Primary teacher Vikki Rhodes shares how she makes time to care for her own wellbeing by walking with her friend, and by attending weekly Zumba classes.

Making room for ‘me time’

I spent 25 years working an hour’s drive from home leaving very little room for ‘me time’. I left in the dark, returned in the dark and then launched immediately into preparing dinner, marking papers and collapsing into bed before starting it all over again. My wellbeing was only kept in the black by coaching Primary School Sports Association (PSSA) teams and being part of our school’s amazing choirs. A change in executive saw those opportunities reallocated and my 10-hour days at school became 10-hour days in the classroom. Suddenly, my wellbeing was in the red.

It took a friend’s remark one evening to shock me into action. Liz looked at me as I tumbled out of the car and said ‘My god Vikki! You look awful! Are you sick?’ Luckily I like her, because I took the comment as it was intended! My family had been on at me to make a change for a long time, so I made a couple of big decisions; I took leave from my permanent position to try for work closer to home and I started making ‘me time’.

Despite playing, coaching and refereeing soccer for over eight years, I’ve never enjoyed running. In fact, these days I only run if I’m late for a train! But I do need to move to keep stress at bay. Walking at a brisk pace is my stress release and I’m lucky to live at the top of the beautiful Blue Mountains in New South Wales, where walking is safe and easy.

My friend Liz walks her dog, Dewey, twice a day, every day, so I took the bold step of inviting myself on those walks. I can’t manage it on school days, but weekends and holidays I hit it with a vengeance. We walk in the sun, rain, wind and snow! An hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon and we solve all the big issues of the world – and many of the small ones too! We meet lots of other dog families as well as bushwalkers and tourists.

Because we have Dewey, we can only walk to the edge of Evans Lookout in the morning, but in the afternoons we do a loop of Blackheath and often stop to play in the dog park or on the oval. Dewey loves a ball and because I bring the ball, he loves me! I have to say Dewey time is so good for the soul!

I love my walks with Liz and Dewey, because apart from having made a truly deep friendship, we stay fit, we breathe the fresh air and connect with our community. During last year’s lockdown it was so important to me to feel like I was part of our community because I was separated from my two sons and my daughter-in-law. Zoom and FaceTime are no substitute for a hug or a meal together!

In late 2019, I started doing Zumba once a week too. Now, despite loving to dance, I have very little coordination, so it’s a bonus that the gorgeous Karina turns the lights off! I have lots of laughs while dancing off the stress of the day and get a major workout at the same time. I often wish I could do Zumba twice a week, but I don’t think my old bones would cope!

I think the deep breathing I do with Zumba and walking is the most beneficial for me and, on reflection, I realise that’s what I used to get when singing and coaching my PSSA teams. When I’m stressed or anxious, my breathing tends to become very shallow; in fact, my Apple Watch is constantly reminding me to breathe. I’m the worst type of convert though – whenever my colleagues say they’re stressed, I give them a lecture about the benefits of ‘me time’! I’ll never look back now!

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