Preventing Stress for Mentors and for Program Staff

The holidays can become a stressful time for many people, as demands upon time, unfulfilled expectations from family, and a push to spend lots of money become overwhelming. Finding ways to prevent stress and burnout are crucial. Here are some suggestions:
  • For mentors, be thoughtful as you consider any gifts for your mentee. Your time is the greatest gift you can give - though we know that to a young person excited about the season of receiving presents, this may not be true! Think something small, inexpensive, and meaningful. One of the best gifts to give is an experience - ice skating, making ornaments, or attending a holiday concert or show together are all activities that continue to build your friendship while also being a little more special. If you get an actual present for your mentee, take into consideration what he or she may be receiving from family members and do not spend more - otherwise, parents or caregivers may end up feeling embarrassed, undermined, and/or resentful.
  • For program staff, remember to take some time for yourself. As workers in the helping field, we are asked to be givers and supporters year-round. Balance demands for the increased level of giving now with time for you that includes activities to help you relax and let go, like getting a massage or sitting quietly in a calm space. Prepare yourself for events by getting enough sleep, eating healthy food, and managing all the details well ahead of time. Accept gifts from mentors, mentees, and other supporters with an open heart - you definitely deserve it considering all the work you do!
  • Remember that this can be a stressful time for many of the mentees we work with, whether you're a volunteer mentor or program staff member. Expectations for having a loving family, receiving lavish and personal gifts, and being able to be generous to others may not be met for a family that is struggling financially, emotionally, and dynamically. The messages about gifts and spending holiday time together from the media and friends may not be realistic for many, and this impact can be greater for children and youth. Disappointment and hurt are all possible, no matter what situation a family is currently in. Stay positive and understanding if a mentee is having a hard time during the next few weeks and remind them of their own strengths and future - change is possible!
If you're a professional helper, consider attending the Helper Self-Care: Preventing Burnout, Compassion Fatigue, and Vicarious Traumatization workshop being offered at our upcoming 12th annual youth mentoring conference, Share What You Know: Collaboration and Networking in Youth Mentoring in January. You'll learn more tips on how to keep effective boundaries, set realistic expectations, and practice ways to take care of yourself as you manage the daily stress involved with working with a challenging population.


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