place.