Reality strikes. Christmas is over and the new year has begun. Your alarm will go off and the work day will begin. And while I know you love school counseling, the idea of having to return to work strikes a terror. You think about the emotional states of your students. You feel the effects of the irregular sleep patterns, overeating, and maybe even over drinking this holiday season. You think about that coworker you have to face who was on your last nerve in 2018. Not to mention your “to do” list.
Coming back to work can be emotionally taxing. I remember my first year as a school counselor how excited I was to return to work. I couldn’t wait to start the new year with my students. I went around asking many of my them how their winter break was. While “good” was a common response, more often than not I heard “boring” or “bad”. Many of my students enter challenging emotional states during their winter break. Mental illness, boredom, and conflict don’t go away just because of a school break. In fact, two-weeks sitting in apartments or playing video games or even surmounts of unstructured time can lead to an uneasy state of emotional distress. Further, the holidays are hard, especially for low income families. And for other students, the idea of returning to school is as bad as an adult crashing their brand new Tesla. Last year I returned to two student hospitalizations due to mental illness and one student whose anxiety was escalated to the point that attending school was not going to happen. It’s the reality. Anxiety and depression are high at the return of winter break. And as the school counselor, I am the one who must be prepared for it.
This year I am taking the following five measures to be an effective and efficient school counselor after an amazing winter break.
- I Am Challenging “Hot Thoughts”. So Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, I know! But I very much relate to the theory that thoughts, feelings and actions are strongly interrelated. Put simply, our thoughts strongly influence our mood and what we do. The good news is that they can be challenged. And we can think in more constructive ways. A “hot thought” is a thought that brings about a surge of negative feelings. It is often biased or based on inaccurate information. It is these hot thoughts that I am going to work on challenging by forming new, helpful, and positive thoughts. For example, the hot thought I had today was “I am going to be so overwhelmed when I return to work” which almost immediately resulted in an anxious feeling. In good practice, I then argued with that hot thought by looking for exceptions or other ways of viewing the thought. There were two thoughts that challenged my hot thought. First, “I won’t be overwhelmed because I have a plan on how to tackle the projects I need to do this month.” And second of all, “I won’t be overwhelmed because I have handled almost any situation that could arise before.” My anxiety was reduced significantly, affirming that challenging hot thoughts works for me. While it takes time for me to recognize some of my reoccurring and negative thinking patterns and develop challenging thoughts, putting this into practice now is helpful.
- I Am Giving Myself Time to Relax. These last few days of break I am giving myself time to relax- like really relax. This does not mean I am staying home to clean house or tackle in-home projects or plan another holiday party. This means I am truly relaxing- my mind and body are calm. For me, this means creating an atmosphere that is conducive to controlling the thoughts that come in and out of my mind. Calming music, lit candles, meditation, baths, journaling, and reading are all things that help bring my mind and body to this calm state. While I happen to have the time to do this, some of you with young children or who are travelling may not. But even if 1-2 days is not possible, be sure to carve out a few hours to chill. Pick out some calming activities and relax.
- I Am Focusing on My Sleeping Patterns. I am going to make a special effort to enforce strict sleeping patterns a couple nights before I return to work. All of break I have been staying up late and sleeping in. This is the opposite of my normal 9:30 pm on the dot bedtime and 5:50am alarm. The truth is, I am actually not a night owl. In fact, my body needs more sleep than the average person. I actually need 8-9 hours asleep per night to be functional and sometimes a nap on top of that. I know that I need to get my whacky sleep patterns back on track so that I can be awake for my return.
- I Am Calendaring My Personal Life. Having a type A personality, I function better when I map out my social life and personal achievements in a planner. In 2018 I used the Commit 30 planner and did not hesitate to purchase another one for the year 2019. It’s essentially a goal setting planner where I can document my commitments, goals, and inspirations on a yearly, monthly, weekly, and daily basis. I use the planner as an accountability tool. If I write it down, I am going to do it. By having my personal life mapped out, it allows me to compartmentalize work from personal life and vice versa.
- I Am Preparing What I Eat. My final measure to tackle is food preparation. I feel better and am by far a better person mood wise when I am eating healthy. And eating healthy requires food preparation. To be an effective school counselor, I need to have a solid nutritious breakfast and a solid nutritious lunch. This means eating enough food high in nutrients that keeps my energy levels high. Further, I need to have a delicious meal planned out for when I come home exhausted. To do this I am taking the last couple days of my break to map out my meals, grocery shop, and prepared the meals. I am especially excited to prepare my vermicelli bowls for lunchtime.