By: Neeti Sarkar

Self-care is not a luxury; it's an ethical mandate. Yes, let that sink in. As school counselors, what our job demands is for us to be there for everyone, all the time, but we're human too. That said, it's taken me a long time to not feel guilty about setting up and honoring my own boundaries, at school and outside.

There are a plethora of adages and analogies about self-care and people in the helping profession. We all know we can't pour from an empty cup and that we need to have our own oxygen masks on before we help save others. But in reality, how often are you, as a counselor, not just practicing self-care but also making it a guilt-free experience? Is self-care a daily routine or is it mostly reserved for the summer break? Self-care can surely be bath salts, scented candles, and seltzers at sundown. But it is more than that. It has to be, especially for professional counselors.

It could be saying 'no' to a party you don't want to go to or ensuring you don't take work back home, among a host of other things that bring you joy and give you peace. Whatever the case, if you are looking for ways to successfully set up a self-care routine that is sustainable (even when school reopens after summer), here's how you could go about it:

1. Have a written plan

writing plans

At the end of the school year, we're super exhausted so we tend to make all these grand plans of sleeping for eight hours every night, working out daily, making time for some creative activities, reading for leisure, deep-cleaning the house, etc. But when the holidays come and we feel decently rested, we often forget about the things we actually wanted to make time for as part of our self-care. This is why it's a great idea to take time every summer to create a tangible self-care plan which includes activities you can engage in not just during the holidays. It's important to ensure these practices become a part of the routine you can follow even during the school year.

Writing things down helps me be more intentional about my self-care. It also helps me remember to make time for the little things that bring me joy. Considering many of us use the holidays to make more time for family and friends, without a written plan, it is possible that while we entertain guests and cook and eat together, and take care of our social/relational health, our personal self-care is again neglected.

What you could do is to start by making a list of your non-negotiables, then, slot them into the week ahead, and finally plug in the rest of the activities/tasks, etc that you'd like to do/ accomplish but are flexible with. Once you've undertaken the self-care activity you have on your calendar/ in your journal, make sure to tick it off. It does give you a sense of accomplishment, trust me!

2. Be accountable

accountability partner

Are you the kind that starts well and with sincerity and enthusiasm, only to justify why you can't make time for yourself and the things that refresh you? I would suggest having an accountability partner - someone who checks in with you to see how you're doing. It's important that this person is someone who knows you well, is non-judgmental and empathetic, and someone who doesn't make you feel bad for doing or not doing something on your self-care list, someone who is kind and has your best interests at heart.

3. Put to rest the debate between 'need vs want'

relax by reading a book

Do you ever find yourself wondering if you really need that one hour of uninterrupted reading time (especially when you also have kids on summer break at home)? Do you ever feel like you're wasting time/money because your self-care activity is more of a want than it is a need? Are you ever guilt-tripped by friends, neighbors, and random people on the internet who seem to only hustle but still have it together? Does what you see on social media make your needs or wants to look silly? As they say, you gotta do what you got to do. Balance is key, though.

4. Make time for reflection

Spending a few moments alone, before you go to bed each night, to look at your self-care list and actually reflect on what worked and what didn't, what you would do more or less of, etc, is important so you don't overcrowd your calendar with too many self-care activities that they seem like a chore or stop being meaningful altogether. Journaling is a great way to practice self-reflection.

self care list

What are some things you do for self-care? Are they part of your daily routine even when school is on? Here's wishing you a relaxing and rejuvenating summer break! You deserve it!

About the author: Neeti Sarkar is a Primary School Counselor at an IB school in Bangalore, India. Over the span of almost 10 years, she's worked with students aged 3-18, but enjoys working with the littles the most. Neeti's also a seasoned journalist, so when she isn't making behaviour plans, teaching guidance lessons, and supporting her school community in various other ways, she makes time for her other passion- writing.


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