It’s mental health month! Like many of you, I’ve been actively sharing mental health information as a way to increase education and reduce stigma surrounding mental illness. While it’s an honor to be in a profession that focuses on supporting the mental health of others, being a therapist often requires regularly going to “dark” places with clients, and that can take a toll on our own mental health.
After nearly 20 years in the field, I’ve noticed that a lot of therapists (myself included) tend to be caretakers, people-pleasers, and self-sacrificers, making us particularly vulnerable to neglecting our own mental health in the name of caring for others. I have learned to become fiercely dedicated to self-care, self- awareness and to maintaining my own relationships in order to protect and nurture my own mental health.
I wanted to reach out beyond my own experience to therapists around the world to see how they nurture their own mental health in a profession that can be emotionally and mentally exhausting. Here’s what they had to say.
“I make myself more present by asking ‘Where am I in space right now? What do i hear? What do I feel? What do I taste and smell? What do I see?’ ” Natalie Robinson Garfield.
“I find 20 minutes a day to escape from the world and enjoy the peace and quiet.” Deborah Serani, Ph.D.
“I meditate regularly and journal about my dreams.” Dr. Will Courtenay
2. Surround yourself with positive people
“I rid myself of toxic relationships and situations immediately and I engage in religious activities, especially prayer,” says Leticia R. Reed, LCSW.
Surrounding yourself with positive people also includes you. Kim Olver, LCPC checks the stories she tells herself about her own life. “If they serve me great, if they don’t I’ll change them. I’m the one who makes them up after all,” says Olver.
3. Go to your own therapy
“I go to my own therapy on a regular basis.” Dr. Will Courtenay
“I take care of my mental health by checking in with my own counselor when I need someone objective to bounce things off of and get centered or grounded.” Xiomara A. Sosa
“I have entered therapy 3 times since my core training. 3 different styles to suit the issues I was experiencing. I also do workshops and retreats throughout the year for personal/spiritual development.” Jodie Gale
4. Get moving
“I have two Labrador retrievers who demand a lot of attention. I find a great escape just going out into the backyard and throwing the Frisbee for an hour.” Regina Bright, LMHC
“I salsa dance! I rely on the nonverbal connection with my partner and happy music to get through some challenging weeks.” Dr. Amy E. Keller
“Every day I take time to meditate or participate in Pilates or yoga.” Diane Petrella, MSW
5. Nurture a sense of humor
“I try to maintain a good sense of humor and find ways to laugh during life’s challenges.” Ashley Bretting, LMFT
“My spouse and I attend a comedy show every week.” Stacey Kinney, LMFT
6. Maintain friendships
“I make sure to have tea or lunch at least once a week with a friend that is supportive and makes me laugh.” Nerina Garcia-Arcement, Ph.D.
“I find that participating through friendship in the life of someone outside the field is even more refreshing and grounding than the peer consultation we used to do.” Mark E. Sharp, Ph.D.
7. Take a break
“I love vacationing to Costa Rica.”Dr. Amy E. Keller
“I enjoy watching funny and/or inspirational YouTube videos.” Hugh A Forde, PhD
“Hiking is a great activity that helps reduce my stress levels.” Dr. Karen Sherman
8. Catch some zzzz’s regularly
This one is an important one for me. I try to take a long naps every Sunday afternoon.
“My goal is to get at least eight hours of sleep every night.” Stephanie Moulton Sarkis PhD
9. Uplifting media
“I like to read books, listen to music, and subscribe to inspirational Facebook pages.” Dr. Matthew Clark
10. Reach out to those in need
“I do volunteer work with Mission Outreach, a non-profit group that collects unused medical supplies in the United States and sends them to third world countries. Being able to help others in such a simple, easy way does wonders for one’s outlook on life.” Sujatha Ramakrishna, M.D.
11. Create fun each day
“I ask myself, ‘Have I had fun today?’ If the answer is no, then make it happen before the night is over!” Natalie Robinson Garfield
“I pursue my hobbies of photography, painting, and jewelry making.” Stacey Brown
12. Say no
“I have found that out is easier to say “no” when I realize that if you say “no” to one thing, you are always saying “yes” to something else. If I say “no” to a new client, I am saying “yes” to time with family and a less busy mind.” Joseph R. Sanok, LPC
“I hold stringently to my practice days and hours—keeping mornings for myself to exercise and write, using afternoon to early evening for clients, and taking off Fridays for whatever I want to do.” Karen R. Koenig, LCSW, M.Ed.
13. Celebrate nature
“I love to spend time in nature by walking through the woods or listening to the birds chirp.” Sujatha Ramakrishna, M.D.
“I work in a professional office setting and need to be reminded that I am an animal. Getting out to a park or the beach or a hike in the mountain, or even a drive up the coast with the top down are instant healing techniques.” Nancy B. Irwin Psy.D
14) Express yourself creatively
“I nurture my own mental health through my other profession which is as a comic/writer….in writing my own material I get to see the humor in almost every situation and in performing it, I get to bring laughter…one of the greatest stress reducers of life….to others.” Jane Stroll
“I write in a journal often.” Xiomara A. Sosa
“I take a writing class, so that I can stay creative and do something that’s just for me!” Janet Zinn, LCSW
15. Get pampered
My personal favorites are a message and a pedicure. I try to do at least two pampering activities a month to help me relax and to nurture myself. Ashley Bretting, MFT gets pampered by having her hair washed by someone else. Whether it’s a hot bubble bath or a leisurely walk, do something that feels nurturing on a regular basis.
16. Be a kid
Ashley Bretting “I bring out her inner child by coloring with crayons or paints!”
“I spend time with animals and children. The unconditional, pure love and affection from these creatures soothes the soul.” Nancy B. Irwin Psy.D
17. Get out of your head
“I bike to work as much as I can — this is a 30 minute commute by bike, 20 minutes by car. In doing this, I ensure that I arrive at work very relaxed & calm (having just spent time close to nature — hearing the birds chirp and the wind blow and seeing green around). When I leave the office at the end of the day, all of my worries get worked out by the time I get home. So, I arrive at home very relaxed also!” Sally Palaian, PhD
18. Process your feelings regularly
Karen Hylen, Ph.D, of Summit Malibu Treatment Center suggest regularly sharing your feelings with a friend or a loved one to avoid emotional explosions. Hylen shares this analogy:
When you bottle up your emotions, you are figuratively assembling a bomb in your head. Each feeling you bury in your head is you putting together another piece of the bomb. Keep enough of your feelings to yourself and before you know it you’ll have an emotional explosion.
19. Focus on family
I enjoy spending time with my family. Going to the beach and reading or walking is especially refreshing. I take two trips a year with the family and then one with just my husband. Regina Bright, LMHC
“I make sure I make time for my loved ones. It is an anchoring force,” shares Dr. Anandhi Narasimhan.
20. Consult regularly on difficult situations
When I first went into independent practice I set up to have lunch or breakfast with a colleague also in independent practice every couple of weeks. It allowed us to bounce ideas off of each other and not feel so isolated in our work. Mark Sharp, Ph.D.
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