Unfortunately, school counselors are no strangers to burnout. From difficult students to disgruntled parents, school counselors face a variety of unique challenges each day that can often leave them feeling stressed and fatigued.
Sound all too familiar? As a school counselor, you may sometimes be so focused on trying to help others succeed that you neglect your own well-being. But in order to avoid burnout, it’s critical to be proactive about protecting your own mental health. Here are some simple steps you can take to help manage stress and boost your own morale for the long-haul of your career.
Take care of yourself
When feeling overwhelmed, people often put their own needs on the back burner and allow sleep, exercise and healthy eating to fall by the wayside. However, these habits can make a huge difference, especially during stressful times.
“It’s important for school counselors to take care of themselves,” says Mary Ann Mariani, the director of school counseling at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts. “In order to keep helping other people, you need to feel like you have the resources to handle it.”
Creating balance in your life can also help you stay positive. “Take a mental break, find some time to play and allow yourself space to do something that’s not work,” says Karen Carone-Heaney, a veteran school counselor based in New York with more than 20 years of experience under her belt.
Carone-Heaney suggests doing some yoga, working out, taking a walk, having a quiet lunch or volunteering at an organization you love. “These activities will allow you to return to work with a fresh mind,” she says.
Create boundaries and set realistic goals
Be careful about spreading yourself too thin. Recognizing and respecting your own limits as a human being can help you stay sane.
“When I first started my career, I wanted to be everything to everybody,” Carone-Heaney says. But in her experience, that kind of attitude can set you up for repeated frustration.
Instead of trying to please everyone all the time, learn how to say no gracefully and pull back from over committing. “It helps to create boundaries,” Carone-Heaney says. “If someone in your family comes to you with a problem but you just don’t have time for it, say, ‘I’d like to help you right now, but I have to do x, y, and z, and I’ll get back to you later.’”
Seek out professional development opportunities
Taking advantage of professional development opportunities can help you become more knowledgeable, capable and engaged. Mariani recommends joining an association where you can learn from other professionals in your field.
“It’s helpful to know you aren’t alone and to find out how other school counselors handle things,” Mariani says. “You can figure out what to worry about and what not to worry about. This often comes with experience, but by connecting with other school counselors you can learn from their experience too.”
Signing up for a workshop, taking a class at a local college or joining an organization are all great ways to increase your knowledge base. “Honing your skills will allow you to do your work more efficiently,” Carone-Heaney says. “When you gain more expertise, you will feel more competent and confident as well.”
Try to become more involved with the decision-making process in your school. If you can, volunteer for a committee. Speaking up about important issues can empower you to solve problems and improve your own working environment.
Stay positive and have a sense of humor
Instead of dwelling on mistakes, focus on your strengths. “Think about the highlights of the day,” Mariani says.
Above all, never underestimate the importance of humor. “Laughing changes your whole physiology," says Mariani. "Smiling changes your chemical makeup. Relaxing and taking deep breaths reduces stress.”
So find ways to lighten up and invite more laughter into your life. Spend time with your family. Let yourself relax.
“Don’t take yourself too seriously,” Carone-Heaney says. “Humor goes a long way, especially in helping professions.”
Sarah Nagel is lucky to live in beautiful Boulder, Colo. She works as an editor by day and a freelance writer by night.