How School-based Occupational Therapists Can Practice Self-Care
As a school-based occupational therapist, you help students learn self-care skills every day. The question is…do you practice what you preach? Do you set aside time to care for yourself?
We know your life as a school OT is busy! So, we’ve put together tips from our team to help you implement an ongoing self-care strategy.
Why Self-Care Is Important for School OTs
Picture one of your students on your caseload who struggles with self-care. Now, think of a colleague who can’t seem to make time to care for themselves. Are these individuals frequently frustrated? Stressed out? Running in all directions? Quick tempered? Do they seem to be enjoying their lives or giving others’ their best?
Now imagine how self-care strategies can improve those individuals’ lives. Caring for ourselves can make a world of difference. However, as you know, we must first, learn how to care for ourselves and then, take the time to do it.
Common Stressors for School OTs
Of course, every position is different, but there are some common stressors that can present challenges for school-based occupational therapists:
- Making too many back-to-back appointments without down time
- Participating in IEP meetings that may be stressful
- Juggling multiple emails
- Traveling between schools
- Collecting data
- Experiencing sensory overload from working with students or being in the school environment
- Handling administrative demands
- Navigating various school layouts and schedules
- Being new to your career or the school environment
10 Self-Care Strategies for OTs
- Plan your meals. Schools are notorious for temptations like snack machines and desserts in the teachers’ lounges. Take time on Sundays to prepare healthy snacks and meals for the week. Don’t forget to drink plenty of water during the day.
- Build a buffer. Educational professionals, especially those who are new, often hit the ground running and burn out quickly. To avoid this, create buffers between appointments to take a breather and catch up on administrative tasks.
- Get prepared. Are you buried in clutter? Feeling disorganized or overwhelmed? To create a fresh start, clear your desk, get organized and overhaul your planner. It may help to get to work early so you can get centered before you begin each day.
- Delegate work. If you are an OT supervising OTAs or paraprofessionals, be sure to delegate tasks. It might feel odd if you haven’t supervised anyone before, but they can help by preparing materials, working with students, implementing OT plans and more.
- Find a mentor Talking with another OT who knows what it’s like can help! Experienced school OTs can share guidance that will keep you from reinventing the wheel. If you haven’t been assigned a mentor, find social media groups and organizations for school OTs.
- Leave work at work. In this digital age, it’s easy to fall into the trap of checking emails outside of work. Resist the urge to handle work on your own time. This is your time to relax and recuperate. Try your best to save your off-time (especially your vacation time) for yourself.
- Hit the reset button. During your afternoons, evenings and weekends, do what you love. Soak in a bath, go for a hike, hit the gym, read a book, ride your bike, practice yoga, get a massage, visit friends, enjoy time with your pets…do whatever makes you feel fulfilled.
- Practice sleep hygiene. Try to get to bed at the same time each night. If you have trouble sleeping, consider installing blackout curtains, avoiding blue light before bed and lowering the temperature in your bedroom at night.
- Seek help if needed. If you find you are feeling anxious or depressed, it’s important to seek professional help. Talking with a support group, therapist, counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist can be critical for mental health – so don’t hesitate to ask for help if you needed it!
- Find a job you love. One of the best ways to avoid work-related stress and burnout is to find a job you love! If you find the right position at the right school for the right employer, you’ll find you have more energy and excitement during each day.
To find exciting opportunities across the nation, check out our school OT jobs now!