By Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP
A recent study found that many mental health professionals do not recognize their own burnout. For therapists and other mental health workers, self-care is essential for preventing burnout and compassion fatigue.
Self-care is never a selfish act—it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer to others.Parker Palmer
This is a list of self-care ideas and strategies for mental health professionals. Please share with anyone who might benefit!
For additional self-care ideas, see 11 Self-Care Ideas You May Not Have Considered and Self-Care Strategies When Your Loved One Has an Addiction.
Self-Care Ideas for Mental Health Professionals
1) Take small breaks throughout the day. Spend a few moments sitting in silence, browse funny memes, joke with a coworker, or take your lunch outside; by the end of your workday, you won’t feel as drained.
2) Meditate. Spend at least 5-10 minutes a day, in the morning or between sessions, meditating or listening to guided imagery recordings.
3) Schedule an appointment weeks in advance for a facial or massage. You’ll have something to look forward to!
4) Don’t neglect your basic needs. Drink water, choose healthy foods, exercise, and get plenty of sleep.
Don’t take your health for granted. Don’t take your body for granted. Do something today that communicates to your body that you desire to care for it. Tomorrow is not promised.Jada Pinkett Smith
5) Reach out to people in your support network. When experiencing burnout, we have a tendency to think we’re weak or less capable. We may struggle to admit what we’re going through. However, seeking support during these times is more important than ever.
6) Don’t bring your work home with you. It can be difficult to not think about the problems a client is experiencing or to check your email, but it’s crucial to have balance in your life. If you let your work consume you, you’ll soon find yourself depleted and with nothing to give.
7) Take the time to sincerely thank or praise your colleagues. Sometimes, it seems as though we’re in a thankless field. Spread positivity by expressing gratitude and giving compliments. (I also like to pass along the praise I hear for someone else!)
8) Be kind to yourself. Be realistic. Practice positive self-talk and forgive yourself for the mistakes you make. Acknowledge that you’re not always going to know the right thing to say, nor will you be able to help every client you see.
Talk to yourself like you would to someone you love.Brené Brown
9) Treat yourself to your favorite beverage at least once a week. Enjoy a Starbucks coffee or a kombucha tea during the workday. Consider surprising a coworker with one too!
10) If you work in a shared office space or residential setting, get up and communicate in-person instead of sending an email. (You can always follow-up with an email to recap the convo if needed.) Human interaction throughout the day is far more rewarding than staring at a screen.
11) Take a short “nature bath”! Multiple studies have found that being outdoors improves mood and reduces stress. If you work in an urban setting, nurture a potted plant or listen to nature sounds in your office to promote relaxation.
12. Bring your furry friend to work. Pets make us happy; one study found that having a dog in the office made a positive difference by reducing stress and making the job more satisfying for other employees.
13) Update the lighting in your office. Natural light exposure in the office is linked to a better quality of life. If possible, take advantage of sunlight during the day by keeping the blinds open.
14. Find self-care ideas online. I recommend the Self-Care Starter Kit from University at Buffalo School of Social Work and Dr. Kristen Neff’s Self-Compassion site.
I found in my research that the biggest reason people aren’t more self-compassionate is that they are afraid they’ll become self-indulgent. They believe self-criticism is what keeps them in line. Most people have gotten it wrong because our culture says being hard on yourself is the way to be.Kristen Neff
15. Stretch! Yoga is known to reduce stress and improve mood. Take a class or simply practice stretching exercises throughout the workday.
16. Listen to music while typing your notes. I love paperwork… Said no therapist ever. Play your favorite tunes to motivate you and make the time pass quickly.
17. Immerse yourself in quiet with a silent commute. After listening to talk all day long, it’s soothing to listen to absolutely nothing on your way home. Recharge with silence.
Post your favorite self-care strategies in a comment!
- American Chemical Society. (2010, May 21). In the green of health: Just 5 minutes of ‘green exercise’ optimal for good mental health. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 27, 2020 from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100502080414.htm
- American Society for Horticultural Science. (2020, January 2). Plants can improve your work life: The mere sight of an indoor plant can reduce stress. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 28, 2020 from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/01/200102184829.htm
- British Psychological Society (BPS). (2015, January 9). Mental health workers don’t recognize their own burnout. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 27, 2020 from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/01/150109045554.htm
- Cornell University. (2020, February 25). Spending time in nature reduces stress. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 28, 2020 from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/02/200225164210.htm
- Frontiers. (2019, April 4). Stressed? Take a 20-minute ‘nature pill’: Just 20 minutes of contact with nature will lower stress hormone levels, reveals new study. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 28, 2020 from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190404074915.htm
- Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.. (2010, November 12). Yoga’s ability to improve mood and lessen anxiety is linked to increased levels of a critical brain chemical, research finds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 27, 2020 from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/11/101111160539.htm
- Northwestern University. (2014, August 8). Natural light in office boosts health. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 28, 2020 from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140808124010.htm
- University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. (2009, February 19). Science Suggests Access To Nature Is Essential To Human Health. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 28, 2020 from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090217092758.htm
- University of Sussex. (2017, March 30). It’s true: The sound of nature helps us relax. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 28, 2020 from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170330132354.htm
- Virginia Commonwealth University. (2012, March 30). Benefits of taking your dog to work may not be far-fetched. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 28, 2020 from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/03/120330081235.htm