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Ten Steps to Self-Care: The hardest advice to take is our own

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Even my iPhone thought I was overextended. On a Sunday night, a message flashed across my screen: “There’s a lot going on tomorrow. There are nine events scheduled, and the first one starts at 4 am. Your alarm is set for 5:05 am.” My first instinct was to laugh, and then wonder what on earth I had going on at 4 am. A friend joked that I was so busy, I had allotted time for dreaming.

As a school counselor, I tell parents not to overwhelm their children with laundry lists of activities. Even young students can feel frayed. Recently, I met with a 7-year-old so prone to rage he avoids competitive sports, and a 10-year-old so chronically exhausted she asks to nap at school.

Many of us have scaled back our kids’ commitments, yet still have trouble achieving balance in our own lives. We take ten minutes for lunch and listen to our voicemail in the car. If we exercise, it may be at the expense of sleep. Our friendships take a backseat when we connect through texts instead of over lunch.

Self-care may be an overused buzzword, but it’s critical. If we follow the advice we give children, we can restore equilibrium. Here are ten tips we can teach kids and apply to our own lives.

1. Know when to say no and when to let go 

We have to be able to recognize the signs that our plate is full, whether we feel irritable, anxious or get headaches. We can make adjustments and let go of tasks that are not time sensitive. Perhaps we can bring snacks for the staff meeting, but can’t handle planning the agenda. A firm no may take practice. When we say “I don’t check emails over the weekend,” it’s more definitive than saying “I can’t.”

2. Water the garden 

We need sleep, exercise and food that fuels us. This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s easier said than done. My officemate and I know we should stop replenishing our candy stash, but we hit the jellybeans when we feel stressed or lethargic. We know that kids get grumpy when they graze on sweets, and teachers can tell when students have skipped breakfast. We need to take care of our bodies too if we want to feel even-keeled and energetic.

3. Connect with good people

I tell kids that if someone continually excludes or belittles them, it’s probably time to find a new friend. This can be complicated advice for children and adults. It’s disappointing to give up on people, but even more depleting to invest in toxic relationships. If we want peace and perspective, we need to surround ourselves with genuine, loyal friends and colleagues. This can be one of the most powerful forms of self-care.


To read more continue to Phyllis’s original article in the  series ‘What’s Happening in Character Education?’ is an organization Phyllis feels passionate about; please support their mission to provide leadership and advocacy for character worldwide.

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Phyllis Fagell

Phyllis Fagell is a licensed clinical professional counselor, certified professional school counselor and journalist.

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