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Self-Care in the New Year for Campus Leaders

The buzz around "Self-Care" is everywhere, yet its definition and practical application, particularly for campus leaders, often remains unclear. As principals juggling an extensive list of responsibilities, it's crucial to embrace self-care strategies that alleviate stress and enhance effectiveness.

woman in blazer standing outside with eyes closed as wind blows her hair, city buildings in background

Here are 20 feasible self-care actions tailored for a principal's busy schedule:

1. Mindful Mornings: Begin your day with 10 minutes of meditation or mindfulness or just silence. Create this short window of time to let things go and settle.

2. Scheduled Breaks: Take short, regular breaks. Use them for a brief walk, perhaps under the guise of a safety check (and take your secretary with you).

3. Healthy Snacking: Keep nutritious snacks in your office.

4. Physical Activity: Fit in a short walk or stretch during lunch or breaks. Go to the playground or practice field and freak the kids out!

5. Gratitude Journaling: Daily, jot down a few things you’re grateful for.

6. Professional Support Network: Regularly connect with peers or mentors.

7. Time Management: Employ planners or apps for task management. I’ve tried them all! Some work and some don’t but when you find the one that works, it really saves a ton of time.

8. Hobbies: Reserve weekly time for personal interests. I know, who has time for hobbies? However, you can make cleaning your car, mowing your yard, or just sitting in the sun as a hobby (all of which will benefit your health).

9. Digital Detox: Designate evenings as email- and call-free times. I came to find that checking email in the evenings only got my anxiety up which, then, affected my sleep. Just let it go and deal with them in the morning.

10. Adequate Sleep: Make quality sleep a priority. This might be the #1 suggestion I have for you. Good sleep = EVERYTHING. Bad sleep = EVERYTHING

11. Stay Hydrated: Keep water at hand to stay refreshed. Finding the “right” water for me was a task. I finally realized that I need ice-cold water in order to drink it as a habit. Find yours.

12. Learning and Development: Choose professional development that genuinely interests you. Remember, you have a higher possibility to excel in your areas of strength so seek that stuff out.

13. Personal Days: Use days off for rejuvenation. A mentor once told me that this was his #1 regret.

14. Music Playlists: Create energizing and relaxing playlists for different times of the day.

I had a playlist that energized me on the way to work and one to calm me down after long days at work to prepare me to be the father and husband I wanted to be at home.

15. Positive Affirmations: Start with uplifting affirmations, like those in A Year of Living Consciously by Gay Hendricks.

16. Ergonomic Workspace: Optimize your workspace for comfort. Not only does this help your body but it helps you work longer (not that you should).

17. Boundary Setting: Clearly separate work from personal life. The “work-life” balance is a fallacy but you can work towards it. If you don’t try, you will surely not reach it.

18. Relaxation Techniques: Practice deep breathing or muscle relaxation. Got nothing! I could never achieve this.

19. Community Engagement: Participate in non-work-related community activities.

20. Professional Help: Seek counseling or therapy when necessary or just find a coach to help you stop, reflect, and plan. Don’t try to do it all yourself, because you can’t!

These self-care strategies are designed for easy integration into a principal's routine, striking a balance between professional duties and personal well-being. There will be moments when it is heads-down-and-just-get-it-done time. I completely get that. However, if you can systemize some of these ideas, they can just become part of your routine and not something that you have to do. Moreover, if you model to your office staff, leadership team and/or your whole staff that YOU are working on these, it gives them permission to help you and to try it themselves.

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