Did you include self-care strategies in your New Year’s resolutions?

With the start of a New Year and new semester or quarter, I thought it would be a good idea to revisit the importance of self-care. I suspect many of you have your New Year’s resolutions and plans determined, and hopefully, they include ways of honoring and taking care of you. Burnout is real. It is up to us to take care of ourselves so it doesn’t happen.

As I am sure you know, teaching is hard and, at times, stressful work. Those in caregiving positions like teachers and health care providers have higher burnout rates. This is because our work requires us to focus all our energy on others and put ourselves last (Gooblar, 2018). With many PA educators also still working clinically, this is all the more reason why we must take steps to ensure we have self-care habits and practices in place as part of our daily routine.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, self-care is any action you use to improve your health and well-being. There are six elements to self-care: physical, psychological, spiritual, social, and professional. You don’t have to incorporate all of them. Just find the ones that work for you.

Self-Care Habits

Set healthy boundaries

Said another way, it is the power of No. If you don’t protect your time, no one else will. Setting boundaries is about your ability to say no when that student knocks on your door, even though you have a do-not-disturb sign-up. It’s saying no when a colleague wants to sit and chat, but you are in the middle of working on your lecture. By nature, I believe we all want to be helpful – but that should not be at the cost to ourselves. When we help others with their work first, ours piles up. Don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying we shouldn’t be helpful. I am saying that it is okay to say no sometimes or offer help after you have completed what you are working on first.

Other common places where establishing boundaries is important are around students' access to you after hours. In today’s 24/7 digital access world, it is a good idea to consider limiting when you will and won’t respond to student e-mails or messages. Technically, most workdays are over by 6 PM, and you are not required to answer student e-mails after that time. But we tend to worry about our students and feel compelled to answer their questions or concerns as soon as they appear in our e-mail. Clearly communicating to your students when you will and won’t be responding to e-mails or messages is an act of self-care through setting boundaries; if we stick to it, we role model healthy boundaries for them.

Eat well, stay hydrated, and get enough sleep

I know you know how to do this, but it’s whether you do it – consistently. We have all experienced the post-prandial stupor in our students when we get to teach them right after lunch. That happens to us, too. Make smart choices and take the time to eat. And please, break the habit of eating lunch at your desk! Get out of your office. Go sit outside or in a shared lunch area.

We all know how important it is to stay hydrated. The best choice is water, somewhere between 4-8 cups! I know, how boring. As someone who did not drink much water, I have learned to create a habit to help me drink a minimum of 24 ounces a day. I purchased a 24-ounce water bottle I really liked, and each morning, I fill it up and put it on my desk next to me. I aim to drink two of them by the end of the day.

The single most significant factor in high performance, either physically or mentally, is getting enough sleep. Sleep is critical. This is true for us and our students. Research has found that adults and college students need somewhere between 7-9 hours a night for optimal performance and energy for the next day (National Sleep Foundation, n.d.). Sleep hygiene also factors into this. This means going to bed and getting up around the same time consistently every day.


The benefit of daily exercise or moment is well documented. It doesn’t have to be formal exercise, just some form of movement for about 20-30 minutes each day. It could simply be getting out for a walk each day, doing yoga, dancing, or something you enjoy that involves moving your body.

Brain breaks

We have all heard the saying, “Sitting in the next smoking.”  So don’t grow roots into your desk chair. We know from neurobiology that the brain needs breaks to replenish the neurotransmitters that are depleted with focused concentration. The good news is that our brains can replenish in as little as five minutes, provided we truly take a break from thinking and using the brain (Willis, 2006). So, true breaks look like getting up and getting something to eat or drink, maybe stretching, listening to music, stepping outside, and taking some deep breaths. Set a timer to work for 50 minutes, and then take a 10-minute break. Then repeat. For these to work, the brain truly needs to be rested. You deserve breaks! Take them.

