Therapists treat and support clients struggling to handle life stressors, but what many people forget is that, just like everyone else, we therapists also experience burnout and stress in our own lives. We have families to support, bills to pay, and any number of other issues that get in the way. Sometimes the stress is work-related, and sometimes it’s personal; whatever the cause, we’ve got our own ways of dealing with it. After all, if you’re going to help others with their mental health and wellness, it becomes doubly important to take care of your own!
Not all stress is bad — the mere existence of stress is self-protective in nature, as it urges the body to keep itself safe from harm — but too much of anything is never a good thing, especially stress. Stress can cause numerous health issues, from diabetes to high blood pressure to heart disease — not to mention the havoc it can wreak on one’s emotional well-being — which is why self-care is key to mitigating stress. For therapists and everyone else.
Here are six ways that the stress experts take care of themselves when they’re stressed out.
1. Disconnect and Get “Off the Grid”
“News can be ever-present and may exacerbate stress, depression, and anxiety,” writes Talkspace therapist Jor-El Caraballo, LMHC. “Comparison to other people’s lives may even be making us more depressed,” and more stressed. Each day, make a concerted effort to spend at least an hour or two disconnecting completely from social media, TV, news, and other hyper-stimulating activities. If that’s not possible, Caraballo suggests “being more mindful about how you use your smartphone and how much time you’re spending mindlessly scrolling your social media feeds.”
2. Get Out of Your Head and Into Your Body
Go outside and spend time in nature, in a park, at the beach — wherever you are that isn’t the office. “I make it a point to exercise daily,” Dr. Sheila Marcus, psychiatrist and clinical professor at the University of Michigan, told The Huffington Post. “I particularly like swimming after a stressful day, but do more physically strenuous spinning earlier in the day. I am also practicing mindfulness meditation, which I love.” Taking yourself out of your head gives your brain a break from the daily grind and makes it easier to focus and think more clearly when you get back.
3. Laughter is the Best Medicine
They say that laughter is the best medicine, and in the case of stress, it really is. “Research has shown that there are a number of physiological effects of laughter, including a reduction in stress hormones and an increase in dopamine and other brain chemicals involved in happiness,” Cherise White LMSW, a therapist in New York, told Prevention. Laughing at ourselves, even at the things that stress us out, White says, “makes what we experience daily feel lighter and puts things in perspective.”
4. Find a Routine That Works for You
Creating a reliable, consistent routine gives you something to fall back on, helps you know what to expect, and therefore handle any stressful curveballs that come your way. “As a psychologist and mom of six, I must admit I feel stressed more often than I’d like,” Dr. Christina Hibbert, a clinical psychologist in Arizona, told PsychCentral.
“My daily habits help the most, to both prevent and manage stress. These include: morning exercise, scripture study, meditation, and prayer; putting foods in my body that give me energy; and getting to bed in time to get a good night’s sleep (when my kids will let me!).” Because stress can make us feel like things are getting out of hand, having a routine can give us back a sense of order and control over our lives.
5. Write it Out
“Journaling is a tried and true practice for therapists. Many of us came up in training programs that required writing to process our own experiences as students and trainees,” Caraballo writes. Not only that, but we therapists often suggest it to our own patients to help them track patterns of stress and emotion when they struggle to find a common thread.
“Journaling is a simple yet powerful tool that allows for internal thoughts, worries, and concerns to become externalized onto a page,” writes Caraballo. “This can help you gain greater insight into your feelings, thoughts, and motivations as well as provide an emotional holding space for difficult material.”
6. Therapists Need Therapy, Too
Think therapists don’t need therapists of their own? Think again! There are many common myths and misconceptions about therapy, one of them being that therapists don’t go to therapy. I’ve been in therapy regularly for years, and even as a therapist myself I still see my own analyst twice a week to manage the stress in my life. I also firmly believe that I am made a better therapist by being a patient, and most therapists feel the same.
By taking care of our own mental health, we feel much more attuned to our patients’ needs, and we can keep getting back out there and doing the best work possible.