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Maintaining a Stress Free Life: Personal Self-care and Burnout Strategy

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The topic of burnout is something that is often discussed in the counseling field, due to intense nature of the work required for counselors in their work with clients on a daily basis. As helping professionals, Counselors are given the task to listen and support clients through difficult situations, putting the Counselor at risk for burnout. When hearing about a suggestion to write expository essay about maintaining a stress free life, I was really excited to have the opportunity to sit down with a graduate student and examine my current self-care habits, as well as the opportunity to create new ones. Writing this essay has also helped me come to an understanding of how changes in your personal life can greatly effect your self-care and coping techniques, and how it is important to continue to evaluate your burnout prevention plan and techniques throughout time. The Burnout epidemic is something that is seen throughout the Counseling field, “as research has shown about two out of every three mental health workers may experience high levels of burnout”. Burnout is definitely something that I have thought about in entering my future career as a counselor, as I know that it is something that could have a large impact on my life both personally and professionally.

Going into college, I initially struggled in finding time for myself and my passions due to the intensity of my course work. Initially as a nursing major, I struggled academically with the intense coursework, and spent much of my time focused on academics. As time went on however, I began to understand that in order to succeed academically I needed to find a way to participate in all of my passions, including different forms of exercise. Throughout high school, I really enjoyed various forms of exercise, including playing field hockey. Although I no longer play, I have continued going to the gym since Freshman year and really enjoy aspects of the gym such as the elliptical and spin classes. Even though I eventually changed majors, I continually turn to exercise in times of stress for self-care, and always feel accomplished after exercise.

In starting creating my burnout prevention plan with Geoffrey. My coping mechanism of working out was one of the first areas that we talked about. In talking to Geoffrey I explained how it was something that I enjoyed, and definitely had a desire to continue both in graduate school next year, as well as beyond when I enter my professional life. In conducting research, I was able to find that many other college students turned to exercise as a source of stress relief, which was shown in the study performed at a midwestern University. The study examined nine students including seven males and two females, all who had been engaging in the use of exercise as a coping mechanism for a prolonged period of at least three months. Much like myself, “all of the participants responded that they experienced positive emotions after engaging in physical exercise”. Many also stated that they had improved well-being and life satisfaction from active leisure activities such as physical activity, compared to more passive activities such as watching T.V. The participants also reported an enhanced self-esteem, an increased ability to engage in problem-focused coping mechanisms after physical activity, and were more likely to engage in other healthy behaviors. Through my personal experiences, my research, and also talking with Geoffrey on the benefits of physical exercises we decided it was important to include in my burnout prevention plan. In our plan, we have discussed ensuring going to the gym about 3 times a week for about an hour, as well as engaging in spin classes, due to the fact that I find them both enjoyable and stress reliving. In getting myself on more of a written gym schedule I feel more confident that I will be able to turn to exercise when facing burnout both personally and professionally.

Another area that I often talked about in creating my burnout prevention plan was relationships with those in my life close to me, including my family and friends. As I spoke with Geoffrey, I realized that although my schedule will likely be rigorous both as I enter my graduate studies, and later my professional career, I also understand the importance of maintaining my social relationships outside of the fields of academics and work. Throughout my life relying on those whom are closest to me has always been a major source of stress relief for me in times of turmoil. Research has also shown the importance of maintaining your social support system in times of stress, as there is evidence that shows that “social support is exceptionally important for maintaining good physical and mental health”. In research a persons social support system is described by using two major categories, including a network of people and the frequency of your interactions with them, as well as emotional and instrumental components that the support network provides. It has also been shown that resilient individuals often use more active coping mechanisms for stress, such as social interaction and doing activities with those close to you. 

Although I am unsure what my future completely looks like in the coming year, I have worked with Geoffrey throughout the semester to ensure that I have plans in set for making spending time with friends and family a priority. One of these plans includes maintaining a stress relief technique I have developed throughout my undergrad experience in college which is Thursday night date night with my boyfriend. Since staring this tradition, it is something I have looked forward to on a weekly basis, and is something that has pushed me through many difficult weeks. Something that I have also talked in my sessions with Geoffrey about was the difficult decision I made to remain in the Scranton community, as although I am extremely excited to continue my education at the University of Scranton, I will again be about three hours away from family and close friends. In creating my burnout prevention plan, we made sure to include the importance of maintaining my relationships with family members and friends from back home, and also discussed opportunities I would have to occasionally travel back home, and included in my burnout prevention plan to have a weekly phone conversation with my parents and brothers, and also included the possibility of traveling home to visit every six weeks. I know that in entering my professional career, I will be faced with many challenges which can in turn lead to stressful situations and eventual burnout, however I believe that by remembering my plan I have in place to maintain an active support system through interacting with those in my personal life, I will feel supported as I enter my professional journey.

