Lee Kem, Joe DeBella, and William Koenecke, Murray State University
The CAS Standards for Academic Advising (2005) direct advisors to “exhibit personal behaviors that promote a healthy lifestyle” and “exhibit behaviors that advance a healthy campus and community” (p.3). There are five major areas in which we can be healthy role models.
Advising is stressful! Registration, students experiencing academic difficulty, advising, mentoring, and committees can add up to high levels of stress. Depersonalization, isolation, and insulation from others are common problems for advisors. Ever increasing and fluctuating professional demands can result in feelings of powerlessness leading to physical and mental exhaustion. “Many advisors (and teachers) find the demands of being a professional educator in today’s schools difficult and at times stressful” (Wood, McCarthy, 2002). Eustress is a normal response to events, but high levels of stress can be detrimental to well-being. Stress involves the stressor, frequency and duration of the stressor, and our response. “When the stress response occurs too frequently or is long term, those stress hormones that were meant to save your life actually harm you” (Colbert, 2007, p. 229). “Events perceived as potential threats trigger the stress response, a series of physiological changes that occur when coping capacities are seriously challenged” (Wood & McCarthy, 2002).
Stress indicates an imbalance between demands and resources for coping with them (Wood & McCarthy, 2002). Symptoms include anxiety, frustration, lowered performance, and interpersonal difficulties.
Stress Management Steps
How can we model dealing with stress? First, identify things over which we do and do not have control. Kem (2006) lists some ways to take control of the first area. Covey (2004) lists three steps for gaining control of stress:
- Be proactive. Don’t wait for an external plan developed by others! “…as human beings, we are responsible for our own lives. Our behavior is a function of our decisions, not our conditions” (Covey, 2004, p. 71). Advisors must be proactive and accept responsibility for our behavior and choices. Choices must be made based on principles and values rather than on moods or circumstances.
- “Begin with the end in mind” Covey (2004) utilizes the principle that “all things are created twice” (p. 99). First, it’s created in the mind and then created physically. The future is shaped by creating a mental vision to manage stress. Begin by developing a personal mission statement or philosophy/creed. “…Focuses on what you want to be (character) and do (contributions and achievements) and on your values or principles upon which being and doing are based” (Covey, 2004, p. 106).
- “Do first things first” (Covey, 2004). This is the practical fulfillment of steps one and two. Decide to be in charge, create a mental vision of the outcome and put the plan into action.
The mission statement for physical health includes sleeping, eating, and exercising. Adequate sleep, generally between seven to nine hours each night, repairs the body and prepares it for the day. The heart rate is slowed down, blood pressure is decreased, and muscles relaxed (Meeks, 2007; Atkinson, 2007).
The goal for healthy eating is to achieve a good ratio of body fat. This reduces hypertension, high cholesterol, and high triglycerides and elevates low HDL, decreases cholesterol, and increases glucose tolerance (Wardlow, 2006). Healthy eating means breakfast fit for a king/queen; lunch fit for a prince/princess; and dinner fit for a pauper. Six small meals each day is the best option. Appropriate meals include fruit and vegetables with very little flour and sugar.
Exercise is essential for a healthy body. Movement is the key in three essential areas:
- increased cardio-respiratory endurance. Aerobic activities lower heart rate, increase heart stroke volume, and increase the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood (Mood, Musker, & Rink, 2003).
- muscular strength and endurance, achieved through resistance training using free weights or weight machines. Benefits include increased muscle mass, decreased fat mass, increased metabolism, increased bone density, improved body image, self-esteem, self-confidence, elevated moods, improved insulin effectiveness, and enhanced weight loss/management (Hales, 2006).
- flexibility - range of joint motion. Leads to reduced stress/tension, relaxed muscles, and improved posture/symmetry; prevents lower back pain, muscle soreness, and helps prevent injuries (Anspaugh, Hamrick, & Rosate, 2006).
No time for the gym? Thirty minutes of exercise three times a week using common items in the office or home will produce equal benefits. In the office: sit up straight in a chair, stand up, and sit back down in the chair several times, repeating this process until the heart rate has increased. Park at the far end of the parking lot and briskly walk to the office. Many advisors exercise together by walking before school, during their lunch time, and/or after work. A fast-paced walk provides many health benefits and walking together provides a support team.
Caution: consult your physician prior to engaging in any exercise program.
Good mental health is attitude, attitude, and attitude! Our attitude toward an event may cause stress. The pessimist looks for difficulty in every opportunity, while the optimist looks for the opportunity in every difficulty.
Remain interested and curious. The famous quote attributed to Dorothy Parker notes that “the cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity” (Lopez, 2007). To enhance life-long mental functioning, continue to read, think, be curious and open to new experiences. Mental well-being includes accepting what cannot be changed and working on what can be changed.
Acknowledge that some things are beyond our control. For those areas within our control, learn to say no! Refuse to take on too many responsibilities and unnecessary activities. The essence of time management is: “Organize and execute around priorities” (Covey, 2004, p. 149).
Focusing on the present moment can be “a potentially powerful antidote to the common causes of daily stress” (Colbert, 2007, p. 234). Find something to enjoy in the present moment that relates to what you are presently seeing, hearing, smelling, or feeling. This minimizes frustration. The social component of a support program, someone with whom to talk, is essential for well being. Find a group that you feel comfortable talking with and sharing common experiences (National Mental Health Association, 2006).
Research supports the concept that a spiritual connection (meditation, reflection, contemplation and prayer) can result in lowered levels of stress and illness. Studies have found that meditation improves the immune system and helps ward off illnesses. Be consistent and include time for this type of relaxation.
Advising is an awesome responsibility and privilege in today’s educational climate. To be a good role model, learn to reduce stress, exercise regularly, eat properly, and think positively. Advisors who have mens sana in corpore sano (a healthy mind in a healthy body) will live longer, feel better, and be more effective during their careers.
Murray State University
Murray State University
Murray State University
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Wood, T. & McCarthy, C. (2002). Understanding and preventing teacher burnout. Retrieved March 25, 2007 from www.vtaide.com/png/ERIC/Teacher-Burnout.htm.
Cite this article using APA style as: Kem, L., DeBella,J., & Koenecke, W. (2007, December). The healthy advisor. Academic Advising Today, 30(4). Retrieved from [insert url here]