Therapists are generally good, well-meaning people. Most of them are hard-working, highly educated, and possess "a calling" to serve others. While many people try to run from the effects of their mental illness, therapists are usually knawing at the bit to jump in. Many therapists give really good, thought-provoking, and insightful advice; much of it is thought-crafted exclusively to fit their client's needs, and almost always presented in a way that leaves the client empowered, confident, and equipped to tackle their obstacles.
I'm a therapist that strives to be all those things, and more! I love seeing my clients have what I call an "Ah-ha!" moment. It's that moment when the client makes a significant connection between problem and solution; it's that moment when the client rediscovers their power, their worth, and their value; it's that moment when the client makes a personal breakthrough that either positively changes them forever or launches them onto a healthier path in life. To see their faces light up at that moment makes my eyes a little misty every time. I love my job. No...not a job...a calling. I love my calling.
But, therapists can be a little detached from reality, too. Of course, we're human, just like you. We don't have all the answers, and even if we did, we probably wouldn't share it with you because we've been trained to believe your truth and your "normal" is all that really matters. We'll certainly saddle up next to you as you search out your truth or your normal and if we're good therapists we'll do it without judging you or directing you but we will certainly offer you our wisdom and experience to aid you. We can, and often do expect people to better themselves throughout the therapeutic process, but unfortunately, we can offer wisdom that sounds good but is sometimes not practical.
Let's take self-care activities, for instance.
Self-care is doing activities that bring you joy. Of course, there's more to it than that. Self-care is taking care of yourself, first. Have you ever been on a plane and heard the flight attendant instruct you and your fellow passengers that in case of sudden cabin depressurization, put your mask on before helping others? The reason is that you might become incapacitated helping another person and both you and the person you tried to help pass out. Self-care is putting your mask on and survive to help others.
But who really has time for self-care in today's fast-paced and globally connected society? Very few of us. This is why American's (mostly) operate their lives in a functioning deficit.
According to an article in Forbes magazine, a study indicated that burnout has increased from 43% to 52%. That means that 1 out of 2 people is burned out. That person could be your doctor (still want surgery?), that could be your child's school bus driver (still want your kid to take the bus?), that could be your local police officer (crime is going up in America), that could be you and I bet your burnout is negatively affecting the quality of your work as well.
So, you go to your friend for support, but you get very little because they're as burned out as you. So, you go to your nearest therapist (or at least the one that takes your insurance) and eventually we talk to you about your self-care or lack of it.
And that's where it often goes south.
We mean well. We want you to heal yourself and grow, so we talk to you about meditation, reading specific books, taking some yoga classes, exercise more, and get back into that hobby you used to enjoy...or at least go and find a hobby. It all sounds good. We might even pump you up into believing all those are possible for you. So you leave our office and your happy and we're happy that you're happy. You tell yourself, "When I get home, I'm going to jump on my $2000 exercise machine (that's currently a clothes rack) that I've only ridden on twice since I bought over a year ago."
And then you get home and it all falls apart. You sit down and eat chips and watch Netflix.
"Damn it, I could have been exercising," you tell yourself. "That's ok, I'll set my alarm an hour earlier in the morning and I'll wake up and meditate."
The alarm goes off and you turn it off and convince yourself that you can meditate in bed.
"Damn it, I should have gotten up. That's ok, I'll do better at work by taking my lunch outside and away from my desk".
Lunchtime happens and you're so busy you forget to eat your lunch at all.
"Damn it, I should have gotten out of the office. That's ok when I get home..."
The only thing that will consistently happen is that nothing will happen. At least not as far as self-care goes, anyway. Why? For starters, self-care isn't just an activity, it's a way of life. You just do it because it's the natural thing to do. It's easily adopted into the family of your daily life, not an exception to it.
Why, for instance, did the person (maybe you?) not get up and ride the overpriced exercise machine like they said they were going to do? Because it is not something they have always done, or really ever wanted to do in the first place. I mean, really, who has woken up since they were 8 years old excited to get on a treadmill or a stationary bike? Very few of us, but if that's you, good on you...you've found a self-care activity.
Who really has time to take a yoga class when the kids need a bath instead? Who has the time to meditate when we're already sleep-deprived as it is? I need to exercise? I need to eat right you say? That's just one more thing I have to do. We know we should, but unless we can incorporate it into our existing routine, then it probably won't get done...to our own detriment.
This blog series is going to take a look at practical ways we (including me) can practice self-care without expecting to spend a lot of money or take a lot of time out of our day. Some of the things I recommend may not be possible for you. That's ok, I'm not you...you can figure out a way that works for you. Some things might (definitely will) cost money. If you don't have the money, then don't do it...find something else that works for you. Ultimately, your self-care is what you make of it and how effective it is for you.
If it doesn't work, don't do it; if it works, try it again; if it works and it feels good, do more of it. It's just that simple, really.