Summertime at the Club is such an awesome time for programming, because the longer days mean more flexibility and more time to do the kinds of fun, intensive activities we can't get to during the school year. Things like special STEM activities, intricate arts projects, character-building, new games and sports, exploring all the new badges on MyFuture, and even making music! This is the time to try out all the things that look messy, fun, silly, interesting and extreme. They're likely to expose your young people to big ideas!
Also, summer can be intense. Really intense. The Club I come from—Boys & Girls Clubs of the Smoky Mountains—is open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, with youth development staff in rotating eight-hour shifts. Our average daily attendance was way up, and many of our members were there almost from open to close. There isn't planning or prep or even breathing time!
Recently over on the BGCA Youth Development Facebook page, I shared an article from the National Afterschool Association on some general self-care tips to avoid burnout. I've personally worked to incorporate some of them into my own life, like setting boundaries and finding outlets to express my passions outside of the office. But during summer programming, it becomes much harder to do anything other than go go go.
That doesn't mean that we throw wellness out for two months of the year! We just have to figure out some ways to take care of ourselves, mentally, physically and emotionally—that are actually doable. Some self-care lists can feel fuzzy or unattainable or, frankly, too expensive. So, here are seven super easy and realistic ways to help you get through summer.
Set boundaries, particularly around weekends.
Setting boundaries is good for the whole year round, but we know summer weekdays in particular are going to be full to the brim and mentally just a whole lot. Some of us are guilty of using weekends as an opportunity to catch up and plan for the next week. But do what you can to give yourself the time on weekends to relax and turn your work fully off. If you feel like you need to do some work tasks, be intentional about only allowing yourself a set period of time (no more than a couple of hours, if possible), and when that time is done, so is the work for now.
Drink as much water as you do caffeinated drinks.
Listen, if I could have a Diet Coke IV, I WOULD. While caffeinated drinks like soda and coffee and energy drinks can give us a quick boost, over-relying on them can cause problems. Caffeine is a central nervous stimulant, and too much can actually lead to withdrawal symptoms. Following every caffeinated drink (yes, even your morning coffee) with a serving of water can help cut back on how much non-water you drink. Plus, it gives all the benefits like enhanced mental function. And, it serves as a great model for our young people!
Make your commute count with podcasts or audiobooks.
The time you spend getting to and from work can be an intentional space for giving your brain something to focus on, besides work. I find that music still allows my thoughts to wander and inevitably they turn to the job. With a podcast or an audiobook, I can focus on the words being spoken, and can even learn something or escape into a good story. Podcasts are free and easily accessible with any smartphone, and cover every topic under the sun, from entertainment to sports to true crime to comedy to news to literally everything! If audiobooks are more your jam, check to see if your local library has Overdrive or Hoopla, where you can check out audiobooks at no cost.
But also give yourself permission to enjoy your favorite brainless activities!
When I was working summers at the Club, I came home and was a lump and watched the most ridiculous TV I could. And I didn't feel bad about it. Allowing myself the time to literally stop and rest and just turn it all off in the evenings was what it took to get me ready to be 100 percent ON the next day. Watch Parks & Rec for the millionth time. Dive into outlandish reality TV. My Netflix becomes entirely full of cooking/interior decorating/animal shows all summer. If you need a specific recommendation, you cannot go wrong with Nailed It.
But it doesn't have to be just TV. If you love to shut down by being active, then make the time for it however you can! If it's being with your family, then get some new board games to play together! If it's pampering yourself, break out the bubbles! The point is to not feel guilty for doing what works for you to relax and restore your energy.
Start the day with some inspirational jams.
By this I mean literally set your alarm to "Survivor" by Destiny's Child. Or "I Will Survive" by Gloria Gaynor. Or "Eye of the Tiger" by Survivor. Or "I'm Still Standing" by Elton John. Or "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)" by Kelly Clarkson. Or anything by Lizzo. (Picking up on the theme here?) Music is a powerful motivator, and anything to make waking up in the morning a positive experience is welcomed.
Connect with your colleagues.
You! Are! Not! Alone! It's more important than ever during summer to have colleagues that you can go to for encouragement, to share the awesome things you tried that worked, and to ask for advice. (Blowing off some steam can be cathartic too, just be mindful and always, always speak about youth with respect and empathy.) Try to build time into the day to check in with other staff, or even run some activities together, so that you get some much-needed connection time. And if you want to get to know other staff from outside your program, join a learning community or use social media.
Reflect on all the awesome.
Reflection is a high-quality youth development practice, and is the key for making learning stick, as well as building emotional awareness. It's also an important skill for us as adults to continue practicing. When you get to a breaking point (and it will happen), actually sit down and take out a pen and paper and write down as many good things that have happened so far this summer as you can think of, big or small. Chances are, you'll develop quite the list. Let it be a comfort and a reminder that those young people who walk through your doors each day are worth it. Here's a beautiful example Katie Lewis, Club Director at Boys & Girls Club of Placer County, posted recently:
Taking care of yourself this summer will look different for each person, but please truly give yourself permission to do it. Youth need you to be healthy so that you can show up fully for them. And just remember, school always starts back in the fall.
What are your survival tips and best self-care strategies for getting through summer?
Written by Sarah Grizzle, Director, Youth Development Communication & Knowledge Management, Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
This article was republished with permission and originally appeared on Club Experience Blog.
Photo courtesy of Boys & Girls Clubs of America.