Taking care of yourself is key in taking care of others
There are many joys of being a mental health therapist.
You get to meet great people, help them improve their lives, and learn and grow yourself. It’s especially rewarding when you see people take new steps to feel healthier, happier and more like themselves.
However, at times therapists themselves can become drained, overwhelmed or burned out.
This is particularly difficult in the time of the coronavirus pandemic, when we are all dealing with our own stress on top of helping others with similar issues.
This can all be a bit too much. If you’re burned out, you’ll eventually struggle with providing therapy.
That’s why it’s more important now than ever for therapists to take care of themselves. Here are some ideas to take care of yourself while you’re caring for others.
Sometimes we can get focused so much on our work that we don’t realize how much we’re working.
This can particularly be the case in private practice when there aren’t always clear boundaries between work and personal time.
Breaks can vary from a few minutes in a day to taking a two-week vacation.
Here are some ideas for breaks:
- Get out of your office (or home office) and get a hot tea or smoothie down the road. Just changing your setting for 30 minutes can make all the difference in a day.
- If you are self-employed then you have some freedom to optimize your schedule. It can take a while to experiment and work this out, but set some time aside in your schedule for you.This might be a 3-day weekend, having a break in the middle of the week, or having every mid-afternoon off. Make use of this freedom.
- Take short, quarterly vacations.Long trips are great, but can sometimes be forgotten in the blurr of returning to work. Having more frequent, shorter vacations can be helpful, and won’t interfere with your workload as much. If your travel is restricted with coronavirus concerns, try a staycation, or book a night in a nice hotel if available. Get creative so you feel like you’ve had a break from your regular schedule and setting.
One of the most neglected areas for many therapists is boundaries around your time, your own needs, and what you can emotionally tolerate from others — both personally and with clients.
Everyone’s boundaries are different, and only you can decide what those are.
They might include only taking phone calls during certain times of the day, only accepting certain types of cases that best fit your strengths, or taking a break from certain types of services that you don’t enjoy anymore.
Sometimes boundaries include small things, like not going over time in a session, or taking a break from friends that are draining you.
When you are feeling resentful, that’s a good sign that you’re not noticing your own needs and setting boundaries. Use this as a guide.
Find Joy in Your Life
Do you ever suggest to clients that they find new hobbies, things that bring them joy and confidence?
Sounds like good advice!
Are you finding things that you enjoy?
If you have lost this in your life, start with things you used to like.
Did you used to like crafting, exercising, or gaming?
Did these things make your life happier, and can you bring them back? Is there a whole new area you’ve thought about but never tried?
Try to find an interest area that’s unrelated to work.
Entrepreneurs are often trying to make their hobbies into a job.
There’s nothing wrong with that, but we all need fun things that bring us fun and distraction. Find something separate from work.
Take Care of Physical Health
When you’re taking care of everyone else and running a practice or working long hours, healthy eating and exercise can be the last thing on your mind.
We’ve all been there.
But most of us know when we eat better and get activity we feel better and get less burned out.
If activity doesn’t particularly appeal to you, try finding an activity that’s actually fun, so you don’t dread exercise.
Swimming, zoomba, yoga, prepping for a marathon, Tai Chi, etc., are all possibilities.
If you’re not able to go to local gyms right now, look for online classes.
Connecting with others and getting into a routine with a class or activity, can also help.
Sometimes therapy, particularly private practice, can get somewhat lonely.
Although you talk to clients a lot, that’s more of a focused connection that requires a lot of mental energy on your part.
It’s different than letting your hair down or venting about your own problems.
Look for both professional connections, like other therapists or a consultation team, as well as people completely outside of your profession.
Those that share hobbies or know you well can be a welcome distraction from the everyday grind.
Reconnect with old friends, or look for places to make new ones.
As therapists, we all know the tools for self care. But it’s not uncommon to stop practicing them ourselves.
This is normal, but returning to this practice is important for your well-being and long-term success.