Right before I began graduate school, a friends mom asked me, “Why do you want to be a therapist? Don’t you think it’s depressing hearing all of those problems and heartache?”
I answered, “No, I don’t think it’s depressing at all. I find it fascinating and amazing to witness healing and change.”
Twenty plus years later, on occasion, I am asked a variation of the same question, and my answer hasn’t changed much.
I don’t think my career is depressing at all.
Of course there are stressful, heartbreaking and challenging times. However, I have a privileged seat helping others transform suffering to healing, problems to solutions, and move from stagnation to growth.
Seeing clients transformation is powerful. As a psychologist, it is witnessed hope.
Over the years, I have heard a lot of suffering. And the world we live in right now, is chaotic, filled with violence and division. At times the heartache, suffering, and pain can feel overwhelming.
In the therapy room, I have the necessary credentials, training and two decades plus of experience to do productive work. However, it is my commitment to self-care and well-being outside the therapy room that has enabled me to stay passionate, interested, and optimistic in the work I do as a psychologist and in my life.
Here are ten ways I cultivate self-care and stay optimistic in the midst of suffering:
Sleep is critical. If there is one thing I make sure to do is get enough sleep to feel rested. Of course, there are times I have disrupted sleep, because of a sick child, difficulty unwinding after a long day, or because I stay up too late binge-watching a show. But those are the exceptions, not the norm. Sleep is the foundation of mental, emotional, and physical health and well-being. Without it, or skimping on it, creates an imbalance in health. On average, most adults need somewhere between 7-9 hours of sleep to feel rested. Getting enough sleep also helps access good coping skills. Have you ever noticed how sleep deprivation and fatigue is a perfect set-up for irritability instead of intentional coping?
Every day I create moments to acknowledge and practice gratitude. Gratitude can come in the form of expressed appreciation for an act of kindness or thoughtful gesture to another person or in more private ways through a thought about something I am grateful for. In my gratitude practice, I take time to slow down and appreciate the moments, people and here and now happening as my day unfolds.
As a therapist and writer, I do a lot of sitting and spending time in my head. Exercise not only helps with physical health, but it’s also a great way to manage and release stress. My exercise routine includes yoga and swimming several times a week. I rarely skip exercise because I see the tremendous benefits physical activity have on my mental, emotional and physical health.
Find Humor in Life and Limit Violence in Media/Entertainment
In therapy, I sit with clients who are suffering, grieving and working through pain, sadness, and anger. I hear a lot of stories that are sad and overwhelming. For this reason, when it comes to my personal life, I do not watch any form of entertainment that is violent, dark or depressing. If there is trauma involved, for example, crime shows or medical dramas, I skip it. Becuase in my line of work, the content portrayed in these shows and movies is mirrored in the lives of the clients I support. For entertainment, I keep it light by watching feel-good stories and humor related movies and shows.
As a psychologist, writer and mother of four children, talking, chatter and noise is part of my life. Meditation has been my go-to for quiet and centering. The benefits of meditation are incredible: decreases anxiety and depression increases compassion and creativity and boosts the immune system. Similar to gratitude, meditation is a practice and takes some time and commitment to get started. But, once you get into the practice, meditation is powerful, relaxing and healing. And the best part of meditating, you can do it almost anywhere.
Search for the Good
Part of my spiritual self-care routine is to search for the good in others and the world. I began practicing this skill years ago, and it has made a tremendous difference in my well-being and happiness. In spite of the suffering I hear at work, experience or observe in the world, there are wonderful people, actions, and movements happening all around. Whether in your home, community, place of work or the news, search for the goodness happening in the world. Inspiration and hope are out there. You just have to develop the skill.
Connect with Supportive Friends and Family
Staying connected with friends and family who are supportive and loving is an essential part of self-care. Many people feel obligated to spend time with emotionally draining people or stay in relationships that are unhealthy. Everyone goes through hardship. Hardly am I advocating not being supportive of those in need. What I am asking you to consider is to limit time with friends and family who display a pattern of drama, dysfunction and do not reciprocate the support you provide. One of the greatest joys in life is spending time with friends and family creating connection and positive experiences.
One of the most important skills I use to maintain well-being is having good boundaries. Learning to say no to activities I do not want to do or have time to do, is a critical part of my emotional, mental and social self-care. Which means, I am selective about where and how I spend my time when I am not working. Learning to say to no to activities that would stress or overwhelm my schedule and impact my personal life is something I take very seriously. Seldom do I commit to an event I do not have the time or energy to do.
I believe therapy is a beautiful gift of self-care. And it’s not because I am in the business as a provider. Throughout my life, I have been in therapy, and the reasons have been varied: for self-growth, because of crisis, grief, and for check-ins. Counseling can be a great tool to help facilitate change and cultivate happiness and well-being.
Find Activities that Bring Joy
Years ago when I became a mother, one of the lessons my twin babies taught me was finding joy in small moments. I remember being in awe how they could find joy watching a butterfly in a garden, splashing in the bathtub, or seeing my face greet them in the morning. Simple, everyday activities. Finding activities and hobbies that cultivate joy has been key to my well-being and resilience in my career. In my busy life, I seek out the joy in small everyday moments. I also have a list of activities that bring me joy-such as photography, writing, listening to music and walking on the beach. Knowing the activities that bring you joy and happiness are critical and then finding the time to do them is essential.
We can not control the world we live in, but we can cultivate peace, happiness, and health in our lives. I hope these suggestions inspire you to think about how to create optimism in your life.