Thursday, April 7, 2011

Coping with Stress

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End of the semester is always a crazy time of year. Once you’re over the mid-semester/mid-year hump, it seems the storm starts to brew. As you an tell from my blogging/tweeting absence I have been swept up in the storm. As school psychologists it is our job to help our students navigate this busy time of year, but sometimes we can’t do it for ourselves! 


Whether you are a student in college or graduate school, or a practicing school psychologist, the spring season can be overwhelming. As students we have final exams, papers, commitments, and life to attend to. As practicing school psychologists you may find yourself scrambling to finish assessing students, writing reports, attending meetings, and beginning to terminate counseling/programs with students. Here in Massachusetts the spring season is an important time for our elementary through high school students are it is MCAS time! (I’m sure many other states have similar high-stakes testing occurring too). If you are anything like me, you may find yourself being able to dole out the advice, but have trouble taking your own advice. So, the question is: how do you navigate through the stress while keeping your composure, professionalism, and sanity?

Below I’ve highlight some strategies to help us cope with this stressful time of year.

Get Organized
            Growing up my dad always said chaos breeds chaos. This basically means that if you are trying to work in a disorganized tornado zone, good luck trying to complete anything, or anything of quality. I can honestly say I completely agree. If you are working in an environment that is unorganized and chaotic you may find it more difficult to complete work. After writing this I looked around the room and realized I have some major spring cleaning to get done. While it may be too late for this advice now, it is something to consider. If you get yourself organized in the beginning of the semester (i.e., due dates, readings) and get a jump start you won’t be trying to cram it all in at the last minute. If you need to read a book/novel by the end of the semester, why not start ahead of time. This will free up some of your to-do list when it comes to crunch time. I mean, what a more productive way to spend time at the beach?

Set your priorities
            If you have a few assignments due on the same day, skim the readings you have to do. (Check out this reading strategies guide for some tips: http://bit.ly/fAyE5y). It’s important to go back to what you skim, especially for an exam, but the readings shouldn’t take priority over assignment quality. Professors understand that at the end of the semester it can be challenging to keep up. If you are really struggling chat with your professor to find out the key take-away points you should prepare for class, that way you can be active in the discussion.

Know your own limits
            Don’t take on too much. If you are spread too thin during the semester, you will surely feel it by the end. While it’s important to get involved, you may want to consider loosening up your commitments where you can. If you serve as a member of an organization and team, perhaps you can ask to share the duties with another person or serve as a consultant rather than running the show. It’s important to know your priorities within your commitments, but ease up where you can.

Stay in the present and avoid the "what-ifs"
            This is something I personally have a lot of trouble with. I am constantly thinking “What if it doesn’t get done??” Guess what, it’ll get done. Somehow, someway it will get done. The important thing is to stay in the present and get focused. Don’t worry about the past because there is nothing you can do about it. Don’t worry about all the stuff you have to eventually get done, just deal with what’s due right now.

Vent
            While many people are stressed around you, it can be hard to find a listening ear, especially if you share a similar situation. If you can find someone to be the shoulder to lean on, to merely discuss what you’re dealing with, stress will slowly dissipate. In talking with someone you may even brainstorm strategies to complete all that you need to get done! As school psychologists its so very important that we seek help ourselves. If you can find a counselor of sorts to help you get through all you have on your plate, you will become that much better of a school psychologist. 

Relaxation Techniques
            Many find deep breathing, relaxation, and meditation a helpful experience. It allows you to clear your mind, refresh your brain, and get focused. Unfortunately, I am NOT one of these people. One technique is Progressive Muscle Relaxation. It may even reduce some of that tension in your neck! Other techniques include deep breathing, guided meditation, visualizations, or yoga.

Exercise
            While it may seem impossible, find time to exercise. It serves as a healthy distraction and helps to get out your frustrations. It also releases those happy neurotransmitters known as endorphins.

reward yourself!
            It is so so important that you reward yourself! Your mental health begs for it. If you don’t give yourself an opportunity to do something you love, you’ll find yourself feeling even more stressed and down in the dumps, maybe even hating what you're doing. Allowing yourself some time to do an enjoyable activity will make the world of difference. Maybe its time to invest in a Groupon for a massage. 

I hope this is you after you de-stress!
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So, will I take my own advice this time? That has yet to be seen. However, I really do hope some of these strategies are helpful to you. As always, please feel free to share any strategies that you use to de-stress. 

Until next thyme,
Erika

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