Almost three years ago, I walked across the stage, gave a little squeal and grabbed my diploma from the dean. It was an exciting day to have family and friends celebrating the accomplishment with me. I finally completed my Master of Arts in Counseling and was excited to see how the Lord would use it.
A lot has happened since that day in December of 2012.
I taught my first class at a local undergraduate college.
I got married.
I lived through a house fire.
I worked 40 hours a week at one job and saw clients 10 hours a week at another in order to complete the 3,000 hours needed to receive my full license as a counselor.
I started a private practice to help individuals who have experienced trauma.
This season really has been exciting and very busy for me.
The most humbling lesson I’ve learned in the past three years is I cannot be completely present when caring for others if I am not also caring for myself. I learned that I had to prioritize my own self-care above serving and loving others.
I also learned this doesn’t mean I am being selfish.
Perhaps my story resonates with you. The Lord may have gifted you to effectively build relationships when others are drawn to you for advice, counsel and wisdom. This is a common trait for many counselors and ministry leaders. You have a great passion to serve and to help others, but you find yourself stretched too thin from over-committing to activities and people.
Here are some tips to implement this week that will keep you healthy as you counsel and serve others!
- Let it all out! People need to talk—you know that better than anyone! Take time this week to seek out a friend for coffee or meet with a counselor. This will help you gain perspective on the difficult situations in your own life. Allow yourself to be supported by those who care for you!
- Set limits. It is okay to say “no.” You know your own limits better than anyone. Recognize a time that you feel overwhelmed this week and practice saying “no” when someone asks for more of your time than you can give.
- Rest. Getting a restful night’s sleep is one of the best ways to energize yourself. You’ll feel much less lethargic when you have enough rest and you’ll have the ability to focus in your work. Sleep is also key to fighting depressed mood and anxiety when you have a lot on your plate.
- Eat a balanced diet. It is important to nurture your body with foods that provide energy and nutrients. A balanced diet provides the support your brain needs to think and feel healthy. Trade one fast food meal for a home cooked meal this week.
- Get active. Physical activity decreases tension while also releasing endorphins that enhance your mood. Whether it’s taking a walk with a friend in the park or taking a lap around the parking lot during lunch, try to add one new physical activity this week.
- Take time for YOU! Think of one activity that you enjoy doing (photography, painting, seeing a movie, getting a massage, hiking, etc.) and do it at least once this week. Hobbies are important and, as a counselor, you need to take time for you!
These disciplines have been essential for me to implement in this busy season of life. Taking the time to care for myself has allowed me to be fully present with my family, friends and clients. For further reading, I recommend:
- “The Therapist’s Workbook: Self-Assessment, Self-Care, and Self-Improvement Exercises for Mental Health Professionals” by Jeffrey A. Kottler.
- “The Gift of Therapy: An Open Letter to a New Generation of Therapists and Their Patients” by Irvin Yalom.
What are some other tips you have for caring for yourself in order to care for others?