The excitement of the upcoming holiday break is palpable! But then comes January and that long stretch of soul-sucking winter (at least, for those of us who have to deal with ice and snow and bitter cold). It can be a challenge to keep one’s spirits up when the winter blahs take over. Since New Year’s is all about resolutions, here are some suggestions that might help you over the hump, and it all falls under the heading of “Take care of yourself.” You know the saying about caring for yourself before caring for others in a crisis situation? Well, that holds true all of the time, although our own needs often take a backseat as we routinely care for family, friends, colleagues, students, and community. Resolve to change that! Here’s what has worked for me in my 28-year career:
- Exercise. Ugh, I even hate the sound of that word. Going to the gym is torture for me, especially when the only time I can go is when it is dark and cold. When I expressed this to my doctor, she said, “so don’t go! Just find a way to exercise at home.” And that’s what I’ve done. Each night as we settle down to watch TV, I do a half-hour of pilates exercises and stretches with bursts of cardio worked in-between. I still can’t say I enjoy it, but the TV provides some distraction, and it’s become an easy routine to maintain. I also try to pick up my pace when walking throughout the day, park on the far end of a row to add more steps, take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator, and try to carry all my groceries from the store to the car instead of using the cart. I’ll never win a bodybuilding contest, but as long as I still fit in the jeans I bought 5 years ago, I’m happy.
- Yoga. I have attended yoga sessions but, like the gym, it’s hard for me to commit, especially in the winter. Instead, I try to work in some yoga with YouTube. In fact, my goal for January is to take the 30-day Yoga Challenge. I also work some kids’ yoga into my therapy sessions; the breathing and stretches are great for warming up and settling down the students, and I find it relaxing for me, too, a great way to loosen the tension that I tend to hold in my neck and shoulders.
- Drink! I know many SLPs who sip water all day long, an excellent habit. I’ve never been one for drinking throughout the day (I think mainly because I rarely have time to visit the ladies room in school!), but I realized a few years ago that I really should make the effort. I bought myself an attractive, transparent water bottle with an infuser core that I fill each morning with fresh lemon wedges (microwave the lemon for 45 seconds before cutting to get lots more juice from it), then I fill the bottle once in the morning and once in the afternoon. Being able to see my progress through the bottle has been reinforcing for me, and also reminds me that I had better start drinking to meet my noon and dismissal deadlines.
- Read, sew, cook, watch movies or do whatever gives you personal pleasure and satisfaction. I absolutely must read at least a few pages every night when I go to bed, just my way of blocking out the noise of the day. I try each weekend to do some quilting — much easier to do in the winter! I find those dreary, cold, wintery days just fly by when I am immersed in a project, and I end up with something nice to show for it.
- Aim for balance. All work and no play is no way to live! It’s so easy to get swept up in the demands of work, family, and home. My husband and I vowed years ago that we would schedule time for friends and each other every week. Sometimes that means the house doesn’t get cleaned or the clothes stay in the dryer for a week. I can honestly say that we have survived this occasional neglect, and have certainly benefitted from the social activities that we did instead.
- Stay organized. Organization at home and at school is the only way I can live. I make sure that every day before I leave, my therapy table is cleared, my desk is neat, and my “to do” list is prioritized. There’s nothing more demoralizing than walking into the therapy room in the morning and seeing a mess to deal with. (I do the same at home — bed made in the morning, dishes washed at night really helps the day start and end well for me). How to organize is up to you, as everyone has their own style (highlighters? stickie notes? color-coded folders? charts and graphs? all of the above?). Just make sure it is working for you.
- Avoid negativity. I learned very early in my career that, for my own mental health and well-being, I needed to avoid complainers. I don’t for a minute mean to minimize the legitimate gripes we have with paperwork, difficult students/parents/teachers/administrators, and crazy schedules. Those are certainly some of the issues we need to deal with on a daily basis. But complaining about it doesn’t help, and listening to others complain only makes things worse. Pretty soon you find yourself in a downward spiral of negativity, and who needs that?
- Focus on the positive. We applaud our students for their progress and give them a certificate or reward when they are dismissed from therapy, but do we stop to give ourselves a well-deserved pat on the back as well? After all, their achievement is our achievement, too! Celebrate accomplishments, large and small, with colleagues; create a dismissal sticker chart and give yourself a gold star every time you dismiss a student; toast yourself at dinner with a glass of your favorite adult beverage. Just a few moments of basking in a job well done will have a positive effect on your outlook.
- Laugh more. Watch funny movies, use jokes in therapy, have a “family fun night” of playing games with your kids, laugh at yourself instead of putting yourself down.
- Unplug. We know that too much screen time is bad for kids. Well, it isn’t great for us, either! Make a determined effort to put down the phone or tablet, turn off the TV, set digital limits for yourself, and get involved in a hobby or community activity instead.
You are a creative, compassionate, and dedicated SLP. You couldn’t have survived in this field if you weren’t. So give yourself the credit you deserve and the time you need to protect your mental and physical health to get through the second half of the school year and beyond. Nobody else will do this for you. It’s all up to you. Happy New Year!