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The power of a pause


December 10, 2019 Mary Frances Fitzgerald, ATA Council of School Counsellors


Colleagues, the fierce energy and dedication we have been using this school year need to go on pause for one minute, a morning, one day, a few days, a week or even longer. The outer noises of politics, schedules, expectations, celebrations, academics, hustle and bustle need to soften into silence. We need to pause, regroup and be still.

Pausing is a simple act, yet we find it hard to do. In positive psychology, one might call a pause an act of mindfulness, which simply means we are recognizing our brain and body chatter. We need to deactivate our overstimulated nervous systems, articulate and minimize our distressing thinking patterns and find an anchor in the art of the pause. Recognizing the chatter is simply metacognition, the act of observing our thinking patterns that yearn for space, quiet or at least a decrescendo. Metacognition allows the brain to build capacity to pay attention to our thoughts, feelings and actions.

When we stop to notice our thinking, we are taking a natural pause, yet we might not recognize the thinking patterns we are using on a constant basis. 

We need to deactivate our overstimulated nervous systems, articulate and minimize our distressing thinking patterns and find an anchor in the art of the pause.. 


Let us take a moment to focus on a few patterns that cause distress, and if we start to recognize our patterns, when under less stress during the holidays, we may learn to replace the thinking with a powerful rejuvenating pause.

One distressing pattern is “all or nothing” or “black and white” thinking, which makes no allowances for grey. This can cause distress because answers are not always “this or that” or “yes and no.” Our lived experiences have shown us that there are multiple layers to any situation.

A companion to all-or-nothing thinking is overgeneralizing. This is characterized by statements such as “all teachers are worried for their future,” which may, in reality, not be true.

If we pause, we may check our inner chatter and find that our thinking is black or white or overgeneralized and understand this thinking is not accurate. It is the act of naming your thinking style that is mindful and certainly worthy of a pause.

Another common pattern is jumping to conclusions, which involves mind reading, fortune telling or magical thinking — you might find yourself thinking you know what another person is thinking. For example, to this day, if I am called to a visit with the principal, I jump to conclusions and my inner chatter starts yelling a list of potential failings. This is usually accompanied by butterflies in my stomach. This is sometimes humorous for me, as in my training I know how to name and counteract my negative thinking; however, I still find myself in this uneasy predicament. After I name my negative thought pattern and tell myself I am jumping to conclusions, I then must check for the truth of my thinking. Thinking about one’s thinking is not always easy, and I work on my pauses through the process.

Your pause may offer opportunities to absorb rejuvenation in tiny bursts, like feeling the sun’s warmth on your face, observing the natural laughter of children, hearing the crunch of your boots on fresh snow, smelling the fragrance of a spruce tree or recognizing the gustatory joy of festive bites.

During the holidays, the pause allows us to wax nostalgic, connect with our grief and joy while we sparkle in our moments of hope. Yes, there are very real hard and harsh situations in our world, in Alberta and possibly in our homes. The gifts we can give to ourselves are self-compassion, self-kindness and self-worth. During your holidays you should reflect and recognize all that you have accomplished, endured and made possible for yourself, your families, your students and your world.

Teachers, we certainly understand how to give care, comfort and compassion to others, but most often we forget to give it to ourselves. The holidays give you opportunity for self care. May you find the joy of rest, a good sleep, a few moments without noise. May you feel a quiet contentment, a moment of equanimity and the delight of hope. May you refresh your need for peace and gratitude.

And remember: give yourself the gift of a pause. ❚

Mary Frances Fitzgerald is a long-time school counsellor who now works as a consultant to reduce stigma, create awareness and build capacity regarding mental health and social justice issues. She is vice-president of the ATA’s Council of School Counsellors.

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