One of the most interesting things about being a therapist is that so many people think I have it all together. I mean, it’s a huge boost of confidence and insanely therapeutic. Looking for validation that you are a functional living being? Become a therapist. But in all honesty, I’m just like the rest of you. Just trying to muddle through the day without effing things up too much. A mental health license doesn’t come with the guarantee of a stress free perfect life. Nothing does. But I have learned some tips and tricks along the way that have helped me to improve my overall health and wellness and I am here to share some self-care practices that therapists swear by.
The Self-Care Practice of Setting Boundaries
Okay, before I go on, I feel it necessary to state that 100% of the things that I am going to say from this point on are easier said than done. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t explore self-care practices and it doesn’t mean that these things aren’t doable. It just means that we need to be real about it. And I wouldn’t be being real if I wasn’t real about that.
That being said, one of the best ways that I have found to practice good self-care is to work on learning about and setting healthy boundaries. Oftentimes we think that we set boundaries for other people- to get them to do something, or not to do something. While that may be an indirect reward, boundaries aren’t for others, they are for ourselves. When I set a boundary it is me saying that I need something. Maybe I need space- maybe I need connection. Establishing and setting boundaries is ultimately just a really efficient and assertive way of communicating our needs. And when we value and share our needs, we take care of ourselves.
Practicing Rest and Relaxation For Self-Care
I’ve struggled with nap shame for a good part of my entire life. Someone once asked me what was my favorite thing to do and all I could think to say was, “I like to nap”. It’s literally my favorite pasttime. As much as I tried to laugh it off and make light of it, I’ve struggled to actually feel okay with spending any part of my day sluggishly wallowing and wasting away in my bed. It’s always felt like some dirty little secret that fueled my imposter syndrome. Other therapists don’t nap in the middle of the day, right?
It wasn’t until I was in a class in graduate school that I learned how to think about this a little differently. I took a class based entirely on the Myers-Brigg personality assessment. It was intersting in many ways but what I got most from it is that even the most extroverted people need their rest. Actually, the more extroverted the person, typically the more dramatic the crash. Light bulb moment. If I am spending a majority of the hours of my day actively engaged in living life with other people, I’m going to need a solid nap. Its a thing. So now I try to look at it as more of my natural practice of self-care instead of a tragic flaw.
Regular Exercise and Movement
Here’s another self-care practice that hasn’t always come easy for me. As a person who struggles with constant chronic all-or-none thinking, I’ve had a hard time staying consistent with an excercise routine. Most of the time I make some ridiculously unrealistic goal and then get mad at myself when I fall short.
But, if we lean in to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), we can work to take it down a notch and adopt a more doable plan. CBT has taught me that “exercise” and “movement” both have very fluid and flexible definitions. Movement is just… movement. Wiggling your toes is literally a form of movement. So if you are struggling to keep up with your own definition of exercise and movement, try to go a little slower. You don’t have to run a marathon today, maybe just walk to the mailbox?
Putting It All Together
All of this is to say, you don’t have to do things any certain type of way to start taking better care of yourself. The practice of self-care is on a spectrum and sometimes we just need to hold back a little to get ourselves started. It can be really challenging to practice self care as it usually asks us to add something into our already chaotic lives. The trick is to be patient and gentle with yourself. Ease into your self-care plan so that you can feel good about yourself. It’s always easiest to build from a strong foundation.