Taking Stock: How are you Coping with this Pandemic?
The COVID pandemic no longer feels brand new. It’s not as chaotic and disruptive as it was in earlier months. But it’s an ongoing challenge full of uncertainty with no real end in sight. It is also the backdrop for other weighty matters including the turmoil of our political climate and issues of race and social justice.
Therapists are grappling with the ways our own issues overlap with our clients, with the continuation of telehealth and questions about return to in-person sessions. We need to give extra attention to the ways our personal lives and families are impacted and approach work/life balance in new and different ways.
So many therapists are feeling exhausted, not getting enough of their own needs met, and feeling very alone. If you’re stuck in front of a computer screen for hours, sensing the building tension in your body, wondering how you’re going to slog through until things get better, and feeling that you’ve got nothing left for yourself, it’s time to do something different.
My own sense of being on a roller coaster early in the pandemic has been replaced with a gentler sense of ebb and flow. I’m feeling grateful for the resilience I have cultivated and for the gifts I have discovered in the midst of this crazy time. But this did not happen without committing to making my own needs a priority.
It’s a Time for Extra Care
Doing therapy well requires that therapists’ own well-being is in good shape. This is true under the best of circumstances, but becomes even more so in difficult times.
We might be able to coast for a brief time when an unexpected stress hits, but we can’t sustain the ongoing strain of a prolonged and complex challenge like the pandemic without significant investment in ourselves. So it becomes crucial that we put our well-being at the top of the list.
The tricky thing is that when faced with an immensely stressful situation – like, say, a pandemic – it is EXTRA difficult to invest time, energy or other resources in ourselves. The more the stress accumulates, the harder it becomes.
So, What’s a Therapist to do?
There is good news here. In the same way we help our clients start where they are, we can do the same thing.
Wherever you are on the continuum from feeling exhausted to energized, burned out to resilient, isolated to engaged, apathetic to creative, all you have to do is… something.
Which brings me back to the idea of ONE MINUTE. If you can shift one minute of your time to investing more in yourself, that is a start. And if you take one step, you might just discover that the next one is not as hard as you might have thought.
I want to invite you to use the concept of micro-habits, or mini-habits, to get your foot in the self-nurturing door and see where it leads.
Need Some Ideas? Listen to Your Body
First, check in with yourself. Check in with your body. Take a few deep inhales and exhales and be curious about your state. Ask yourself, “What do I need right now?” or “What can I do in this moment that would feel good to me?”
See if you can let your body’s signals be a guide. Maybe you notice that you are tired or hungry or need a break. Maybe you have an impulse to reach out to someone or look out the window. Allow yourself to be surprised by what you find and what ideas you might discover.
One Minute Self-Nurturing Acts: My Brainstorm
- Take 4 – 6 deep breaths, making sure the exhale is long and full.
- Stretch a little – maybe stand up to do it. Pay attention to what your body would like.
- Look out the window and notice something that attracts your attention.
- Turn on music you love before you do the dishes, or do them by candlelight.
- Go outside and look around (heck, what if this turned into a 3 – 5 minute walk?!)
- Do a mindfulness practice. I have some quick ones for you here.
- Run up and down the stairs.
- Cross your arms, tap on one arm and then the other gently and slowly for some cross-body/brain integration.
- Put a hand on your heart or just tune in to yourself and recognize that this time is hard, that you are not alone with it, and see if you can wish yourself well.
- Lay on your back, close your eyes, and let gravity do the work so you can relax (or perhaps cloud-watch or star-gaze).
- Take an extra minute in the shower to just feel the warm water soothing you.
- Start a delight journal – keep a little notebook handy to jot little things down that bring you delight when you notice them.
- Take a photo of something that makes you smile.
- Make a cup of tea.
- Have a snack.
- Spend at least one minute eating your meal NOT working. (Can you see how this might be the start of something good….?)
- Buy yourself flowers when you go shopping.
- Ok, this might sound funny on a self-nurturing list, but… do your progress note right at the end of session. It might take more than one minute, but think of the pleasure of not having it hang over your head.
- Take an extra moment between sessions to shift your attention back to yourself before your next client or meeting. I have a practice to help with this that you can find here.
- At the end of a session, notice one thing that you feel good about and appreciate yourself for the work you do.
- Doodle – use a pencil, pen, crayons, markers – keep them handy. Maybe start with a 30 second scribble of frustration or overwhelm and then see if you can be playful with it for another 30 seconds.
- Sing a song. Or hum.
- DON’T immediately grab your phone or open social media – take a minute to put your phone further away so you have to be more deliberate about getting on it.
Can you find a way to remind yourself to try some one minute self-nurturing ideas?
Beyond One minute
The idea behind micro-habits is to try to implement something that is SO tiny and doable that your brain and body can find no excuses not to do it. This can be a first step that isn’t overwhelming that can lead to more change. (And this often happens spontaneously – cool, huh?!)
This one minute self-nurturing invitation is just one little idea that I’m hoping you might find useful. But you might want or need more substantial support to help you invest in your own well-being so that you can take care of yourself and your clients better.
It might be that your one minute of self-investment involves connecting with other professional or personal resources. Maybe you need to connect with peers, get some supervision or consultation, take a course (professional or fun), or invest in your own therapy.
Start where you are.
Try something doable.
Invest in yourself.
I’d love to hear anything you’d like to share, so if you’d like, please get in touch.
© 2020 Annabelle Coote
This article is intended for informational purposes only. It is not to be considered as legal, ethical, clinical, treatment planning, treatment recommendations, or any other business or clinical practice advice related to your work as a therapist.