Self-Care In the New Year: Reducing Stress and Embracing Support

Teal background with words Happy New Year 2024 from KIT (Kids Included Together). Orange footer reads New year, new beginnings, new mindset, new focus, new start, new intentions, new results.

The holiday season, while filled with joy and festivity, can also be a time of heightened stress for child and youth-serving professionals. Balancing the demands of work with the personal commitments of the season can be challenging, especially in environments committed to inclusive practices and positive behavior support. After all of the holiday hustle and bustle, the beginning of the new year brings a time of exhaustion, but also an opportunity for reflection and goal-setting.

In this blog, join Kids Included Together (KIT) as we explore insights and practical self-care strategies to reduce stress as we start the new year and highlight how resources from KIT can support you in this journey.

The Reality of Holiday Stress

A recent study by the American Psychiatric Association found that 31% of people reported an increase in stress during the holidays

For child and youth-serving professionals, this figure can be even higher due to the added responsibilities of end-of-year assessments, planning festive activities, and managing diverse classroom dynamics. Add to that all of the work and coordination that went into organizing and participating in holiday activities for themselves, their families, and loved ones. As the holidays end, many people find themselves exhausted and without the necessary energy needed as they head into the new year.  

Addressing Common Holiday Season Misconceptions

When schools are on break, child care and other youth programs are working even more than they did during the school year. During these times, programs may be open longer and have children for all day for winter camps or activities.

Recognizing these demands, it becomes even more crucial to focus on effective self-care strategies, after  the holiday season comes to a close. When we understand the real challenges child and youth-serving professionals face, we can better appreciate the importance of resources and support systems that cater to their well-being.

Current Challenges in Afterschool Programs

A survey conducted by the Afterschool Alliance highlights key stressors in the afterschool program sector. The survey gathered responses from 1,016 afterschool program providers representing over 7,400 sites and reported three primary issues affecting the sector’s ability to return to pre-COVID operational capacities:

1. Staffing Challenges

81% of providers serving fewer children in Fall 2022 cited staffing as a contributing factor to reduced capacity. Recruiting and retaining staff has become a significant difficulty, impacting the programs’ ability to serve more students.

2. Increased Operational Costs

A majority of program providers reported increased weekly costs per child for in-person services. This rise in operating costs is a barrier for some programs looking to expand their capacity.

3. Demand Fluctuations

55% are concerned about waitlists and meeting families’ demand, and 53% face challenges recruiting and enrolling families in their programs.

Risks and Stressors Across Inclusive Learning Settings: Navigating Burnout and Secondary Trauma

Inclusive educational settings, while enriching and rewarding, bring their own set of challenges that can impact the well-being of staff:

  • Burnout is characterized by emotional exhaustion, decreased sense of accomplishment, and depersonalization. It often results from prolonged stress and overwork, common in educators who often face demanding and emotionally involved work on a daily basis.
  • Secondary trauma, also known as vicarious trauma, occurs when child and youth-serving professionals are continually exposed to the behavioral and psychological challenges of the children in their care. This exposure can lead to symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder, including heightened anxiety, hypervigilance, and emotional numbness.

Warning Signs of Burnout and Secondary Trauma

  • Emotional and Physical ExhaustionCommon in roles requiring high emotional investment, leading to feelings of being overwhelmed.
  • Detachment and CynicismDeveloping a negative or detached attitude, often as a defense mechanism against stress.
  • Reduced Professional Efficacy – Feeling ineffective in one’s role, a prevalent sign in high-stress educational environments.
  • Behavioral Changes – Notable changes in behavior, such as irritability, withdrawal, or disrupted sleeping and eating patterns.
  • Reliving Traumatic Experiences – Particularly in roles involving close interaction with children facing significant challenges, leading to intrusive thoughts or dreams.

Wellness Checkpoint: Self-Care Checklist for Child and Youth-Serving Staff and Leaders

Whether you’re a leader or staff member, balancing the demands of your role with personal well-being can be challenging. After all, as the popular saying goes, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” Remember, taking care of yourself is the first step towards creating an inclusive and productive learning and/or recreation environment for all children and youth.

One of the simplest things you can do to ensure you’re making self-care a new year priority is to pause and self-evaluate. To help, we’ve prepared checklists below designed to assess and enhance your self-care practices, ensuring that you’re not only effective in your role, but also thriving personally. 

