By Shelbie Ely, Events Committee Task Force Member, American School of Milan, Middle School Counselor
BALANCE. This is a main theme and key word I use often with middle school students and parents when discussing transitions into and out of middle school. Balance with school life and home life. Balance with extracurricular activities and school work. Balance with friendships and social time, and with time for ourselves to rest and recharge.
Oftentimes we get so busy with our everyday agendas and our desire to help others, that we forget to pause and take moments for ourselves so we can enjoy life and do our work in the first place. When we lose sight of our own life balance, we may find ourselves exhausted and approaching, or deep in the middle of, burnout.
As counselors it is important for us to pause, reflect, and reset throughout our school year to keep a healthy balance and be able to model this for our students, families, and others we work with. What better time to place intentionality on this for ourselves and our students than at the start of the new year!
Key identifiers of imbalance
According to an article shared by the resource Verywell Mind, some key identifiers such as becoming emotionally distant from others, physically or emotionally exhausted, change in mood, and unpleasant physical symptoms such as headaches or stomach aches can signal us that things are off-balance (Maintaining Balance in Life, 2022).
The article continues to share ways to prevent or rid burnout that are good reminders as we continue to work within a helping profession. In short, Dr. Elizabeth Scott mentions:
taking a break,
asking for help,
learning ways to cope with stress,
taking care of your physical health,
and doing things you enjoy as just a few ways to keep a healthy life balance (Maintaining Balance in Life, 2022).
Ideas for how to maintain balance
Another article written by Amy Rees Anderson for Forbes titled “The Importance of Having Balance in our Lives” shares many ideas for how to maintain this balance, most of which we know as self-care practices (2016). This is my 12th year as a school counselor and I have found that reflecting and resetting throughout the year and being intentional with self-care is crucial to my stamina at work, living a well-balanced life, and my overall wellbeing. I try my best to maintain a healthy balance throughout the year, but I am also realistic in knowing that I am human and far from perfect at doing this.
I have found that being intentional with times to pause and reflect on what is working or not working for me is most helpful.
Times to pause, reflect and reset
Some main “pause, reflect, and reset” times for me are before the school year begins, during the longer holiday breaks, and as the school year comes to an end. At each of these periods I take time to:
Write out an intentional self-care plan that includes lists of activities or moments that bring me joy, help me to grow in knowledge, get me moving, or allow me to rest and reflect
Look at my lists of ideas and identify at least one thing I can do each day. It may be a new hobby, reading a good book, or going for a run
Create a daily routine with “self-care” time embedded into it
Plan out my entire week and put certain things in consistently, like yoga before bed
I find that when I am intentional about taking care of myself and filling my soul with joyful things and moments, I am more energized and better equipped to do my job well.
How you can help students practice self-care
Each year I bring focus with my students on the importance of balance and self-care, while juggling all there is to being a student.
At the start of the year in September, we focus on time management and organization, as most school-aged students need continual reminders and practice with their executive functioning skills, which can help in creating balance.
As the year progresses, we have lessons and activities focused on self-care practices and mental health awareness. I’ll use these times to teach some experiential self-care practices (such as mindfulness techniques, meditation, guided imagery, etc.) and encourage students to create their own balanced self-care plans.
This year, we have a self-care bingo challenge over the long winter break. I am looking forward to hearing what practices my students found helpful for them that they hope to consistently add to their everyday routines.
Below and linked are a few additional resources and lesson plans I hope will be helpful for you as you continue in your own self-care journey and in teaching and modeling it for others!
Anderson, A. R. (2016, May 31). The Importance Of Having Balance In Our Lives. Forbes.https://www.forbes.com/sites/amyanderson/2016/05/31/the-importance-of-having-balance-in-our-lives/?sh=25401ee52a93
Scott, E. (2022, June 15). Maintaining Balance in Life. Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/maintaining-balance-in-your-lifestyle-3144738
For additional resources for self-care practices for counselors and students, please click here.