May 25, 2021
Sarah Keeling, Ph.D.
NACA Director of Education & Research
A 2019 study of college presidents showed that 80% of respondents had moved mental health up in their priorities (Higher Ed Today, 2019). While we are concerned for the well-being of our students, we also must be concerned about our own well-being and that of our staff. Here are 5 tips to help you prioritize your mental health.
Go to therapy. Check to see if your institution has an employee assistance program (EAP). These programs refer you to a counselor near you and often offer several free counseling sessions. You may even receive free counseling sessions from your institution's counseling center. Reaching out to your EAP should be a confidential process. If you have had a bad experience with a therapist in the past or don't feel a connection on the first visit, that's okay. Check out
this article from Very Well Mind about selecting a therapist that works for you.
Take your vacation days. Set a goal to never lose time at the end of a year. Know how much leave you are allowed to carry over from year to year and be sure not to lose any. Of course, you may not be able to take off an entire month consecutively, so be sure to plan accordingly. You may also want to take the occasional "mental health day," where you call in sick and do something that takes your mind off of work.
Establish boundaries. It's okay to tell student and co-workers that you don't accept phone calls or check email after a certain time each day. It's okay to close your door for one hour a day to focus on a project. If you have trouble setting and upholding boundaries, see Tip # 1 above and check out
this article from Forbes.
Create a support system. Find people to connect to who can relate to what you are going through. This may be a colleague, a peer at a different institution, a fellow NACA volunteer, a mentor, etc. You may have a small group that all support each other together, or you may lean on a different person depending on the situation. Set aside time intentionally to talk to them.
Feel your feelings. I don't necessarily mean cry at work, although you can do that too. I do mean practice self-awareness and self-reflection. Are you feeling extra stressed/anxious/grumpy? Think about why you are feeling this way. Practicing self-reflection, whether through journaling or some other exercise, helps you understand yourself better, know your emotional triggers, and become more knowledgeable about your own emotions and how they all impact your work on a daily basis.
Treat yourself and advocate for yourself as much as you would for your students. You deserve to take care of yourself. We often hear, "you can't fill from an empty cup." I hope you can use some of these tips to keep your cup full.
Sarah Keeling, Ph.D. serves as director of Education & Research for the National Association for Campus Activities and has over 20 years of higher education experience. Her doctorate in higher education administration is from the University of South Carolina.