Daily acknowledgments: The power of small wins

According to James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, one way to get a good habit to stick- is to feel successful, even in a small way. We tend to focus on what we don’t get done rather than what we do. If you didn’t get the entire lecture done, but you worked on it for an hour –celebrate that. We are Velcroâ for negativity and Teflonâ for good things.  You may not have finished it, but you worked on it, which is a small win.

We also know from research that the power of small wins contributes to a positive inner work-life perspective, especially when we are making progress in meaningful work (Amabile & Kramer, 2011). I don’t know about you, but I believe teaching is definitely meaningful work. We are training the next generation of PAs. How awesome is that!

Therefore, it is really important at the end of each day, perhaps before you leave your office, to take a moment to acknowledge at least one small win, and I bet if you do, you will likely notice more small wins that also happened that day.

Stress management

Research shows that taking time on a regular basis to tend to self-care can significantly decrease stress and increase self-efficacy. (Nelsen & Gfroerer, n.d.). Teaching is stressful. The World Health Organization states that 80% of health problems today are stress-related. So, the importance of self-care is paramount.

One of the most critical components of stress management is making sure you take time for yourself. And given how crazy busy everyone is, yes, it means scheduling it on your calendar. And not only scheduling it – but taking that time. We have all done it. When something unexpected comes up or something takes us longer than we thought, the first thing to come off our schedule is something we planned for ourselves. When this dynamic happens again and again, stress builds. One of the most common signs of mounting stress levels is when you feel there isn’t enough time to finish your work or do the important things in your life. The World Health Organization identifies three key features of burnout(Pope-Ruark, 2023) :

                Feeling energy depletion or exhaustion – emotional, physical, or intellectual

                Increased mental distancing from work or negative feelings toward your career choice those who your work serves.

                Reduced professional productivity or feeling less self-efficacy

Feelings like these are what put us on the road to chronic high stress, potential health consequences as well as burnout. So, pay attention and know your stress warning signs.

Remember the first self-care habit we mentioned, healthy boundaries, and the power of no. Making sure you honor and keep those times blocked or activities planned for you is crucial to your well-being. Self-care will look different for each of us – so find what works for you, schedule it, and use the power of no to protect that time.

We all know how easy it is to let work usurp the things we schedule for ourselves, but here is the thing. If we ever hope to teach our students the importance of self-care so they can be at their best for their patients and be mentally and physically alert, then who we are and how we are as teachers – including what we do for self-care will speak louder than anything we can say to them.


Amabile, T. M., & Kramer, S. J. (2011). The power of small wins. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2011/05/the-power-of-small-wins

Brunette, A. (2004). Self-care for teachers. Retrieved from https://www.wcu.edu/WebFiles/PDFs/CEAP-HS-BK_Self-CareForTeachers.pdf

Clear, J. (2015). Atomic habits: An easy and proven way to build good habits and break bad ones. Random House.

Cohan, D. J. (2019, January 17). Self-care for the new year. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2019/01/17/professor-gives-advice-colleagues-starting-new-year-self-care-opinion

Gooblar, D. (2018, April 3). 4 ideas for avoiding faculty burnout. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from https://www.chronicle.com/article/4-Ideas-for-Avoiding-Faculty/243010

National Sleep Foundation[NSF]. (n.d.). White paper: How much sleep do adults need? Retrieved from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/professionals/whitepapers-and-position-statements/white-paper-how-much-sleep-do-adults-need

Nelsen, J., & Gfroerer, K. (n.d.). Self-care for teachers. Positive Discipline. Retrieved from https://www.positivediscipline.com/articles/self-care-teachers

Pope-Ruark, R. (2023). Addressing burnout takes more than faculty development. In Preventing Burnout, Promotion Wellness. Magna Publications Inc. www.magnapubs.com 

Why teacher's self-care matters and how to practice self-care in your school. (2019, June 19). Waterford.org. Retrieved from https://www.waterford.org/education/teacher-self-care-activities/

Willis, J. (2006). Research-based strategies to ignite student learning. Associate for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD). www.ascd.org


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