Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Meditate on This

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Meditate on This

Article excerpt

Recently I've been suffering from what psychologists call "intrusive thoughts". They break in during the night and hang around my hippocampus, kicking the skirting boards and rattling the doors.

In the wee small hours it's amazing how quickly a few niggling doubts can escalate into a flood of self-reproach. During an intrusive episode, every aspect of my character - my prowess as teacher, wife, mother and Debenhams store-card holder - is measured against some unrealistic ideal and found acutely wanting. By the time the alarm goes off, my self-esteem is lower than the front end of my old Citroën Berlingo.

I checked out the anxiety section of the NHS website, which suggests picturing your thoughts as leaves floating down a river. It doesn't work for me. They float along for a bit but then get snagged in the branches of a fallen tree or trapped behind the bloated body of a dead sheep. The only remedy is to get out of bed and make a cup of tea. That gets rid of the dead sheep, even if the feelings of inadequacy remain.

I suspect that being a teacher makes the self-loathing worse. When you're taught to spend every waking minute reflecting on how you could be better, it's no wonder you can't stop at bedtime. But the increased prevalence of books, apps, DVDs and T-shirts on coping with stress indicates that we're not alone in our anxieties. It seems that we are all prone to thinking the same destructive thoughts: that no one likes us, that we're really no good and that one day we'll be found out.

Or, in the more extreme cases, that our families will die of Ebola, that our coughs indicate cancer and that a newly qualified teacher from the design and technology department will write on our new smartboard with a permanent marker. …

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