Self-Care Checklist for Staff

  • Set Clear Boundaries: Have I established clear work-life boundaries?
  • Regular Breaks: Am I taking short breaks throughout the day?
  • Physical Activity: Am I engaging in regular physical exercise?
  • Mindfulness Practices: Do I practice mindfulness or relaxation techniques?
  • Adequate Rest: Am I getting enough sleep each night?
  • Healthy Nutrition: Do I maintain a balanced and nutritious diet?
  • Social Connections: Am I connecting regularly with friends and family?
  • Professional Development: Am I pursuing opportunities for learning and growth?
  • Seek Support: Do I seek support from colleagues or a professional when needed?

Self-Care Checklist for Program Leaders/Facilitators

  • Delegation and Teamwork: Am I effectively delegating tasks and promoting teamwork?
  • Open Communication: Do I maintain open and supportive communication with my team?
  • Recognizing Achievements: Am I acknowledging and celebrating the accomplishments of my team?
  • Workload Management: Am I ensuring that workloads are reasonable and sustainable?
  • Providing Resources: Do I facilitate access to professional development and self-care resources?
  • Creating a Supportive Environment: Have I fostered a positive and inclusive work culture?
  • Personal Development: Do I invest time in my personal growth and learning?
  • Modeling Self-Care: Am I setting a positive example by practicing self-care myself?
  • Feedback and Adaptation: Am I open to feedback and willing to adapt practices for the well-being of the team?

Simple, Effective Self-Care Tips

After going through the self-evaluation checklist above, you’ll have a better sense of your self-care meter. But it’s also important to keep in mind that self-care itself takes many forms and can mean different things to different people. What works for a co-worker may not work for you, and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all formula. Check out these helpful videos about burnout that KIT created during the COVID-19 Pandemic to learn more about burnout and see some additional helpful tips.

Another factor to consider is time. Educators often feel there isn’t time enough in their day for self-care and leave this out until the very last minute, oftentimes simply quitting. In fact, the 2023 Teacher Wellness Being Report found that 4 out of 5 teachers have thought about resigning, and only 7% of teachers have never thought about leaving. These figures are understandably alarming.

So how can you continue doing the rewarding work you’re doing while also still prioritizing self-care and mental health? As busy professionals, what simple steps can we take in the new year to keep the passion we have for our work alive?

Here are some practical tips:

  • Connect with colleagues. Building a supportive network with fellow educators and administrators can provide an avenue for sharing experiences and seeking advice. Connecting with others who understand the challenges of your profession can be both comforting and empowering.
  • Prioritize restorative sleep. Ensure you get adequate sleep each night to recharge your energy. Create a bedtime routine that promotes relaxation, such as reading or gentle stretching, to improve the quality of your sleep.
  • Practice mindfulness. Incorporate mindfulness practices into your daily routine. Even a few minutes of deep breathing or mindful meditation can help reduce stress and increase your resilience.
  • Set realistic goals. Break your workload into manageable tasks and set realistic goals for each day. This approach can help prevent feeling overwhelmed and ensure a sense of accomplishment.
  • Seek professional support. Don’t hesitate to reach out to mental health professionals or counselors if you’re experiencing significant stress or burnout.
  • Talk to a friend. Share your thoughts and feelings with a trusted friend or colleague. Sometimes, talking it out can provide valuable insights and emotional support.
  • Spend time outdoors: Nature has a calming effect. Take breaks to step outside, breathe in fresh air, and enjoy a brief walk or time in a natural setting.
  • Spend time with family. Allocate quality time with your loved ones to foster connection and relaxation. Building strong bonds with family members can provide a sense of fulfillment.

In the New Year, KIT is Here to Support YOU!

The New Year should be a time of celebration, reflection, and goal-setting, not overwhelming stress. But here at KIT, we completely understand the unique stressors faced by child and youth-serving professionals. Lack of inclusion training and the support needed to cater to diverse learners and complex behavior needs can lead to burnout and high turnover, which is why we offer resources to bolster confidence and reduce stress:

  • Discover On-demand Virtual Courses tailored to meet your organization’s specific needs. These resources are designed not just to impart knowledge but to provide practical, everyday inclusion and behavior support strategies that can be implemented in your classroom or program.
  • Explore KIT Training & Support Packages that offer personalized assistance in designing and implementing inclusive policies and practices. This approach not only benefits the children in your care, but also creates a more harmonious and less stressful work environment for you and your colleagues.

Remember, you’re not alone in this journey. KIT is here to stand alongside you, offering the tools and support you need to thrive, throughout the new year. 

Happy New Year from KIT!

For more information on how we can assist you and your team in supporting disability inclusion in your school or program, reach out to us at info@kit.org.