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When the going gets tough…what can you do?

We’ve all experienced it. It’s that moment after the adrenaline of beginning your internship has worn off, the novelty of your coworkers and fellow interns is becoming rote, and your readings and papers for school are creeping up fast and furiously. Some of you may also hold a part-time or full-time job while juggling school and the internship. Your rose-colored glasses get darker and suddenly, you can’t remember the last time you smiled, laughed or ate something. Welcome to the Dark Days.

I only mildly exaggerate but there will come a point in time when things feel completely overwhelming. I wish there were a salve to rid us all of these days but this post exists to remind you that a) it’s normal and b) make time for self-care.

If you’re in the middle of it now, you may be rolling your eyes and thinking, what does she know? Trust me, I know! I was a full-time professional and student with a caseload of clients that demanded an immense amount of time and energy…I know what it feels like to not have the time to breathe. I also know that when you are experiencing exhaustion and the first signs of burnout, not only are you not doing any good for yourself but your work in the field may also suffer. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of self-care. It’s not just a concept in your textbook; it’s an important aspect of your development as a professional.

Self-care doesn’t always mean a two week stay at a beach resort with a Bahama-Mama at your side (though it sounds great!). It could mean taking 30 minutes in your day to do something for you. Stretch, journal, watch an episode of a funny show. Engage in anything that helps you reconnect to you and your interests outside of the counseling realm. (For more ideas, see this post featuring Shawn Achor)

Lastly, for those of us based in NY and surrounding states, Sandy has disrupted many of our lives. There are a number of resources available to help you and your clients address stress and trauma related to the storm.

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Adaptation, Coping, and Getting Personal

The past few months have brought more than a fair share of events that have required adaptation and coping – the quick and painful kind. There have been major events in virtually every aspect of life. Each one bringing a heaping serving spoon of stress. Enter sleep issues, teeth clenching, the nothing-pie and air-soup laying claim to my appetite.

There are situations that actually do warrant the type of reactions that I would normally attempt to steer myself away from. All in all, I’d say I’m not coping too poorly. Not staying in bed all day, not missing work, not consuming anything “unsavory”, not weeping in a heap on the subway. On a scale of 1-10 for functionality, I’d give myself a solid 8.

But, still.

There are situations that are not fleeting. They linger and shift and change shape even as I struggle to get them into a solid grasp. The idea of more change – more reasons to adapt and cope – makes the room spin, lights dim, and I fall with Alice-like abandon into a dark unknown.

Life events – positive, negative, external or internal – can present opportunities for new and exciting revelations; but, when too many things are in “transition” it can quickly turn into a rabbit hole. But, still.

In all of the personal turmoil, there still needs to be the energy and mental wherewithal to work and be of use to clients. I appreciated Suze Hirsh’s account of “emotional shock” in a recent edition of Counseling Today and how to stay steady when distracted by our own issues. They involve many of the same techniques we might provide to Fly off the Handle Client. I had a chance to use some of her wisdom when Weepy Client boldly stated that I have probably not experienced any hardships in my life. I’m not sure what gave Weepy Client that impression but while my initial reaction was to retort with a fierce verbal karate chop, I followed Hirsh’s recommendations and breathed deeply, tapped on my clavicles (though maybe not as inconspicuously as she suggests) and was able to respond in a manner expected of a counselor. It made all the difference. Thank you, Suze!

Every once and a while, feeling that flash of anger or having a sleepless night is pretty normal (I’ve learned too that, a bowl full of cherries, mug of chamomile, and March of the Penguins seems to do the trick for getting to sleep).  Coping in and of itself requires adaption. It’s constantly in-motion and evolving.

Life will throw tacks in the road – figuring out how to navigate between them is part of the trip.  How do others cope with stress and stay calm in the professional arena?


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Work/Life (im)balance

For the next few months, the end goal is fairly straight forward: reclaim life.  Being a student and a working professional has created an unhealthy work monster with no sense of what *down-time* means.  The word relax only serves to bring up memories of an 80s era full of synthesizers and classic music videos.

Somehow, I got it into my head that filling up every hour with “productive” tasks would be just the thing that would help me accomplish career and personal goals quickerfaster thus leading to a great big dose of Happy.  Instead what I’ve earned are poor sleeping and eating habits, silent wishes for germ inhabitants so that I can have a valid excuse not to do anything, and a blank-eyed expression when asked the question, “So, when are you free?”

Where is the Happy in that??

I’m not the only one who experiences the work/ life imbalance and I’m often one of the first to chastise others for not taking enough time for themselves.  Just a little hypocritical, perhaps.  So, I’m working on taking my own advice and the words of wisdom from a TEDx Talk: Shawn Achor: The Happy Secret to Better Work.  This time around, I’m not just nodding emphatically to the concept of change but seeking to implement a true change in behavior and in mindset to create more room for Happy.

Could I… Carve out some time for a positive journal writing session?  Make time for exercise?  Take a drive to a nearby park for some outdoor meditation?  The answer is a simple “yes.”  There’s time for work; why not find time for writing, sweating, meditating?  The tips are simple enough yet so often they get pushed to the sidelines by the idea that working longerharderfaster will ultimately lead to some pleasurable sense of being.  The truth?  It doesn’t.  Having a positive outlook and an internal sense of well-being are the things that happiness is made of and more happiness leads to far more productivity, creativity, and success than all the 16 oz cups of coffee and multitasking devices in the world could ever bring.

Change the lens through which you view the world and change your life?  What a novel idea.

“[It’s] the lens through which your brain views the world that shapes your reality. And if we can change the lens, not only can we change your happiness, we can change every single educational and business outcome at the same time.” — Shawn Achor


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GSSA stands for…

Graduate School Separation Anxiety.  It doesn’t exist in the DSM-IV TR (though I’m not sure if it’s proposed in the DSM V alongside Bad Baby Syndrome and Fantasy Football Disorder) but it certainly feels real.  I put in  a solid 6 semesters (including juggling work, fieldwork, and everyday life) yet now at the bitter end, I find myself looking at the course schedule for next term.  There’s not supposed to BE a next term for me.  I’m done.  Over and out.  So what is this feeling that is intruding upon the merriment that is supposed to come with graduation? GSSA.

For two years I have been a student.  Granted, I’ve been a student before and may be one again, but “student” is a title that grants a sense of knowing what will come next.  After Fall term, comes Spring.  After X class, comes Y.  Leaving “student” behind…well what comes next?  There’s a few things to check off the list like the license test, applying for the limited permit, obtaining a job, accruing hours, etc.  Yet there’s a lack of overarching structure that is lost once exiting the world of “student’ that can be downright terrifying and makes that next semester look mighty good.

The cure for GSSA?  Rather than considering it a “letting go” of the safe haven of school, I’m trying to re-frame it as embracing the *new* professional I am about to become.  It’s a different feeling for me – as a career switcher – to leave the comfort of the known but it’s an exciting move and a time to accept the pat on the back for a job well done and recognize that completing grad school (albeit, again) is an accomplishment.  So, to all the other students who are about to shed that title, I wish you the best!  Polish up the resume, hit the streets, and get ready for the ride of your life.