Ecological Approach to Higher Educator Wellness and Self-Care

Ecological Approach to Higher Educator Wellness and Self-Care

Cara L. Metz (University of Arizona Global Campus, USA) and Sarah H. Jarvie (Colorado Christian University, USA)
Copyright: © 2022 |Pages: 16
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-6684-2334-9.ch013
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Self-care is an important and necessary part of a teaching career. Without appropriate self-care, our wellness can suffer and develop into burnout. Educators with burnout can have more absences, be more apathetic to our work, or create an unhealthy learning environment for students. To be well, our self-care cannot happen only at a micro-level. This chapter will examine educator wellness from the perspective of the ecological model. It is important to examine all of the impacts on our wellness and understand the control we can have over our systems. This chapter will look at the impacts of wellness and how to implement self-care strategies both at a personal and a university levels to reduce the impact of burnout.
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As counselor educators, the authors focus class time on preventing burnout and encouraging self-care with their student population. Burnout is very prevalent in the helping professions. In the field of education, though, burnout can be just as prevalent as we juggle not only teaching, research, and service, but other factors like interactions with students, work-life balance, and politics, to name a few.

Herbert Freudenberger first defined the concept of burnout in 1975. He described it as having three components: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a decreased sense of accomplishment, all of which are brought on by prolonged stress. Not only can burnout have an impact on us personally, but it can also have rippling effects on the work we do, and it can come at a cost to the university. It can result in anxiety and depression, more physical illnesses, and sick days. Burnout can cause faculty to become indifferent, make us less empathetic to the needs of students, and impact our quality of work. Further, burnout in faculty can lead to attrition and good educators leaving the field.

Sometimes as educators we do not participate in self-care nor feel supported in our efforts. Preventing burnout is one of the best ways we can maintain wellness in faculty (Shah et al., 2018). Faculty well-being not only impacts personal well-being, but it also is an asset to academic institutions (Larson et al., 2019). To prevent symptoms of burnout and work on maintaining our wellness through healthy self-care practices, we need to know where our wellness might slip, and how higher education institutions can help to maintain the wellness of their faculty and staff.

What is wellness? Wellness goes beyond just physical and mental health. Sweeny and Witmer (1991) introduced a model that expanded the idea of wellness into a wheel.They believed that wellness needed to encompass work, love, friendship, spirituality, and self-regulation. To be well, we must maintain a balance of all of these ideas, which can impact our physical and mental well-being. Because work plays an important role in our wellness, it is important to explore how our work and career can support our self-care, which will influence our wellness. In addition, a change in one area can have a profound impact or change in other areas, either for better or for worse (Myers et al., 2000). Self-care is another important aspect of maintaining wellness. Self-care is “the ability of individuals, families, and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of healthcare providers” (World Health Organization, 2021, para. 1).

This chapter will zoom out to look at wellness and the need for self-care using Conyne and Cook’s (2004) ecological model, which combines Lewin’s (1936) thoughts that our behavior is a product of how we interact with our environment and Bronfenbrenner’s (1977) idea that we exist in environmental systems that are proximal to and distal from us (see Figure 1). Bronfenbrenner’s systems included micro-, meso-, exo-, macro-, and chronosystems. When we look at what impacts our wellness, we tend to look at ourselves on a micro-level. To make a system change that supports and promotes wellness, we have to understand who the stakeholders are within the systems (Williams et al., 2018) and how they impact how we perform self-care activities and prevent burnout. Creating an environment where self-care and wellness are prioritized and even promoted through policies can enhance how we teach and our ability to meet the needs of our students. Wellness is not only the responsibility of the faculty, but also requires the commitment and support of the university.

Figure 1.

The ecological model


Key Terms in this Chapter

Macrosystem: Our values related to our cultural and social systems.

Microsystem: the smallest and most immediate environment impacting one’s life.

Self-Care: The practice of taking care of oneself to maintain health and well-being.

Burnout: Emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a decreased sense of accomplishment that is caused by a prolonged period of stress.

Exosystem: Systems we do not have direct participation with but they do influence our actions and decisions that impact us.

Mesosystem: A system of the relationships and connections among our microsystems.

Wellness: Physical and mental well-being that is influenced by our personal balance between work, love, friendship, spirituality, and our ability to self-regulate.

Chronosystem: This system consists of all of our personal history and major life situations have happened both personally and historically, both normative and non-normative.

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