Life as a provider

7 tiny ways to build self-care into your day

An abstract illustration of many smaller circles and rectangles, to represent moments of self care for therapists.

Some of the most effective ways of taking care of yourself in a caring profession are small, affordable, and can be built into your work day.

When your job involves emotionally supporting others — sometimes, people who are really struggling — taking care of yourself is a non-negotiable. If you burn out, you’ll not only be exhausted and unhappy. You could also be less effective in your ability to hold space for the people who entrust their mental health care to you.

But those grand gestures we envision when we think of “self care” — fancy spa days, tropical vacations, or honestly, just a few days off the grid — can be hard to come by or even downright unrealistic. Luckily, some of the most effective ways of taking care of yourself in a caring profession are small, affordable, and can be built into your work day. Ready to up your self-care game as a clinician? Take advice from these therapists.

1. Set reminders to take care of yourself

When your schedule’s packed, routines as simple as eating lunch or drinking water aren’t always easy to squeeze in, yet they’re essential for both your job and overall well-being. To make sure you take care of yourself in the most basic of ways — and to prevent decision fatigue — therapist Linda Whiteside suggests creating automated reminders by setting alarms on your phone or in a reminder app.

2. Talk to someone (anyone)!

Spending most of your day talking to your clients, you’ll need occasional support from people who understand what your job is like. “Having a group text with other professionals, making a call, or having a short walk or ‘hello’ with a colleague can be very replenishing,” says clinical psychologist Robin Hornstein. If you’d rather steer clear from work-related chatter, try shooting a quick text to a friend or loved one between sessions to catch up on your favorite Netflix show. 

3. Schedule time to “do nothing”

Social connection is important, but so is giving yourself space to disconnect. If you can block your calendar for even just 10 minutes of downtime, you’ll give yourself some solitude in the midst of a long day of talking. Spend your “nothing” time enjoying a cup of tea outside on a sunny day, or reading a few pages of a good book (not about therapy!), or just sitting with your thoughts for a few minutes and allowing your racing brain to rest. 

4. Keep a thought journal

When you’re parsing through difficult topics with your clients, it can be hard to keep the “big picture” in mind. That’s why Hornstein recommends keeping a thought journal where you write down your “wins” as a therapist. “Did you say something that really woke up a very depressed client or find humor with a grieving client? Write it down in a notebook to track your proud work moments,” she suggests. Bonus: Along with an in-the-moment reminder that you are, in fact, good at your job, you’re also creating a bit of encouragement for when you have a bad day in the future. 

5. Plan something fun

For those days stacked with clients or a full to-do list, psychologist Nancy Irwin recommends carving out a few minutes to plan something to look forward to, whether a fun new recipe to make for dinner that same night or a concert to check out over the weekend. Giving yourself something to look forward to — even something small — can help motivate you to get through a long and potentially stressful day. 

6. Center yourself with your clients

All that helpful mindfulness-focused work you do with clients can also benefit you, says therapist Caitlin Weese. Whether you take a few deep breaths along with your client or lead them through a mindfulness exercise, take the opportunity to ground yourself in session, too.  “I love integrating meditation into my client work,” Weese says. “It helps them to grow their skills and allows me to regulate my nervous system along with them.” 

7. Move your body between sessions

You don’t have to plan a 30-minute workout to benefit from exercise during the work day. Instead, take a few minutes between sessions to check in with your body and move in a way that feels good to you, like stretching or walking up and down the hall before seeing your next client. For extra efficiency, therapist Maria Elliott stacks movement into things she’s already doing. “When I finish with a client, I stand up, walk them out, and then stack a quick, three-minute walk around the building,” she says. “It allows me to show additional care to my client in seeing them out the door but also allows me to move my body.”

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