Mental Health and Self-Care, a Therapist’s (Ongoing) Journey

An Open Letter to My Clients: I Suck at Self-Care Too

I suck at self-care too. There, I said it. Now, if I was my client and I heard myself say that, I would probably say something like, “I’m sure you don’t suck at self-care. Maybe you recognize that you’d like to improve it. Let’s talk about that.” So let’s talk about it.

(Psst. I made a FREE self-care guide!)

What is Self-Care?

Firstly, let’s define self-care. Self-care is any self-indulgent act that is relaxing and restorative, and can include any activities from sports, to laughing, spending time in nature, pursuing interests unrelated to work, meditating and more.

Self-care is crucial to your well being. When you focus on self-care, you give yourself a break from your regular stress and pressures which increases your resilience and can reduce and alleviate anxiety and depression symptoms , as well as improve general mood and satisfaction.

 

A Therapist’s Story of Self-Care

I can only speak for myself, and what I know is that as a therapist, what brought me to the profession is not that I am the pinnacle of well-being or that I exhibit the perfect work-life balance and I wanted to enlighten the world with my knowledge about self-care. During my undergrad years, like many students, I ran on somewhere between 4 to 6 hours of sleep, way too much caffeine, I would study and cram for exams, and I tried to play as hard as I worked- with moderate success. Fast forward to my graduate studies. By this time, I had given up caffeine to reduce stress and anxiety, I learned that I needed more than 6 hours of sleep, and I worked full-time while managing a varying course load. I had a lot of stress. Does any of this hard-working and over-achievement striving sound familiar? Or how about the level of stress, regardless of what kind of work or studies you are or aren’t doing?

Flash forward to today, I distribute my time across multiple counselling offices, working with diverse clients on an even more diverse range of topics. When I began working in private practice, I wanted to be as available as possible, and so I blew my schedule wide open and made myself available to work every night and all weekend. Can you see where this is going? I gave myself a limited amount of time to have any balance in my schedule. As I gained more clients, I soon realized that I needed some semblance of a weekend. So I started to give myself one day off from work for self-care. And then a second day off from work every other weekend.

 

Stress Signals Your Need for Self-Care

Working at this pace has never affected my ability to be a good therapist. Something that I’ve been aware of that helps me gauge my level of stress and my need for self-care are my stress signals. My stress signals include:

  • Irritability
  • Not feeling rested after sleep
  • Stressful dreams
  • Eye twitching
  • Becoming argumentative with my partner
  • Neck and shoulder pain
  • Headaches

Some research estimates that 75% of people experience physical stress symptoms. Headaches are one of the easier triggers for me to be aware of because I might wake up with a headache in my temples that comes from jaw tension during sleep when I’m stressed.

 

Making Time for Self-Care

photo from www.freepik.com photo by freepik

With a varying schedule and limited time, this emphasizes the need for me to schedule my relaxation and downtime. A rule of thumb that I suggest to my clients and that I give to myself is to aim for one hour per day of self-care and one day per week. One hour a day is pretty feasible, and one day per week happens about every other week for me. If you’re wondering “how the heck does anyone relax for one hour a day,” I want to remind you that there are 168 hours in a week, 24 hours in a day, and even if you work in an industry with longer hours, you’ll have at least a few hours between arriving home and going to sleep.

 

Netflix Isn’t Self-Care

I often hear from my student, film industry, multiple-jobbed and mommy clients that it’s impossible to “find” time for self-care and that at the end of the day, they watch YouTube or Netflix to wind down. Firstly, time will never show up and knock on your door. You must make the time in your day. Secondly, passive activities are not restorative, unfortunately. The reason that they might seem relaxing is because it can provide a break from the mental chatter that naturally happens at the end of the day. When you watch a screen instead of reading a book or calling a friend or playing a board game with your spouse or kids, you are seeking relaxation in the form of distraction.

Again, I’m no saint. I’m currently reciting this blog entry into the Notes app on my phone as Netflix is paused in the background. So what does my self-care routine look like?

 

My Wellness Recipe

Photo created by jcomp from www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/coffee

I once heard in a podcast “anything you can do in 60 seconds, do without delay.” I apply this to how I motivate myself to get started on any activity, from house chores to leaving the house to go to the gym or walk outside. Here are some things that are a part of my self-care menu that I can start quickly:

  • Read a book
  • Go for a walk at the lake
  • Do some stretching
  • Have a bath
  • Do a yoga session from YouTube
  • Play with my cats
  • Gardening
  • Texting—better yet-calling a friend

It can be difficult to start sometimes, but once I get going, I always feel better afterwards. in addition to these easy quick-start activities, I make sure to prioritize big ticket self-care tasks too. these are things that are planned in advance and entered in to my calendar which I use religiously. My big ticket self-care tasks include:

  • Meeting up with friends
  • Planning a date night
  • Meal planning for the week
  • Therapy, physical health and medical appointments
  • Spending time with family

Self-care is not just about physical wellness and hygiene; it also includes nutrition, sleep, activity and setting boundaries. Some of the things that I consider to be central to my self-care that aren’t included in the lists above are: striving for 8 hours of sleep, cooking at home, declining invitations and conserving my emotional energy- which is crucial for individuals in a helping profession.

How to Create a Self-Care Plan

photo by freepik

Here is a simple step-by-step guide for creating a self-care plan:

 

 

  1. Take a self-care inventory. Look at your calendar or think about your work week and write down the things that you spend most of your time doing including work and leisure activities. You can also complete a self-care assessment by searching up a questionnaire on good ol’ Google.
  2. Set a self-care goal. I like to use the rule of thumb of one hour per day and one day per week.
  3. Create your wellness recipe. This is a personal self-care menu of activities, hobbies and interests that bring you joy.
  4. Create accountability to make sure you stick to your self-care goal. If you like to use a calendar, schedule your hour of self-care. If you have responsibilities and obligations to take into consideration, consider setting up a parenting day off with your spouse or trading childcare or house chores to create your self-care space.
  5. Download my FREE 40 Easy Peasy Self-Care Ideas guide!

Set boundaries with people who request your time and energy. It is OK to say no to an obligation and to cancel plans to put yourself first, especially if you tend to give to others before you give to yourself. A good indication of giving more to others than to yourself is that you might feel guilty to say no, which is exactly when you need to do it.

 

Creating a self-care routine isn’t easy.

Like I said, it can be difficult to begin, but once you start you will feel better afterward. Do you know what your stress signals are? Chances are that your partner, coworkers and family can help you fill in any blanks. I encourage you to make a list of what your stress signals are, and another list of the activities you like to enjoy. it might help to generate ideas to think of activities that address the different categories of self-care: physical, emotional/psychological, workplace (including volunteering and school), and spiritual self-care.

Take care.


Click here to download your FREE 40 Easy Peasy Self-Care Ideas guide!

Therapy is Self-Care Too

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