Handling the Bad Days

It’s been a while, I know…that is because I have been struggling a little.

Yesterday was the pièce de résistance of all days. In my top ten of bad days. Minor things got major and fit hit the shan. What are some of the things that are contributing to bad days in academia?

We live in interesting times right now. Just reading the Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed can make one fearful of how things are going. Learning about takeovers of for-profit institutions, questions about the transparency of central administrations, Federal funding for higher education questions, and other issues abound in their (electronic) pages. Maybe you are feeling the pinch in your institution.

Maybe your concerns are more of the local type. Things like student issues, holdups at the bookstore, and tech issues can be just as much of a pain, if not more so, than the big things that hit the national news. It’s now not unusual to have students experiencing homelessness. Dealing with issues such as acute mental illness in the classroom can really sap your reserves.

And the struggle is even more real because you got into this – because you care. Grammar aside, right?

In helping professions such as counseling and social work, much time and effort are linked to the well-being of staff. Us, not as much. We are often more concerned about our students and fellow educators than we are about ourselves. So how can we make sure that the issues of our day-to-day don’t end up consuming our physical and mental health?

O’Halloran and Linton (2000) discuss something they call Secondary Traumatic Stress. When you empathize with someone experiencing stress, that stress often transfers to you. It causes symptoms very similar to PTSD, like nightmares, re-living the event, and exaggerated startle responses. It seems as if the very traits that make great teachers and administrators can be the things that cause us the most stress.

How can you get through this as unscathed as possible? One study by Newsome, et al., (2006) suggested that programs such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) resulted in reports of reduced stress and greater efficacy for students in counseling programs. MBSR involves meditation, mindfulness training (being in the present moment) and yoga to help individuals detach from stress. Trippany, Kress, & Wilcoxon (2004) suggest some protective behaviors that could be applied to the higher education environment. These include:

  • Building safe opportunities for collaboration and communities of practice
  • Education on how stress and trauma affect the teaching and learning environment
  • Including rest and leisure on a regular basis
  • Educating administration on how to spot stress and trauma, and how to respond
  • Keeping a journal and attending counseling sessions
  • Having some sort of spiritual connections

Do you have these in place at your workplace? Would it be possible to create space for them? Admin (I’m talking to me here), can you create these opportunities and find ways to educate yourself?

I’m off to journal a little bit…well, maybe I just did….

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