In going through this semester, and my sessions with Geoffrey, I experienced the tremendous loss of my best friend Jess, who passed away suddenly at the age of twenty one due to a medical related issue. Since the passing of Jess, my life and the world around me has seemed so different in inexplicable ways. Jess had been one of the strongest people in my support system for almost fifteen years, and although it has been difficult I have been pushing myself to finish out the semester as she would have wanted me at, and to live everyday in celebration of the beautiful light that she was in the world. Through the loss of Jess, my coping mechanisms have changed greatly, which is something that me and Geoffrey have discussed in length. Research has also shown how a person is often never the same after a loss, as people often feel stuck between “the urge to cry, look back, and search for what has been lost, and the conflicting urge to attempt to move forward, and discover what you can take with you from the past”. Although many people try to avoid their grief by avoiding things that remind them of the person they lost, not allowing yourself to completely experience the loss has been shown to have negative effects over time on the person experiencing the loss. It has been shown that excessive grieving can also be harmful, and that the goal should be to allow yourself to let go of your feelings about the loss, and begin the process of looking towards the future. Something that I have learned in recent weeks as well as through research is that grief is often a lifelong process, as although the intense initial feelings can begin to pass, they often resurface at unexpected times. One of the most important things that has been shown to help those going through the bereavement process is to rely remain in contact with support system both in the form of personal support as well as in the health care field.

In the weeks since Jess’s passing, I have noticed changes in my coping mechanisms and self-care techniques. I have noticed that in recent weeks something that has become important to me is time spent alone and unwinding. I feel as though at times my interactions with people around me are somewhat awkward, as I feel like many people in my life don’t know what to say to me. I feel comfortable in my room though, as I feel it is when I truly allow myself to feel the loss of Jess, and me and Geoffrey discussed how time alone to recharge may be beneficial to me now and in coming months. In recent weeks I have been focusing deeply on taking care of myself in the form of basic needs such as eating, sleeping, and other basic self-care techniques. Something that has also helped me greatly is my work with a counselor on campus. I really enjoy being able to open up to her about my thoughts and feelings in a safe environment, and it is something I have worked with Geoffrey to ensure that seeing a counselor both of the Summer and beyond is included in my burnout prevention plan, and have also talked to my counselor about our ability to continue meeting in the fall. I have also relied on a few close friends and family members in recent weeks who have acted as a major support system for me, as we have been grieving this tremendous loss with the support of each other. Although I would give anything to change the situation, I have been doing my best to remember the amazing person of Jess, and to live my life in the image of the beautiful life she was.

In working with Geoffrey, I have been able to view the topic of burnout in a different light, and also gain a better understanding of how personal changes in your own life can have a great effect on how you perform self-care on a daily basis. I believe that through my burnout prevention plan including continuing with my weekly exercise routine of trying to get at least 3 sessions of cardio in at the gym per week, as well as remembering to maintain some of the traditions such as Thursday night dates and occasional trips home to help strengthen my personal connections, I will be able to enter my professional career with the stress relief techniques that have served me throughout my life thus far. I also feel that both myself and Geoffrey understood the importance of maintaining my work with a counselor both this Summer and beyond as I go through the many stages of the bereavement process, one which will most likely be lifelong. I feel as though my work as a client in the counseling process will also help me when I enter the professional field as a counselor. I also have been able to realize the people in my life who will support me both professionally and personally and the importance of keeping close connections with these people. Overall, I felt Geoffrey was extremely helpful in this process, both in creating the burnout prevention plan, and in listening to my unique situation. Although I feel comfortable with my burnout plan, Geoffrey and I also discussed how it will often be an everchanging plan, as I face new challenges and triumphs in my life, and develop new coping skills.

Works Cited

  • Bray 2018: Bethany Bray, The Battle Against Burnout, Counseling Today (Cover Story), March 28th, 2019, 4/24/19,
  • Kim & McKenzie 2014: Jong-Ho Kim & Larry A. McKenzie, The Impacts of Physical Exercise on Stress Coping and Well-Being on University Students in the Context of Leisure, COPE
  • Fund Award Articles (Health), Vol 6 No 19 pg. 2750-27580, November 2014, 4/25/19, =1&article=1000&context=cope
  • Murray-Parks 1998: Colin Murray-Parks, Bereavement in Adult Life, The BMJ (Clinical Research ed), Volume 316 No. 7134 pg. 856-859, March 14th, 1998, 4/27/19
  • Ozbay et al 2007: Faith Ozbay (MD), Douglas C. Johnson (PhD), Eleni Dimoulas (PhD), C.A. Morgan III (MD, MA), Dennis Charney (MD), Steven Southwick (MD), Social Support and Resilience to Stress: From Neurobiology to Clinical Practice, Psychiatry (Edgemont PA Township), Volume 4 No. 5 pg. 35-40, May 2007, 4/26/19

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