This article originally appeared in the American College Application Campaign (ACAC) February 2021 newsletter.
As we transition into the winter months after an extraordinarily challenging year, this is the time for us to all take in a deep breath and focus on some self-care. By giving yourself the freedom to check your own mental and physical health, it serves as a springboard for you to do the same for those you lead and serve. January can truly lead us into a season of being more tired than we anticipated. So many are juggling a heavy load during this time: buttoning up “to do” items from the fall semester, implementing new initiatives, building plans for the remainder of the spring semester, starting fall planning for the next academic year, and, oh yeah, meeting the needs of our students. It can be a lot. February represents a time for us to slow down and conduct an “oxygen check” on our individual personal health and well-being.
One of the best tools you can place in your counselor toolkit is one of self-monitoring and self-care. In September 2020, Education Week shared an article by Peter DeWitt, “Educators, Don’t Forget About Your Own Mental Health” which outlines not only the pandemic’s effect on student mental health, but also highlights the pandemic’s effects on us as educators, and how we can manage our own stress, anxiety, and fatigue. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation illustrates how teaching and counseling are very demanding jobs, but there are ways to mitigate the pressure of these roles. We know from research at Leeds Beckett University that our general well-being is directly connected to student progress and success. And experience tells us that students pick up on our stress, fatigue, and feelings of being overwhelmed. These are all normal things. But they can also be amplified in student counseling settings, and inadvertently hurt the students we seek to serve. Of course, this is furthest from what any of us want to happen.
Let me share a short personal story to illustrate the point. I experienced a very difficult period as a college counselor a few years back which has helped me bring into focus the true importance of self-care and well managed mental health. As I personally pushed through a series of traumatic losses personally, and my “work family” lost two students to unnatural causes in a matter of one month initially I didn’t realize how the situation was affecting me. Both of these beautiful young ladies were 20 years old at the time and had their entire lives in front of them, and their absence left a dramatic effect on our school community. My team was reeling. Our alumni community was deeply hurt. And so was I. It was at that point in my professional career that I truly started to realize that my counseling work at school could not be completely separated from my personal life, and vice versa. This meant I needed to be more deliberate with my self-care and work-life balance, and I also needed to help my team do same. Critical to our student success was our ability to “keep our oxygen masks on.”
Recently The 74 published an article titled “How My Chicago Collaborative Supports Social-Emotional Health of Students, Teachers & Families Amid Online Learning and COVID Stress,” highlighting how critical it is that we remain mindful of students who suffer from chronic stress and trauma. The article points out how our students may be feeling “during times of uncertainty and disruption” and that “our students may feel a sense of loss, grief, anxiety, and depression.” The article also shines a light on the need for a collaborative approach to meeting the emerging needs of students and laying out a few simple steps for educators to embrace in prioritizing self-care:
- connect with other people;
- exercise regularly;
- make time to unwind;
- take breaks from the news; and
- separate what you can and can’t control.
I found the article useful in reminding me of the educator’s role in assisting students at this time while also giving me some clear guidance for how I can continue to wear my own oxygen mask. Just as we can benefit from these reminders and guidance, so can students. To that end, myOptions provides a handful of micro articles that you can share with students to help them self monitor and self care. These articles are freely accessible to all, even without a myOptions student account:
Just as we can benefit from these reminders and guidance, so can students. To that end, myOptions provides a handful of micro articles that you can share with students to help them self monitor and self care. These articles are freely accessible to all, even without a myOptions student account:
Our work is tough. We are building our future communities and world, one student at a time. We must care for ourselves, so we are in a better position to serve and lead those around us. It is so easy to get caught up in the work. So, I want to take this moment to remind you – before you sprint into your next quarter of work, take the time to first put on your oxygen mask so you can help others with theirs.