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Wringing Out Your Brain: Higher Educational Professionals and Self-Care

Health, Safety, and Well-being New Professionals and Graduate Students Wellness and Health Promotion
February 1, 2020 Alan Acosta Florida State University

Fostering Moral Development: An Ongoing Column in JCC Connexions

Alan Acosta HeadshotI am a massive, life-long professional wrestling fan. Believe it or not, I often find many parallels between pro wrestling and the higher education industries. One such parallel includes a phrase made famous by the late “The Big Cat” Ernie Ladd, who was a famous wrestler and booker, aka the person responsible for hiring and managing all the talent and overseeing all talent-related matters (Cornette, 2019). The Big Cat said something to the effect of “Your brain is like a sponge, and every so often, you’ve got to go and wring it out.”

Wringing Out My Brain

Whenever my colleagues and I talk about the concept of self-care, I tend to think of the Big Cat’s quote. For me, self-care is an opportunity to mentally process through the work I have done in an academic term. Like many of my colleagues both on my campus and around the country, I tend to look forward to the end of an academic term and the beginning of a short break. After a long academic term, I cherish the opportunity to spend some days resting, recharging, and wringing out my brain.

The Concept of Self-Care

Self-care looks different for everyone, and there is no right way to do self-care beyond what feels natural for the individual. While there are many ways I like to wring out my brain, getting to a place where I feel like I can do so does not always come easy. Like another infamous pro wrestling booker, Ole Anderson, also reportedly said, “I think for a living. What am I going to do, wake up for a couple of days and not think?” This quote resonates with me because like many of my colleagues, when the end of an academic term arrives, turning the brain off can be incredibly difficult. I sometimes replay difficult student situations or decisions I made in the previous academic term. I will often think about what I have to do at the beginning of the next academic term, or even what the to-do list during my “off-time” may be. Often, I need to find ways to decompress and get myself mentally to a point where my mind will start squeezing from the previous academic term.

Wrapping up Loose Ends

End of academic term breaks can provide a great opportunity in a number of ways for higher education professionals to wring out their brain; it should be noted that not all higher education professionals can wring out their brain at the end of an academic term because the nature of their jobs requires them to prepare for working either in between terms or promptly at the start of the next one. For professionals who are able to capitalize on the time given at the end of an academic term, one way professionals can wring out their brain is to wrap up as many loose ends as possible, whether administrative or otherwise, that the day-to-day hustle and bustle of life on campus can preclude when classes are in session. For me, like many colleagues, wrapping up these loose ends, like putting the finishing touches on a project, sending out final notices, addressing final student concerns, and answering time-sensitive emails, provide a welcome relief.

Questions for Reflection

The end of an academic term can also provide an opportunity for reflection as part of the brain-wringing process. What has the department been doing well? What has the department been doing that is working that should be continued? What does the department need to do to continue to improve? What has the department been doing that has not been as effective that the department should consider modifying or sunsetting altogether? This type of introspection and reflection usually does not stop at the big-picture departmental level because many higher education professionals also reflect on their own performance. Some questions that I ask myself when engaging in this reflection that other colleagues can think about: What have I been doing well? What can I continue on which to improve? What collaborations should I explore starting? Which should I deepen or strengthen?

Sometimes I like to do this type of reflection by writing down the answers to these questions; I typically type them out in a text document on my computer, but I know other professionals who prefer to use a notebook and writing utensil. There is some indication that writing things down can be beneficial for a person. Putting pen to paper or typing in a text document some reflections on the past academic term can give higher education professionals some clarity and direction on where they and their department have been and where they and their department are going.

Personal Activities 

Once on an academic term break, there are a number of personal things I do to wring out my brain, as engaging in those activities is an essential part of the self-care process. One is to complete some kind of project in or around my house – on my last break, my partner and I reorganized two rooms so we could see all of our books and get rid of some long overdue boxes that had been lying around. Another was to read some of those books; when on break, I usually prefer fiction because it gives my brain a chance to enjoy some fun and frivolous entertainment, but sometimes a good non-fiction book is also very restorative and inspiring. I also really enjoy sports, so cheering on one of my favorite teams nourishes my soul. And yes, watching some pro wrestling (sometimes while exercising) also helps me to wring out my brain.

While end of academic term breaks are ideal for wringing out the brain, professionals should identify whenever they feel the need to engage in self-care during the academic term. This can generally prove more difficult, as the ongoing demands of one’s job can make finding those times challenging, but a wrung-out brain is important for providing the best support to students, faculty, staff, families, and other invested stakeholders.

References

Cornette, J. (2019). Jim Cornette presents behind the curtain: Real pro wrestling stories. San Diego, CA: IDW Publishing.