Often in the field of mental health and medicine, we focus on the treatment, rather than prevention, of disorders. Of course, it is immensely important to help those experiencing psychological distress. Just as important, though, nurturing mental wellness in ourselves and others prevents illness and helps us to live healthier, more fulfilling lives. January is Mental Wellness Month and the start of this new year is the perfect time for us to think about the ways we can work toward positive mental health.
As a dance/movement therapist, I have spent a lot of time thinking about self-care practices, not just for my clients but also for myself. I firmly believe one of my most important jobs as a therapist is to ensure my own psychological well-being so I can be present for my clients and effectively support them through their healing and growth. To that effect, I have a stockpile of self-care practices – coloring, exercise, socializing with friends (and their dogs), being in nature… the list goes on. What I sometimes struggle with, though, is simply remembering to check-in with myself in the first place. I know that a good book, a cup of tea, and a little stretching will put me back on track after a hard day, but what if I forget to even ask how my day was? We so often take for granted what our bodies, minds, and emotions can tolerate. Without strategies for assessing where we are at, we risk overlooking what we truly need.
After corresponding with some dance/movement therapists about our tried and true self-assessment strategies, here are some suggestions:
Set a “check-in” alarm on your phone that goes off once a week. Make it for a time when you have no work responsibilities, and use it as a gentle reminder to take a few breaths, quiet your mind, and listen to your body. Don’t want to set an alarm on your phone? Use a bright-colored pen and mark it in your planner.
Another great use of your planner or a journal you keep with you everyday is to catalogue a list of good things that have happened to you during the course of the week. If you find yourself only writing about work-related successes, use that as an indicator that it is time for some self-care. Find balance with activities that exists outside of work or your life as a therapist.
Know your tells. Like an opponent in poker watching your every move for indication of the hand you hold, figure out your own signs for stress. Are you drinking more coffee than usual? Is your head foggy? Are your shoulders tense? Instead of looking at these signs as weaknesses to push through, use them as friendly reminders that you need a little love.
- And remember, the best offense is a good defense. I am not generally one for sports metaphors, but it’s too fitting here. No matter what self-care strategies you ultimately use, incorporating one or two of them into your daily routine can work wonders as preventative care. Set up an exercise schedule and stick to it. Do not skip meals, no matter how busy you think your day is. And try to go to sleep at the same time each night. Of course, sometimes following a routine is easier said than done, but keep it simple and in no time you’ll feel the benefits!
For additional information about burnout in the mental health profession and strategies for self-evaluation and care, check out the following article: Distress, Therapist Burnout, Self-care, and the Promotion of Wellness for Psychotherapists and Trainees: Issues, Implications, and Recommendations.
Related Blog Posts:* Special thank you to Leah Brett for your contributions to this post!