Working as a therapist can be exhausting and emotionally draining at times. I work two jobs, both as a therapist. I have eight dogs, yes you read that correctly. In my defense, before my mother passed away, she asked if I would care for her four dogs and I said yes. Added to my four, you get eight. Like many Americans, I am very busy. Commuting to work, taking care of dogs, the household, studying all take time and energy. A couple questions I get asked frequently are “How are you so content and happy all of the time?” and “Where do you get your energy?”
When I was in my graduate program, it was during my first year, second semester I had a class that when reading the syllabus, I couldn’t believe I was paying good money for it. I remember venting to co-workers and friends about it. Why was I paying good money to learn about how to relax and enjoy myself? Were they crazy? Self-care? The reason for it quickly became clear as many people really don’t know what self-care is or do it very well.
When we are stressed out it not only impacts our body it impacts our brains and our mood. I’ve listed some of the things that stress can do to us below:
- Muscle tension or pain
- Chest pain
- Change in sex drive
- Lack of motivation or focus
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Irritability or anger
- Angry outbursts
- Drug or alcohol misuse
- Tobacco use
- Social withdrawal
- Increased depressive symptoms
- Exercising less often
- Sleep problems
So, what is self-care? The Oxford dictionary definition is the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress. Many people think of self-care as eating healthy, exercising and personal hygiene. Yes, all of these things are important but what about-your personal well-being and happiness?
Too often times we tend to go-go-go in our busy lives. We rarely take time for ourselves. I cannot tell you the number of times I have had to tell clients to stop putting their kids, partners etc., first all of the time before themselves. If you do not take time for yourself, you will not have enough left over for your partner or children.
One of the things I learned quickly in graduate school is that it was harder, and more time consuming than undergrad. I also loss my mother to cancer in my first year and was working fulltime. I had a lot of stress and wasn’t handling it in the best way. Then I had my class on self-care and I started to take care of myself and in order to do that, I had to start doing things for myself.
I went online and did a google search like many of us do when trying to find information on self-care. I quickly became overwhelmed with the amount of information and stopped searching. It started to nag at me, as I started to lash out at people and lose more sleep. One day I was distracting myself with social media when I found diamond art painting. I ordered one and quickly forgot about it. About ten days later it arrived. That was one of the best purchases I have ever made. No joking. Diamond art painting helps me to focus on something else, it relaxes me and helps me to recharge my brain.
Over the past four years I have found other things to do for myself. I garden, relax with my dogs on my back porch, walk on my treadmill, I moved to Florida in 2020 and have found some beautiful hiking trails to get out into nature. I have multiple craft projects going as well. I have also learned how to say no when I’m overwhelmed and cannot take on anything more, this can be at work or in my personal life.
Self-care is also learning to take a step-back or pause. I tell clients all the time push pause on things and relax, go sit outside, enjoy a cup of coffee, watch your favorite TV show or movie, watch funny YouTube videos.
Self-care is about learning to forgive yourself for past mistakes. We are human, and we make them. It’s okay. Don’t dwell on things you cannot change.
Self-care is staying at home and recharging yourself.
Self-care is setting boundaries such as emotional, physical or sexual boundaries. Boundaries can be with those close to you, at work or with yourself.
Self-care is asking for what you need. What do you need? Do you need to relax? Do you need a vacation? Do you need a break? Do you need to step outside your office and just breathe? Do you need to go hang out with friends? Do you need a break from being a parent?
Self-care is about putting yourself first. The analogy I always use with my clients is this. People always want to put everything on the front of the stove in the pot, kids, partner, job, etc., while their little pot of water slowly simmers away on the back burner. What happens though if you are not refilling your pot with water aka self-care? You are going to burn out. It is okay to put yourself first at times, and in fact you need to carve out sometime for yourself so you can recharge.
Self-care is about spending some time alone.
Self-care is asking for help.
When I’m feeling irritable and overwhelmed, I will stop myself and ask when was the last time you did diamond art, worked out in the garden or sat on the back porch with a cup of coffee. I can always tell when I have not been doing my own self-care and I quickly start back up again. Being stressed is part of life sometimes and we forget to stop and slow down. I have learned to recognize my tells for when I’m not taking care of myself.
If you are feeling overwhelmed and are unsure of where to start on your self-care journey, please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services today at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced mental health counselors.