This article explains how one school counselor discovered self-care habits and includes 7 ways to take care of yourself.
There was a TV show in the 1980’s called, “The Greatest American Hero.” Aliens gifted a mild-manner teacher, Ralph Hinkley, with a powerful superhero outfit. The problem: he lost the instructions. Ralph clumsily figured out he could fly, only to crash into the sides of buildings as he tried. Every so often he happened upon a new power in the alien garb and fumbled through each time. Eventually, he mastered his newfound skills to fight crime.
Nobody hands you an instruction booklet about you. It’s up to you to figure it out.
What does an ‘80s TV show have to do with self-care? I think each of us has a unique set of self-care habits we need to figure out, just like Ralph figuring out his superhero powers. Running and sand volleyball might be the cornerstone routine for one person, while journaling and reflection suit someone else equally well. Nobody hands you an instruction booklet about you. It’s up to you to figure it out.
Here are seven ways I take care of myself, in no particular order. And, yes, it’s taken me years of practice and lots of “crashes” to figure these out and continue to refine what I do.
Evaluate what to stop doing. I clearly remember a conversation I had with a supervisor in my first year as a school counselor. He explained how you take on a little bit more each year. He was right. It was a natural progression to add a little more to my plate each year. We didn’t talk about how to make it stop.
What I’ve finally learned is how to evaluate what I’m doing from time to time. Keep doing things that make a difference. Stop doing things that do not matter or drain my energy. It’s a process.
Saying no (which I’ve posted about) is another part of this process. Only start things that matter.
Organize my space. For me, a clean desk and well-arranged room energizes and calms me. I didn’t realize how NOT relaxed I was before I KonMaried my life. I hadn’t realized all the little things that went through my head when I entered a room with “to do” piles all over.
Try this: Walk into your office (or any room) and look around. Notice the things that make you happy. Next, notice the things that drain your energy. Eliminate as many energy drainers and “to do’s” as possible.
Arrange things so you, for example, see a photo of a loved one. Decorate a happy, uplifting bulletin board you notice as you walk in. Hang an inspirational quote you can see as you glance up from your desk.
Living things, like plants, give life to a room. The plants don’t even have to be real, I inherited a fake ficus tree from the one-act club and it adds a great touch.
Have a space where you put the things you need to do and then also have space to accomplish them. The goal is to be able to walk into your room and feel positive, while having space to get work done.
Some weeks get busier than others and an incredible amount of paperwork flows into a school counselor’s office. I don’t get down on myself for letting stuff pile up. It’s life. I can be messy too and it’s ok.
Confine technology & media. By this I mean purposefully spending time on technology instead of letting it infiltrate your life every few minutes. I turn off notifications and shut all the tabs in my browser. The only two windows I keep open on my computer are my calendar and Google drive. I check emails two times a day and close it when I’m done.
I start the day technology free, at least I try to. Some of my most focused and productive days have been when I haven’t even looked at a screen until 10am. I leave my phone behind more often than I used to. If someone needs me, they will find me.
Taking a break from news helps me too. I’m not clueless about what’s going on, I just unplug from it more often and don’t seek out videos and tweets about the latest headline.
Eat well, sleep healthy & move. I choose healthier foods, but I don’t put silly rules in place that would cause me to punish myself for eating a croissant. Setting up a routine at night and turning off technology helps me sleep better. Any form of moving around; walking, hiking, biking, running, yoga or even just stretching for a few minutes, has benefits.
I don’t always feel perfect motivation to do any of these things, sometimes I just have to go through the motions.
Talk & listen. Nothing earth-shattering about this. Connect with people in conversation, listen and engage with someone in real life. All the “serious” things that rattle inside my head sound trivial and even kinda silly when I say them out loud. Listening to what someone has to say is equally important. We learned all of these techniques in school counseling master’s programs, right? Funny how it’s so much more difficult when it’s about you.
Read & write. This past year I had an epiphany. I was thinking, “I wish I read more books,” when I realized I could have probably read dozens of novels over the past year instead of thousands of articles and posts online. Duh. So I started reading books. Way more engaging and relaxing than online stuff. If you struggle with focus, I suggest trading the time you spend reading online stuff every day with reading 15 pages of a real book.
There’s a great quote by Joan Didion, “I don’t know what I think until I write it down.” This sums it up for me. Writing has helped me decipher and process events in my day. It’s a mental dumping ground. It doesn’t need to be perfect. If you like the idea of having your text analyzed, check out 750words.com. If you like the feeling of pen to paper, dust off a notebook and just start.
Meditation. This eluded me for years. I didn’t understand it. I tried and tried but it felt like I wanted to think more as I was trying to think less. Once I “cracked the code” on an approach to meditation that worked, it all made sense. There are loads of resources for practicing meditation and lots of different ways to meditate. I suggest trying Headspace.com. The free introduction explained it in a way I could understand. If that doesn’t work for you, be persistent and check out some different approaches. And if it still doesn’t click, so be it.
Self-care doesn’t end with 7 habits. My routine of self-care has evolved as I’ve experienced varying life events. There is no way any of us will have perfect, happy lives. We can’t control world events, let alone family members’ lives or what happens with students. We have control over deciding where to spend time and energy. It’s an ongoing process.
Also, notice I talk about habits of self-care. It’s not a list of 1,000 self-care things to do. Do small things, every day, that accumulate over time and are meaningful to you. No magic pills or instant cures.
As much as any school counselor would love to be gifted a superpower unitard like Ralph, we instead get to have conversations with individuals every day and bring comfort to one child at a time. Hold on to the little moments that bring a wave of relief or a grateful smile. You taking care of yourself means you are showing up healthy and ready for someone else. And isn’t that like being a hero?
Would you like a monthly dose of self-care? Subscribe to the School Counselor Voice.
This post contains Amazon affiliate links.