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A Professional or A Student; How About Both?

By Dr. Liliana Uribe, DSW, LCSW

Being a full time professional while continuing a higher education degree in your field can come with many challenges. I recognize this struggle as I, myself, am constantly taking courses, studying and learning. Many struggle keeping a healthy, work/life balance - and adding education on top of that amplifies the intensity. The challenges only increase when professionals are in a helping field, where their clients take priority. Photo credit: Wix

I can relate to how difficult it has been to grow in a professional career. In building my practice, working full time, being a wife & mother, all the while not forgetting to work on myself- Did I mention this was ALL AT THE SAME TIME! In 2013, my husband, and I found out we were expecting a baby! At the age of 25, I was ecstatic, as all I ever wanted was a family of my own. By this time, I had graduated with my MSW in 2010 and was becoming bored with the job I was doing. I realized at this moment that I was not being academically or clinically challenged. Two months into my pregnancy, I decided to get my DSW, Doctorate Degree in Social Work. HA! You may be thinking, “What?!?!? Are you crazy!?” Crazy not so much but determined!

I can count multiple times where I wanted to quit. I can count multiple times the negative thoughts that would overwhelm my mind.

“Are you serious right now?”

“you are expecting a baby!”

“ you are too tired”

“ you are not smart enough!”

“ he’s going to leave you….”

Despite the fear of losing it all, my husband kept pushing me forward and encouraged me to not give up on my dream. In November of 2013, I gave birth to a beautiful, healthy, 8.10-pound baby girl, two semesters into my higher education journey! You guessed it, by now life didn’t get easier. I realized I had to take care of myself more than ever. But it was EXHAUSTING! How do I raise an infant, work full time, be a wife and do me at the same time? I realized I had to make time for the things I wanted. I can’t say it was all easy, there were many times I wanted to throw in the towel - But I was able to find a balance that helped me get to where I am today.

One morning I received an email from a student of mine who read my published article, “Combining the Fields of Social Work and Applied Behavior Analysis”. She asked how it was possible to be both a professional in the field and still be studying to further a degree. I thought about my journey to where I am and how I got here. I thought about all the other students, peers, colleagues that were experiencing the same struggle. I thought about how I’d want to answer, and was inspired to provide support to others who may be going through the same.

The tips below are a guide in seeing what I could have done better and different with what I know now! What I learned was;

  • Organize yourself

Use an agenda so you can visualize your day. It could be helpful to write down the night before or in the next morning when you wake up about what you want to accomplish for the day. Be intentional with your time. Don’t waste time on social media and/or other outlets. If you use it for work, then use it only for work.

  • Practice self-care

This is crucial to your mental health. Self-care is anything that you do for yourself that makes you feel good. Taking time daily for yourself, even if it's 5 minutes, is so important, especially when you are in a helping profession. First, think about what you would love to do but have sacrificed it because of time. Second, think about when you can incorporate that one thing in your current week for a few minutes a day. Third, do that for 3 weeks, daily (if it requires it). Fourth, repeat again, keep finding things that you have told yourself you can’t do for lack of time and begin slowly carving out a few minutes a day for it!

  • Eat nutritionally, wholesome foods. The less processed foods the better. Limit food with refined sugar and increase fruits and vegetables! Drink at least a half a gallon of water and maintain your immune system. Keep up with yearly preventative medical screens. Try shopping on the perimeter of the grocery store for dairy, veggies, and meat products. Eat in moderation, don’t eat too much of anything!

A good tip for healthy eating is: when you serve your plate, make sure it's colorful! This can be made up of greens, fruits, healthy fats and protein.

Not all fat is bad for you!

Stick to healthy fats, i.e. avocado, almonds, eggs, coconut oil.

  • Exercise I cannot stress this enough! Just walking 45 mins a day is sufficient for cardiovascular health. I get it, not everyone is a gym rat (like me!). Find what makes you happy when you move. Maybe it’s a brisk walk for 45 minutes at the park, maybe it’s bicycling or kayaking on the lake, or even having your kids chase you for 30 minutes and vice versa. Start slow, no weight and all body weight!

  • Sleep This is crucial to our overall wellness. We need to sleep well so our body and brain can function optimally. Practice a strong, bedtime routine to ensure sleep is made a priority. Enhance the area in which you sleep in by triggering each sense- smell, sounds, touch and sight. AND AVOID SCREEN TIME AT LEAST ONE HOUR BEFORE BED!

  • Support system. We all need to vent at some point! Have a support system, people that you trust where you can lay your hair down and be real with. But always ask your friend/family if they’re able to hold space for you. It is not fun to be “dumped” on when one’s plate is already full.


So, what am I saying? These tips are not the end all be all, but are meant to help you start somewhere. Remember, we were all new to something at some point in our lives. This does not mean that you’ll never be able to master what you are seeking. Try not to compare yourself to others' journeys! We all have our own path and road to lead and we all walk at different paces. What is key is finding what brings you joy.

Being physically active with a goal is what keeps my mind healthy and optimal.

What keeps your mind healthy and optimal?

— Founder, Dr.Liliana Uribe received her Doctorate in Social Work in 2016, and her MSW in 2010. Dr.Uribe has completed and focused her career in stress and obesity as known impacts to overwell wellness. As a professor of wellness, she continued to research alternative approaches to further help those who suffer from mental health and other life challenges.

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