We all know that feeling of loneliness that can catch us by surprise on a random, idle Sunday. Loneliness can be so powerful that it can alter the way we view our work and our life. At times it can leave us in a funk and paradoxically push us further and further away from connecting with anyone – which only exacerbates the inward spiral into a deeper funk. Recently, the media has drawn attention to studies that suggest that the effects of loneliness can be comparable to smoking and obesity. There are even some studies that have found loneliness to be associated with cognitive decline and lower immune functioning. As teachers, we have to be intentional about maintaining our internal sense of social connectedness because teaching can feel quite lonely at times. It’s important to highlight that this is an internal, felt-sense because loneliness is different from being alone. Experts who study the topic of loneliness generally agree that loneliness is about an internal, subjective feeling and not about whether you are physically alone. This is good news for teachers because it means there are specific steps we can take to strengthen our internal, subjective feeling of being connected. Here is some of the collective wisdom and practical advice that OfferingTree has gathered from fellow teachers about reducing the toxicity of loneliness:
Unplug and Re-nature – The more time we spend inside and living within artificial climates (e.g., fluorescent lighting, recycled air, the blue hues of phone and computers screens), the more we can forget our connection to the natural world. Spending even a few minutes a day intentionally hanging out in nature can remind us that we’re not separate from the wider world – there are even some cultures that have adopted this practice as part of a good preventive healthcare system (e.g. “Forest Bathing”).
The Colleague Connection – Even if it’s only one other teacher, the benefit of sharing your experience or being able to ask a question when we’re struggling is invaluable. One of the simplest ways to do this (even if you don’t have a lot of spare time) is to exchange phone numbers with another teacher and then commit to texting each other on a reasonable and regular schedule (e.g., once a week). The text can be short (e.g., “Really tired this week. Had two students say thank you after class that reminded me of why I teach.”). The power of the text isn’t the content rather it’s knowing that a fellow teacher is reading it, witnessing your experience and that they’re there to reply if you’re really feeling stuck or discouraged.
Practice, Practice, Practice – If we wanted to play any musical instrument well, we know that we’d need to practice frequently. This same principle applies to making a sense of connectedness more of our default feeling. We need to frequently practice inclining our mind in this direction. Fortunately, there are centuries-old meditation practices that can help us strengthen the felt-sense of interconnectedness. One of the most common of these practices is loving-kindness and there is a growing base of research supporting its potential benefits.