There are a few things that struck me as I sat down to write this article. The first was that I had taken over a month longer than I had intended to write this blog. In July I was ready for my new position, still in the honeymoon phase of a move both across states and across departments from academic advising to residence life. I had so much energy and was ready to connect myself across campus. Now, I find myself finally reflecting on a cold morning at 4 am sneaking in early morning blogging before grading and conduct hearings.
Second, was that when I went to see what work had been done with regards to wellness in the lives of professionals working in residence life — I couldn't seem to find a tremendous amount of guidance in higher education journals or on Google. I didn’t want to re-invent the wheel, but it looks like the wheels could use some turning in research on intentional wellness activities or interventions for housing folks.
It is now October, and I look back on August and the move-in process when students pile into residential housing to face one of life’s largest transitions. Students and student affairs professionals embarking on the process of imparting and receiving learning, whether from a vocational or purely philosophical stance, can be both and exciting and terrifying process. These students are leaving the nest, and residential life professionals are there to catch the birds.
A parallel process occurs while students take a leap of faith. Many reslife pros are doing the same thing — moving to a new town, beginning new skill acquisition, making new friends. So, how do we take care of ourselves? What are ways that we can ensure we aren’t sitting eating cheese pizza at a student event following a steady diet of convenience food at a student retreat, holding the on-call phone hoping for more than four hours of sleep?
Here are 9 ways to keep yourself well if you work in residence life - and, the same 9 tips apply to you even if you work in student affairs, academic affairs, or other supporting staff in residence life and higher education institutions:
1. Be like a student
What do students do? They take naps. They create art. They hang out. They listen to music. Do whatever it is that helps you feel a little youthful. Talk openly with your supervisor about flexing your time. Take a longer lunch and sneak in 20 minutes to refresh your mind and body. Remember, if you ain’t taking care of you, you can’t very well take care of students!
2. Be like a professor
Walk around college campuses in summer and you will notice most buildings are empty! Many professors and academic affairs professionals use the summer as a time to merge professional and recreational pursuits. Think sabbaticals. Field research. While you may not have the entire summer off, see if you can’t bank some of your time to take a small vacation before August or head to a conference. July is a month where projects and committee work can come to a halt. Take advantage of the lull in activity.
3. Watch the pros
Become observant of those in your department who seem to managing this whole gig pretty well. Perhaps your department administrative assistant or supervisor. Maybe a mentor or colleague. You know—that person in the office munching on veggies or smiling and maintaining a positive attitude no matter how busy the time, how anxious the student, or how worried the parent. These people don’t necessarily have the secret but it seems they do have a way of creating each day to be a positive experience for both themselves and students. Tap into their knowledge.
4. Do your best to keep up a positive outlook
It gets easy to get wrapped up and spin the story we are all familiar with—I have no time for my family, I have no time to eat well, I have no time for exercise. Do your best to think about the good stuff. Pull from your own college experience. Watch the smiles of the students you may see. Smile when you see the back to school specials. Do whatever mental work you might need to help cultivate a sense that both you and students are ready and welcome to create community space.
5. Try to plan ahead yet also be flexible
Whether it be making dinners and bagging veggies while you fuel your mind and body with nourishing food, or scheduling a massage that you know you will not compromise or miss. And also know that your plans will fall through, other folks are involved, and sometimes life just happens. Do what you can to provide yourself a buffer as you ramp up into the busy months. Schedule less meetings, keep at least one evening sacred for personal time (i.e. reading, cooking meals, meditation). Find that sweet spot with the paradox of planned chaos.
6. Make time for any kind of physical activity
It might be a stroll around campus if you can sneak away during lunch. Try out an exercise class at the student recreation center. Ride a bike or rent one from your institution or local shop. Take a yoga class. Do something that helps you connect to your breath and calm down your nervous system. If you are new to your community you might even make some friends!
7. Go easy on yourself
Remember that time you really messed up? We all do. Give yourself space to become stressed and less stressed during the feast or famine cycle of higher education. Do whatever mental work or creative scheduling you need to do to free up months like August and May. And know that, inevitability, we are all human. You might not show up 100% every day, because it’s just not possible. Learn from the mistakes and give yourself space to grow.
8. Find an ally
Find a person other than your supervisor who you can call when the tears are flowing, when you have a particular complex supervisory or conduct situation, when a parent disguises her worry in anger and yells at you. Find someone who will support and validate you while you vent. Cultivate these relationships and perhaps even work towards mentorships with folks across the country in your field via conferences, LinkedIn, etc. They have been there. They know what you are going through.
9. Smile. It's college!
Remember—college is fun! Students bring so much excitement and energy, and once you tap into this stream you find you can dig deep for the reserves to make it through a couple intense weeks. Go to a student event and dance. People watch in your student union. Check out the homecoming parade. Engage in whatever fun activities you need to that help to remind yourself that these students are creating some of the best memories of their lives—and so are you.
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