Burn Bright Not Out: Faculty Discuss How to Maintain Effectiveness Under Periods of High Demand

Contributors include Dr. Michele Kerulis, Dr. Fallon Calandriello, Dr. Katie Atkins, Dr. Susan Branco

Spring gives us many opportunities to enter a new season with reflection as we plan for summer activities. This year is harder than previous years with the COVID-19 pandemic taking center stage and robbing people of their ability to honor milestones, like graduations, funerals, marathons, and birthdays. The grief experienced is not lost on counselors and other mental health professionals. That’s why acknowledging Counseling Awareness Month and Mental Health Awareness Month this spring is important. Burn Bright Not Out, the American Counseling Association’s theme for Counseling Awareness Month, is especially relevant during a pandemic when counselors are working overtime to help clients reduce fear and to help colleagues and clients transition to digital spaces. Luckily, faculty at Counseling@Northwestern are used to excelling in a digital world and stepped up to the call to help others experience ethical, effective digital workspaces.

Now, more than ever, it is important for counselors to practice self-care as they go into overdrive to help people gain peace in an uncertain world. In this article, expert counselors and professors tell how they manage self-care and keep burnout at bay.

Adapt Workout Routines for Self-Care

Dr. Michele Kerulis

During busy times my saving grace is my commitment to exercise. I like setting aside time to go to the gym and participate in some of my favorite group fitness classes, including HIIT (High-intensity interval training) and yoga classes. Now that gyms are closed, as one way to help flatten the curve, I have to take it upon myself to increase and maintain motivation to work out in my home. When the weather is nice, I will run outside or go for a walk. On other days, I utilize my skills as a former group fitness instructor to create an atmosphere that is conducive to my workout. For example, I use yoga candles, essential oils, and free-on-demand yoga classes. My favorite is from CorePower Yoga because it includes a lot of hip openers, which is helpful because I sit for long periods at the computer. I also really love Austin Head’s Treadcast podcast via Fitness Formula Club.

Take a Mindful Walk

Dr. Fallon Calandriello

During times of uncertainty, mixed emotions surface, motivation dwindles, and my mind begins to wander. Rather than telling myself I should not be feeling this way, I should get more work done and ignore these thoughts and emotions, I make sure to attend to what my heart is sharing with my head. I tend to the different flowers and weeds emerging from the uncertainty by first acknowledging they are there, accepting their presence, and then developing ways to tend to them. To nourish the flowers or pull out the weeds, I first have to ground myself, and this typically involves getting outside and engaging in a mindful walk. Mindful walking is just what it sounds like; simply put, it involves paying attention to what you see, touch, feel, hear, smell, and taste as you walk (indoors or outdoors) for 5-10 minutes. After completing a mindful walk, my head feels clearer and my heart feels lighter, allowing me to better manage those pesky weeds and help those flowers flourish. Read more about the benefits of mindful walking.

Use Guided Meditation to Contemplate Ways to Heal

Dr. Katie Atkins

One of my goals this year is to create balance between my personal and professional lives. This year has been particularly challenging for me as we welcomed a beautiful baby into the family just before the pandemic hit. I started to feel overwhelmed with the world around me. But rather than hide from these feelings, I found myself acknowledging them, processing them, and leaning into my anxiety. I seek connection via phone calls and video chats, journaling and meditating more regularly. A friend sent me a link for a live guided meditation facilitated by experts that takes place every day at 2-2:20 CST. Additionally, I have spent time trying to wrap my head around the pandemic and am beginning to contemplate ways to heal. During my meditation sessions I focus on three questions: Where have I been, where am I now, and where am I going? These questions help me figure out what is triggering me as well as what my body is experiencing. Finally, the “where am I going” is my instillation of hope. I set intentions in the hope I will grow through each experience. And no matter what, I seek safe, loving spaces in these challenging times.

Develop A Self-Care Routine that Incorporates Gratitude

Dr. Susan Branco

I am grateful for my commitment to self-care that started well before the present crisis. Because of that, I maintain a regimented schedule of a morning run outside (with a mask and distancing), weight lifting or a HIIT workout (High-intensity interval training) via YouTube. Next, I find focusing on gratitude with my family is beneficial to remind us that rays of sunlight still exist even in this dark time. We often share what we are grateful for at dinnertime and attempt to project what, perhaps, our pugs are grateful for as well. Speaking of our pugs, I often say I do not know how I existed before my pugs entered my life. During these days, when we take them for walks outside, I am reminded of how grateful I am to have their companionship. Finally, I am acutely aware of the privileges I hold to maintain employment, have adequate shelter, more than enough food, and health insurance. I know many people are struggling now more than ever. Therefore, giving to the community, in whatever ways I can right now, is also an important act of self-care.

Find What Works for You

Remember, every counselor’s self-care plan can look different depending on their individual needs. The following four suggestions are just a few possible strategies you can incorporate into your daily routine. What’s important is to find what works best for you as you navigate the uncertainty surrounding this pandemic to continue to effectively serve your clients and maintain your well-being.

Citation for this content: Counseling@Northwestern, the Online Master of Arts in Counseling Program from The Family Institute at Northwestern University