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Guilty as charged. I’m not good at self-care. One of the ironies of being a school counselor, or a professor of school counseling, is that we often emphasize to others the need for regular self-care. I, like so many, have good intentions about self-care but contribute to “the glorification of busy.”
My particular form of glorification comes from feeling a sense of self worth by being accomplished, scheduled and involved. People often ask me, “How do you do all that you are doing?” I never know how to reply to this and I often stumble with an answer. My “busy” as a school counselor was different from my “busy” as a counselor educator but the “busy-ness” factor was and is there nonetheless. I got, and still get, a lot of positive reinforcement for being “busy” because it is wrapped up in my professional passion, commitment and natural gravitation to things that require leadership and advocacy.
Let me lay down a little truth here for those of you on the front lines. As a school counselor a lot of my “busy” went towards worrying about my students; the constant possibility of dealing with abuse, neglect, suicide, sexual assault, loss, trauma. This, all in addition of course, to trying to educate and promote my role and my program in schools and to colleagues who didn’t always, “get it.” I held a great sense of responsibility for doing the “right thing,” an important characteristic for a school counselor that so many of us have. However, this characteristic can easily morph into a sort of “savior syndrome” that can undo you as a school counselor when you are not paying attention. When I was in this “savior” place and attending less to self-care, my anxiety could be all-consuming, paralyzing even. Sometimes my health would suffer and I would have raging headaches, lose or gain weight, and have difficulty sleeping; it was real and it was a major self-care issue. I can remember ruminating so much about one student in particular that I called his teacher (thank goodness we had a strong working relationship) at 3 o’clock in the morning to review the crisis that had happened that day and make sure she thought I had covered all the bases. This anxiety stuff in our field is no joke and if you are reading this and relating, do yourself a favor, check your self-care and get some help.
Whether it is “busy-ness” of mind or “busy-ness” of calendar, these are some of the things that I have come to rely on to bring me back to a place where I can attend to self-care at much needed times:
Of course eating healthy, exercising and sleeping regularly, and being with friends or family who value you are other strategies that most of us know already.
Ultimately my struggle, and that of so many of us, comes down to finding balance. Self-care then, I think is a goal, an aspiration, not something I’m sure I’ll ever achieve as a final endpoint. And I’m okay with that. I’ll be working on it all of my life. And so will most of us as we struggle to interpret and address the demands of our work, the messages of our society, and the needs of our world.
Author bio: Erin Mason is an assistant professor in the Counseling program at DePaul University. Prior to joining the faculty in 2008, Erin was a Professional School Counselor in Georgia for 13 years. Erin worked in several middle schools in urban, suburban and rural settings, including the two largest districts in the state.