As I have mentioned before, so many of my students have anxiety. Mindfulness was introduced to them as a tool to help in stressful situations. My goal has been to give them a tool box when it comes to mindfulness so that they are able to use what helps them the best because I know that they are all very unique in their worries.
One exercise that we completed this year was titled “Wacky Thoughts vs. Realistic Thoughts”. I started the class by telling the students that I was really stressed out because I had received a call from the principal’s secretary and she let me know that I was to report to the principal’s office immediately after school. I was terrified and thought for sure that I was being fired. I could see the panic in the faces of some of my students as they heard the details of my story. I described feeling like my heart was racing and that I was sweating. I was a bit dizzy with fear.
I then decided to have a conversation with the students where I would talk through what I was thinking in my head. I was thinking about how I while I was afraid of getting fired, I really could not think of anything that I had done recently that would warrant being let go. I had turned in all of my report cards and they were approved. I had not missed any meetings or days recently. I could not think of any incidents with students or parents that had ever happened. This made me think that maybe it was not as bad as I had thought.
I then started to think about what I know about meetings with my principal. I had many meetings with him in the past and he has always been kind. He has never gotten mad and never even threatened to fire someone as far as I knew. I was starting to feel better about this situation and I could feel my blood pressure lower and was feeling a better sense of calm.
I shared with the students that I would let them know what happened tomorrow. However, I also passed out a paper that had a visual of a thermometer on it. We talked about how I had started at a “10” on my worry meter when I received the call. We talked about what that looks like and feels like for each of us. Some students admitted that they sometimes feel this way in certain situations, but don’t often get that worried. Others stated that they immediately go to a “10” in many situations. We discussed how reacting this way could harm us physically and how walking through the scenario the way that I did is helpful. Stopping to consider what we know already about a situation is key because most of the time it helps us to realize that we may be over worrying or only thinking about the worst case scenario. We also talked about what would happen if it was true that I would be fired. Would it be bad..yes! Would it be the end of the world..no! Life happens and it is all about how you react to it.
I left the students with their worry meters to use as a visual reminder to think about things when they worry. I also have them another visual of two clouds. One was labeled “Wacky Thought” and the other was labeled “Realistic Thought”. This was to remind them that sometimes the thoughts or stories that we create about a situation can be wacky and over exaggerated. When we take the time to be mindful and think of things rationally, we can see that things are not so bad. In my situation, it was much more realistic to think that my principal just wanted to share an idea with me or ask me a question about something I was teaching. I had never had a bad experience with him yet and I don’t know why it would be different this time.
I have heard from a number of students who have said that they leave the two sheets that I gave them in their binders or in their bedrooms as a reminder to stop and think realistically about situations when they are worried. Many have been about to talk themselves down and relax. We revisited this exercise just last week with the start of final exams because so many of the students were new to exams and were very worried that they would not do well. We talked ourselves through how they had taken tests during the year and done well. Why would these tests be any different?
As for me, I was not fired. My principal actually just wanted to share a book with me. It was one about mindfulness. He is very supportive of this initiative in my classroom and had many resources on the topic. All of that worry for nothing!