Psychological & Emotional

Thoughts, Feelings, & Well-being

Part of self-care is also nurturing (and being gentle with) ourselves psychologically and emotionally.  Our thoughts and feelings really influence how we act, which can, in turn, impact our self-perceptions, relationships, and physical health.  To help enhance psychological and emotional well-being, here are some ways to ensure well-being of the mind:

  • Routine:

    • Having structure and routine is highly important.  As many of us are working from home, it is more challenging to have that typical daily structure and we do not have the natural "transitions," such as our commute or checking in with colleagues in the hallway.  ​

    • Creating a daily schedule is a great way to help stick to a routine

    • Also, allowing the weekends to be sacred and doing some special activities can really help.  Perhaps have a "virtual happy hour" with colleagues on Fridays, watch a movie on Saturdays, or support a local restaurant with getting carry out on Sundays.  

 

  • Realistic Expectations

    • Having realistic expectations is something that we know are critical for the students with whom we work.  It is important for us to also be realistic with our own personal expectations of ourselves and of others.

    • Especially in states of stress or a crisis, we can have high expectations of ourselves and "should" on ourselves (i.e., "I should  work at least 8 hours a day straight" or "I should be exercising for at least an hour a day.")  It is important that we are gentle with ourselves in these times and be compassionate with what we are experiencing.

    • "Good Enough"-- Allowing ourselves to strive for quality work and output is important as professionals.  However, when we are managing a lot at once and experiencing various levels of stress, part of being realistic and demonstrating self-compassion is striving for "good enough."  As long as you are practicing in an ethically responsible manner with a high degree of integrity and sensitivity, then that is "good enough."  At this time, progress not perfection is crucial.

  • Affirmations:

    • Self-affirmations are highly important.  

    • Part of affirming ourselves is recognizing what we did well and what went well.  Our brains are hard-wired to detect "differences" and things that are "wrong."  Therefore, it is highly important that we detect what is "right" and things that are positive or supportive.  

    • Working into our day self-recognition is really helpful.  This can be accomplished with a nightly reflection on the day and what you did well or accomplished.  Or, it can be a matter of acknowledging that the day was difficult, but that you are doing the best you can.

  • Self-Compassion

    • During times of stress, or really anytime, engaging in self-compassion is highly critical.  Often times, we are compassionate toward others, but we do not show ourselves the same level of care.

    • It allows us to be kind to ourselves without judgment.

    • It also allows for us to engage with ourselves with a degree of humility and "see" ourselves for being human, while decreasing a sense of isolation and unhelpful over-personalization.

    • Dr. Kristen Neff has done a lot of work on self-compassion, which can be found here.

  • Gratitude:

    • Gratitude is helpful through any situation, difficult or not.​

    • It allows for us to pause and reflect, and helps our brains to recognize "what is going well."

    • Gratitude is supportive for mental health and can be a powerful tool when we are struggling with reframing negative cognitions.

    • It is important that we also do not put demands on ourselves to engage in gratitude practice, or be grateful and then judge our gratitude.  Being grateful for simple things, such as the sunlight or your favorite comfortable chair, then that is good enough; it's a start.

 

  • Working from Home:

    • Part of self-care is having boundaries, which also promote healthy relationships and well-being.​  This includes both physical boundaries (i.e., having a designated work area), as well as other boundaries involving time and saying "no."

    • When working from home, which many school psychologists engage in, it can be difficult to "change tracks" from professional to personal life.

    • As many are working remotely at this time, it is important to do the following:

      • Keep a separate work space versus your sleep space, eating place, and relaxing place.​

      • Keeping to a schedule, including "opening it up" and "shutting it down" at specified times.

      • Keep work at work; "what happens at the table, stays at the table."

      • Be sure to build in ample time for movement and eating breaks.

      • Be sure to also stay hydrated while working.

    • Here is some advice from the APA on remote work.​

    • One thing to also be aware of when we work from home, especially in a pandemic, is our sense of professional decorum.  As we are in the comfort of our own homes, and having a collectively-shared experience with many, we may be more inclined to let our guard down and overshare.  When working with others, it is important for us to be deliberate about what we share (and ask ourselves are we sharing for us, or for the other person).  We are all feeling more vulnerable during this time, but during crisis, reaffirming safety and security is paramount.  

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  • Ensure your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are in alignment

    • At the core of cognitive-behavioral therapy, the importance of balance between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors is key.

    • When we are out of alignment, this is often when distress can occur.

    • To help align our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, it is helpful to build awareness to our experiences (i.e., what are we thinking, feeling, and doing) and then attend to where we can focus our attention toward to help alter our thoughts, feelings, or behaviors.

    • Self-regulation and self-soothing, as well as mindfulness can help to support alignment with these areas.

  • Be Present With Your Thoughts and Feelings​:

    • Be an observer​; Look and listen without judgment.

    • Remember that feelings do not define us, as they are not who we are, but rather how we feel momentarily; feelings are temporary.  Yet, the more we do not acknowledge emotions that are more distressing, they tend to linger longer.  

    • Always be curious about what your brain is thinking and saying.

    • Notice if your body is linked to feelings; sometimes our bodies notice how we feel prior to bringing it into cognitive awareness.

    • On the same token, allowing us to be aware of our thoughts and feelings, can then help us be aware of how we may be storing our "issues in our tissues" within our physical body.  

  • Engage in Radical Acceptance + Hope

    • Although we may not like or approve of our experiences and environmental circumstances, acknowledging what is occurring is our first step to well-being.

    • Once we can accept what is occurring, it allows us to be in a better place for cognitive flexibility and problem-solving.

    • There are going to always be challenges; we can select what we want to focus our attention on-- either the actual problem or solutions.  Focusing on the solutions help us to propel ourselves forward and give some semblance of hope.

    • Hope and the belief that one can overcome challenges is critical to perseverance and resiliency.

  • Goal-orientation

    • Goals are helpful for mental and physical well-being.​

    • Setting goals that are SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely) are most beneficial.  Often, as school psychologists, we hold ourselves to high standards and are encouraged to engage in attainable and realistic personal goals.

    • Ensuring that we do not put unrealistic demands on ourselves is incredibly important as well.  Including the words "should" and "must" are generally unhelpful (i.e., "I should sleep at least 8 hours" or "I must make 20 phone calls today.")  Changing our vocabulary, instead, to "It would be great if I am able to accomplish this task" is much more palatable; yet, demonstrating self-compassion if we do not accomplish it right away.

  • Perspective:

    • Allowing ourselves to engage with reality, but also allowing us to have a positive lens to look at a situation through is very helpful.

    • To help reframe challenging situations, it is beneficial to recognize what the "tough thing" is, but also what a "good thing" is.  For example, "The tough thing is that we cannot go to large social gatherings, but the good thing is that we are able to be safe in our homes."

    • As Mr. Rogers has shared, during difficult situations, his mother always encouraged him to "look for the helpers."  In times of challenges and stress, we can focus on the negative and the difficult things, but it is much more supportive to our well-being to focus on the positive things and helpful, positive things that people are doing.

    • At the same time, it is important that we do not compare ourselves to others, as we are all engaging in our own experience and it does not help for us to judge ourselves based on others' behaviors.  For example, perhaps a hooray for you was to shower and get dressed for the day; perhaps for your neighbor, it was baking a loaf of bread from scratch.  We all have our needs and wishes, as well as what brings us all joy.  It is important that we honor that.

    • In all, it is important to see the opportunity in the crisis, as crisis = danger + opportunity.