Self-Care for Facilitators of Career Development: 10 Ways to Manage Work Stress

By Rita Soultanian

The work career counselors perform can often be overwhelming. This stress can often be intensified for those of us who are deeply empathetic. In addition to stress from daily appointments and interactions, there are often many other stress factors that come from working within complex organizational settings like colleges and universities as well as taking on additional expectations for expanded programs and services.

In the New Breed of Career Services Professional: What’s in the Secret Sauce of Success, Manny Contomanolis, Senior Associate Vice President for Employer Engagement and Career Design at Northeastern University states, “Growing and shifting pressures, demands and priorities call for a new kind of leader and practitioner. Core competencies essential to success in any role of course remain, but a new balance of skills, competencies, traits, abilities and values are increasingly called for as the profession adapts to the external and internal forces of change in higher education.” Contomanolis refers to career practitioners as “specialized generalists/generalized specialists,” evangelists, social media experts, tech savvy, community organizers, project managers, business development partners, recruiter or employer consultants, as well as creative risk takers.

The young adults career counselors serve in the college/university system are becoming increasingly stressed themselves, as presented in results from the National Stress Survey, an annual analysis by Harris Interactive for the American Psychological Association. The survey revealed that 35 percent of adults polled since 2007 reported feeling more stress than they did in the previous year. On a scale of 1 to 10, the millennial generation stood at a stress level of 5.4, significantly higher than the adult national average of 4.9. Federman (2017) highlights that “within the year prior to being surveyed, 17 percent of surveyed students felt so depressed it was difficult to function, 22 percent felt overwhelming anxiety, and 19 percent felt overwhelmed by all they had to do.” He points out the burden of increased financial debt, increased use of social media which impacts self-esteem, and decreased exposure to managing real relationships has become a mounting problem for millennials. These high levels of stress experienced by counseling students and their clients can contribute to a heightened sense of urgency for counselor educators and career counselors as they respond to the growing demands of the population.

It is difficult to serve students and take care of others when we have not attended to our own needs. This means that counselor educators need to be proactive in managing their own work stress and teach future career counselors how to manage their work stress in order to care for others effectively. Below are some strategies for self-implementation (but also skills to be passed on to career counseling students).

10 Ways to Manage Work Stress

  1. Establish boundaries. With increasing volumes of work sometimes it feels like you need to be available 24/7. It is important to remember that balance is different for everyone, but creating some basic guidelines is critical. Make a commitment to set aside time for yourself and structure your daily habits to allow for minimal distractions during those times of freedom. Creating clear boundaries will help you feel more in control of your personal time and reduce the pervasiveness of work stress.
  2. Identify what is in your control. Rather than allowing external circumstances to impact you, identify what is within and out of your control. Then you can develop strategies to effectively execute your job tasks and let go of the rest.
  3. Get organized. Just looking at clutter can release stress hormones. Many colleagues I know apply a zero-based budget theory to their email inbox by ensuring all emails are either deleted or filtered into folders for reference once they have been read. In addition, when work tasks are piling up and procrastination is getting the better of me, I sometimes refer to Brian Tracy’s time management technique, Eat the Frog (2017). In this example, you prioritize work tasks by outlining the consequences of not doing each task, and start with the biggest, or most daunting tasks first.
  4. Put it in perspective. Keep track of your workload and try to have an ongoing, open discussion with your supervisor if it is realistically too much to handle. Perhaps together you can think of creative ways to seek support from colleagues, clarify what is expected of you, get the resources you need, or strategize other stress-reduction options. Your personal health and well-being, family, and friends are not disposable, and keeping a healthy perspective of the time and energy devoted to work is key.
  5. Know your limitations. Knowing when to say “no” or take a break can be powerful.
  6. Seek support in our community. With wonderful resources like associations, consortia, and other professional groups, support from someone who understands is simply a phone call away.
  7. Create a consistent plan to engage in rejuvenating activities. Identify activities that mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually nourish you like regular exercise, yoga, art therapy, travel, or other hobbies which can help you create a baseline of self-awareness and fulfillment.
  8. Embrace flexibility. Schedules can often become impacted, and knowing when to anticipate changes or allow for wiggle room can be critical. Create enough balance to be able to absorb unexpected changes and demands without burning out.
  9. Do what you do best. Many of us are familiar with strengths-based theory and assessment. When you can do what you do best, you give more of yourself to your job and organization. Let’s use this information to empower engaged work within our own places of employment and be cognizant of applying our strengths to daily work whenever possible.
  10. Define your version of success. We have heard it in various contexts, but it should come as no surprise to you that people’s interpretations of success vary quite drastically. Take the time to develop your own goals and try to incorporate them into formal benchmarks for your position, in collaboration with your supervisor. Get clear on what brings you fulfillment and align your work activities and efforts to help you accomplish those goals and enjoy results that personally motivate you.

Robsham (2016) points out that when employees are happy and feel their needs are fulfilled, they tend to be more productive and work harder towards their goals. I think this is imperative to remember. The needs and demands of counselor educators and career counseling professionals are increasing significantly and it’s more important than ever before to keep our own health and well-being in focus.

Additional Resources

Contomanolis, M. (2014, October 16). The new breed of career services professional: What's in the secret sauce of success? Retrieved from https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20141016190028-2872947-the-new-breed-of-career-services-professional-what-s-in-the-secret-sauce-of-success

Federman, R. (2017). Millennial Distress: Why More? Why Now? Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/bipolar-you/201711/millennial-distress-why-so-much-why-now

Robsham, K. (2016). Incorporating Wellness Initiatives into Your Student Affairs Department. Presence. Retrieved from http://www.presence.io/blog/incorporating-wellness-initiatives-into-your-student-affairs-department/

American Psychological Association. (2017). Stress in America: Coping with Change Stress in America™ Survey. Author.

Tracy, B. (2017). Eat That Frog!: 21 Great ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.



Rita SoultanianRita Soultanian, M.Ed., Director of Career and Re-Entry Center at Saddleback College, has advised young professionals in pursuit of careers in every occupational path including art and design, entertainment, entrepreneurship, business, and law. When it comes to choosing an occupation, setting career goals, seeking and finding positions, and personal branding strategies, Rita utilizes her wealth of experience to guide seekers. Helping clients identify their intrinsic values and clearly convey their uniqueness, skills, and fervor for their career ambitions to potential employers and connections is Rita's greatest passion. She can be reached at rsoultanian@gmail.com.

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Chris Magnuson   on Friday 08/03/2018 at 10:25 AM

Well Written Rita! Thanks!

sharon yates   on Monday 08/20/2018 at 06:22 PM

I really enjoyed this article. What spoke to my heart was the point about being organized and how it affects you.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of this organization.