As high school counselors, we are helpers who feel like we need permission to engage in self-care. We’re so much more likely to be preaching self-care tips to everyone but ourselves!
Maybe it’s because self-care is such a buzzword right now, and we hear it the most in our industry. Maybe it’s because we truly do want our students to be the healthiest versions of themselves, so we give our every last effort to help them get there. A lie I tell myself is that if my time is not being spent (how I deem it) effectively or efficiently, then it’s just a waste of time altogether. This is just not the case!
Self-care is important in our personal and professional lives if we want to sustain a healthy balance in a helping profession like high school counseling. Here are 4 self-care tips for when you’re feeling exhausted or burnt out as a high school counselor.
1- Self-Care Tip #1: Use Your Days Off
I want to shout this one from the mountain tops! There are no trophies for perfect attendance. (Okay, even if your school did do this… would it be worth it? My answer is still “NO.”)
Map out your days off for the year if you know you have events that you want to use them for or time that you want to skip out of town. Putting something on the calendar will give you something to look forward to and give you an opportunity to plan your work schedule around your personal life schedule. You could also save some for spontaneity when you feel like you just need the time to yourself the most.
When you use your days off, be sure to turn your email off of your phone. You are not being paid for the hours when you are not at work, so you don’t need to feel bad about being completely off the clock (not to mention the ethical and legal issues that come with being connected 24/7). Emails can be answered later, and people can still continue to make appointments with you. If you’ll be out for an extended period of time, consider changing your voicemail to let students, parents, or families know that you’ll return calls when you’re back in the office.
If it eases your nerves to touch base with everyone before you’re out, have a quick meeting with the administrator you know may text you on your day off-campus. Set up your boundaries to let them know you’re taking the day for your own self-care. If there is anything they need from you before you go, they can establish that ahead of time.
2- Self-Care Tip #2: Stop Running on Adrenaline
Our job as high school counselors seems completely unpredictable most days. That’s why this self-care tip seems easier said than done: stop running on adrenaline. When you don’t know what’s around the corner, it’s easy to end up running on fumes without even noticing.
“Control the controllables,” and be okay with things not going as planned. It’s part of the fun, right?! This will get easier the longer you’re in this career (and it, honestly, is probably easier for some personality types more than others).
Read your body’s signs and take action when needed. When it’s time to slow down, listen to it.
Take care of the physical needs that your body has. Drink water throughout the day (and not just coffee). Excuse yourself for a bathroom break. Carve out time for lunch. (Put it on your calendar if you have to! Schedule it with a co-counselor or a friend at school who you enjoy spending time with!) Take a minute to laugh with a friend at work. It’s allowed- I promise! Lastly, get enough sleep at night! Your work does NOT need to be your complete world and only focus. There are other people who need you at your best, too (like your family and friends)!
Instead of feeling tired, exhausted, unnoticed, or invisible, you may feel refreshed and reinspired once you start listening to what your body needs!
3- Self-Care Tip #3: Reflect on Your “Why”
Do you love caring for students when others don’t seem to? Are you good at rooting for the underdog and equipping students in unique ways (communicating with others, managing emotions, inspiring their academics)? Is it important to you that your high school students are prepared for their post-secondary dreams? Is your “why” because you had an amazing educator pour into your life, and you want to be that for someone else?
I bet you are some combination of these and a few other amazing and meaningful reasons. Maybe you need to think back to your original why. If you need to get inspired again, flip through a folder of old thank you notes from students (and if you don’t have one- PLEASE STOP right now and create one). I am certain this will get you back on track to changing your mindset again.
4- Self-Care Tip #4: Give or Receive a Pep Talk
Take your “why” from self-care tip #3, and use it as the basis for self-care tip #4 as you give yourself a pep talk. Write it down, and keep it somewhere safe when you need it most. This can do wonders when you feel like you’re not making the impact you had hoped to make. Give yourself grace because you cannot and will not be able to help or motivate every student to reach their goals.
If you need a pep talk from someone who is not you and who does “get it,” consider finding a quality high school counselor community who can speak into your frustrations, your hopes, and your dreams. (Get on the waitlist for when I open doors to the Clique Collaborative next!)
If you don’t have someone nearby who you know can cheer you up or speak words of affirmation over you, imagine yourself back at the beginning. What words would your past-self love to hear from an experienced counselor like current-you? You’ve come so far since you were a new counselor who knew nothing! The most moving thing of all? You’re in this because you love students. I have no doubt about that.
Challenege yourself to use these 4 self-care tips to sustain yourself in this career! Download this free Self-Care Goal Sheet, and set a self-care goal in six different categories. Counselor self-care was a discussion topic inside my monthly high school counseling membership, the Clique Collaborative! Add your name to the waitlist for when doors open next!