Back to school.
Sometimes it’s a time of hope and excitement. Sometimes, it’s a time of anxiety and dread.
“Will they like me?”
“What if the work is too much?”
“What if I can’t handle it all this time?”
No, I’m not talking about students – though they are likely experiencing similar emotions. I’m talking to school counselors.
As counselors, we’re not immune to that weird conglomeration of emotions that accompany the back-to-school season. It starts in June when the school supply section goes up in Target.
“How dare they?!” you think.
By the time August rolls around, it’s like every day is a round of the “Sunday Scaries.”
Counselors do a wonderful job of easing students back into the groove of school, but it’s not always so easy on counselors themselves. Inevitably, in the admirable job of trying to serve so many, one may neglect oneself. With the ever-increasing roles, duties, and expectations put upon school counselors, self-care can fall by the wayside.
Trust me. I’ve been there. To be frank, I’m not the biggest fan of the term “self-care.” I feel like it’s been co-opted by the media and influencers into a “treat yourself” ruse to sell products. I’m more of a fan of the term “restorative care.” Restorative care is not always easy, and it’s honestly not always enjoyable, but it’s what we need to engage in to sustain us. As the oft-quoted adage goes, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.”
As a counselor, I know that we’re not always the best at practicing what we preach. As you head back to school this year (and I head into the final year of my doctoral program), here are 10 helpful reminders for you (and for me):
1. You can say no if your plate is too full to take on something new. Boundaries matter.
2. Eat with your health in mind. I’m not saying it’s not ok to indulge now and then but remember that what you put into your body is also what fuels your mind. The mind and body are not separate entities. Drink some water while you’re at it.
3. Get some sleep. Getting something done tonight isn’t worth it if it means you’ll be borrowing from tomorrow’s energy.
4. Move. You don’t have to join CrossFit. Take small steps to increase your physical activity. Park farther away at the grocery store. You’ll increase your step count and decrease the chance that your car will get dinged!
5. Express your needs with assertiveness and respect. It’s easy to fall into the “yes” person role to avoid conflict.
6. Prioritize your relationships outside of school. Your friends and family deserve you at your best too.
7. Engage in hobbies. What is that thing that makes you experience a feeling of flow – when you lose all track of time because you’re so absorbed? Do that thing. Play. Create.
8. Seek out professional development that actually attends to your growing edges. We’ve all sat through professional development presentations in a daze before. Seek out learning opportunities that truly spark your interest.
9. There is absolutely no shame in taking a mental health day. Don’t let your sick days accumulate at the expense of your mental well-being.
10. Seek out your own counseling. We all need a tune-up now and then. If you’re a counselor, you believe in your craft. Why not benefit from being on the receiving end? I’m a firm believer that the best counselors have been clients themselves. Check to see if your health insurance covers some much-needed couch time.
Thank you, school counselors, for all that you do for our young people. I know first-hand that school counselors serve as sources of stability and light for their students. Please take care of yourselves this year. In turn, you’ll be able to provide the best possible care to the students you love.