Self-care is an essential component of wellness and achieving a work-life balance, which can be especially important if you are in the field of mental health or counseling. If you are not taking care of yourself, how can you be expected to take care of your clients? The tips below will help you achieve better self-care and a more balanced life as a counselor, therapist, or psychologist.
One of the best tips for new therapists and counselors is to get enough sleep. Studies show that sleep is linked to improved cognition and mental health. Researchers have even pinpointed a magic number: seven hours. Getting between 6.5 and 7.5 hours per night has been shown to make people happier, less anxious, more energetic, and more productive. Sleep is also a great way to relieve stress because it allows your body time to replenish its fight or flight hormones—epinephrine and norepinephrine—while creating serotonin, a hormone associated with happiness, good moods, feelings of relaxation, and appetite control.
To get all of these benefits, you’ll need to establish a sleep routine, which means going to bed and waking up at roughly the same time every day. While it might be tempting to spend just another hour watching TV, hitting snooze on your alarm, or staying up later than you should scrolling through your phone, you won’t feel rested if you do. Taking care of yourself is important if you want to be there for others; get enough sleep so that you can help your clients and enjoy life.
When most of us get out of bed in the morning, we tend to do one of two things: either think about the many things we have to accomplish during the day or go on autopilot and start our morning routine. But there’s a better way to start the day—by being grateful. If you spend just a few moments at the beginning of your day listing all the things you’re grateful for in your life, you’ll have a much more positive mindset throughout the day and any obstacles you encounter won’t seem so overwhelming.
There are plenty of excuses not to eat healthy, but our health is worth more than 100 excuses. If you want to take better care of yourself, it’s a good idea to start eating healthier, more nutritious foods. There’s some evidence that eating healthy foods like fruit, vegetables, fish, poultry, and whole grains is associated with a decreased risk of depression.
Additional studies have also discovered that people who regularly eat unhealthy foods are more likely to develop depression and anxiety than those who avoid processed and packaged foods. While it’s impossible for food alone to cure all that ails you, healthy eating is an essential part of self-care.
Another great way for professional counselors or mental health workers to care for themselves is to take breaks throughout the workday. You may find it difficult to get away between clients, but even small breaks can make a big difference. If you find yourself with just five or ten minutes, try taking a quick walk outside or do deep breathing exercises.
Taking a quick mental break can help keep you sharp and ready for whatever is next. Over time, it pays off in productivity and helps combat stress, too. It’s amazing how much work we can get done when we aren’t stressed or overwhelmed! Try it out and see if you notice any changes!
How often do you find yourself trying to accomplish two (or more) things at once? It seems there’s not nearly enough time in the day, so we multitask in an attempt to get everything completed on time. Unfortunately, multitasking rarely works and it leaves you feeling stressed out and anxious. Instead of trying to do many things at one, practice mindfulness by engaging in one task at a time. Doing so will help you become calmer and more focused throughout the day. There are also many benefits of mindfulness that you can enjoy.
Making positive self-talk a daily habit is one of the best things you can do to take care of yourself. Positive self-talk helps you to be more productive, more creative, less stressed, and happier in general. Negative self-talk is just that—negative—and it can ruin your mood if it’s allowed to go unchecked.
As a counselor, you know this to be true and probably give your clients the exact same advice. Take your own advice and start to monitor your thoughts to make sure you keep a positive mindset instead of falling into the trap of negative thinking.
Because of the demands of business ownership, self-care is even more important for counselors with their own private practice. Business owners have to juggle many different tasks including bookkeeping, marketing, scheduling, insurance billing, etc. Managing all of these responsibilities can easily become overwhelming. To engage in self care activities and reduce stress, try hiring outside help for these tasks.
For example, you could work with a company like Advekit to assist with marketing and insurance. Advekit is a service that matches potential clients with therapists in their area and takes care of out-of-network insurance billing. You could also hire a bookkeeper to track income and expenses or a virtual assistant (VA) to help with scheduling. This will help reduce your workload, freeing you up to focus on your clients.
Counselors tend to get into the field because they’re passionate about helping people. While this is certainly admirable, it often leads to long hours and overwork. Although it can be difficult to keep work and personal life separate, it's important to make an effort in the name of self-care.
Try to set a clear boundary between work and home by leaving any paperwork, files, etc. in your office. If you have a commute, think of this as time to transition away from work and into your personal life. Failing to do this will likely leave you feeling stressed and anxious, which could eventually lead to therapist burnout.
When was the last time you deliberately participated in an activity you love? It’s easy to let the responsibilities of life carry us away but following this path can lead to a lack of joy in our lives. Living well requires that you set aside time for things that make you happy. For example, you could:
Of course, you have responsibilities to take care of at home, but to relieve heightened stress levels and reduce tension, make time in your schedule to do something you enjoy.
Another vital tip for self care for counselors is to exercise regularly. Yes, it can be difficult to work exercise into your busy schedule, but the benefits are worth the effort. Studies have repeatedly demonstrated that exercise—even for just half an hour at a time—makes a big difference in how we feel. In fact, mild to moderate exercise can not only reduce depressive symptoms but it also helps ward off dementia. So do yourself a favor and exercise every day.
Making time to reflect on the day and process your emotions is a great way to make sure you’re doing well and staying happy. It also helps avoid burnout or compassion fatigue and make you more resilient if things don’t go according to plan. In the evening before you go to bed, take a few minutes to really think about what went well during the day before it gets lost in the hustle of everything else that happened. Use that sense of reflection as an opportunity to notice how other people treated you, how you felt when they did, or any lessons learned from the online therapy you handled.
On its own, there's nothing wrong with having an irregular routine. But a lack of consistency can make it more difficult to stay organized and healthy, which leads to a higher likelihood of depression, anxiety, and overall mental strain. Keeping to a regular routine in terms of things like eating healthy meals, exercising, or going to bed on time, makes it easier to create good self care practices. It's never too late to change your habits: adopting a consistent routine or a self care activity can help stabilize mental health while making it easier for you to manage other aspects of your life as well.
Most people know they should practice self-care, but it’s one of those things that always gets pushed to the bottom of the priority list. But if you don’t take care of yourself, how can you expect to be productive in your day-to-day life? To improve your physical and mental health (and become a better counselor or mental health professional in the process) consider implementing these 12 self care practices into your regular routine. Not only will they benefit you, but they may also make it easier to take care of your clients and others around you.