If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it 400 times: “Take care of yourself or you’ll burn yourself out.” So let me take a minute and be #401 to pass along the message.
Take care of yourself, before you burn yourself out!
But seriously….hello pot, it’s me kettle. My creative process is basically all or nothing. Either I work 18 hours a day or I do the bare minimum because I’m so exhausted I fall asleep at 6pm. Correction, that is what I used to do. This year I’ve had stress impact me in a way that forced me to figure out a way to manage it. I guess that’s what happens when you run full-steam ahead for five years. I’d call myself crispy on the edges and actively avoiding burnout.
For me, there is one simple key to managing the stress. And by simple, I mean super easy to say, but really hard to implement day-to-day. Find your priority. Your priority is your family or friends who are like family. It’s the relationships that will matter far after this progress report season. It’s the babies you’ll never see small again. It’s the conversations with your mom over coffee. Those relationships are the most important priority in your life. It’s being happy and kind to the people who love you the most. It’s having enough energy to have a conversation with your spouse at the end of the day. You have to stop putting them down to the bottom of the list and start keeping them at the top.
Making your family your priority doesn’t mean you don’t finish your IEPs on time to be compliant. It doesn’t mean you don’t meet your IEP minutes and you just tell your boss you didn’t have time. But…. maybe it means you don’t bake cookies and create styrofoam snowmen with your special day classrooms in January. Maybe it means you play go-fish with a deck of articulation cards instead. Maybe it means you use an articulation app on the iPad in 8/10 therapy session in January. Maybe it means you print a no-prep packet from TpT and call it a win.
To make your family your priority, you have to get the most done in the time you have allotted. Decide when you have to leave work and leave work. Don’t take your computer bag home every night. That’s just going to make you feel guilty during your precious family time. I come into work 30 minutes early every day so I can work while it is quiet. Losing 30 minutes from 7:15am to 7:45am doesn’t cost me anything but sleep. But that same 30 minutes at 7pm everyday would be terrible. Cut out all the extras that take up your time on things that aren’t crucial. Outsource it (PTA moms and 5th grade girls will cut your lamination). Skip it (sorry, no lunch in the cafe). Combine it (make templates for everything).
Most importantly, accept that you are only human. You’re incapable of doing everything perfectly. What you’re doing at work is good enough. You don’t have to have the world’s best IEP goals and every single lesson Common Core Aligned and up to Pinterest worthy craftiness. I’m not a perfect daughter, sister, or friend. Why do I expect myself to be a perfect SLP? It’s unreasonable. Do your best in the time you allotted for work. Then go home and make your family the priority. If you don’t accept that you can’t possibly do everything, you’ll never feel accomplished at work and that dread and guilt will follow you home. Then you won’t give your family what they need or deserve, which will make you feel guilty every day at work. Quite the cycle!
I admit this isn’t easy. My fingers are singed on the ends from burnout. Every time I feel that start to happen, I focus on my priorities and let everything else fade away for a while. I give myself permission to do some self-care. A pedicure, a few hours to read a book, a day with the Hallmark channel. My favorite way to implement new self-care habits is on my iPhone with an app called Streak. The app works as a positive reinforcement system to keep track of new habits. The idea isn’t that you’ll record an action forever, but that you record your success for a few weeks until something is a habit. My current Streak goals include 8 hours of sleep and 6 glasses of water per day. These are what I know I need to give my body to be its best. I’ve also added a 10 minutes of closet clean-out per day (but so far I’m failing at that streak.) It’s a nice way to hold yourself accountable until that self-care becomes a habit. You know on the airplane how they remind you to put on your oxygen mask first? Same thing applies here. Make yourself happy, healthy, and whole. This will help you support your own family and your students.
The other strategy I’ve implemented that helps me, is to email myself. If an idea or question or worry pops into my head at 8pm about work, I open my email on my phone and write it in an email to myself. That way I know when I get to work at 7:15 it will be waiting for me. I don’t have to keep rolling it over in my head all night. It helps me put work back out of my mind!
Creating self-care habits, giving myself time to rest when I feel close to burnout, and focusing on my priorities are part of my fire prevention plan. I’ll do my students a lot more good if I keep myself happy and healthy and whole in 2017.
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