A Therapist's Self-Care Tips to Cope with Stress and Anxiety

How to become grounded, find your center, and breathe in stressful times.

Posted Sep 18, 2020

Even mental health professionals sometimes have to be reminded how important it is to make time to care for ourselves so we can remain healthy and, as a result, be better equipped to support our clients. In this series of interviews, I asked other mental health professionals about their self-care practices — what works for them and how they manage to center their needs as they care for others.

In my previous post, I shared some of my own self-care practices and featured Zoe Shaw, a licensed psychotherapist and relationship coach based in California. Dr. Shaw described self-care as a “reckoning with your soul, where you can make the declaration: ‘I am worthy to be cared for.’”

Used with permission.
Monica L. Coleman, MS, NCC, CRC, PLPC, BC-TMH
Source: Used with permission.

Below, you’ll hear from Monica, L. Coleman, a counselor based in Tunica, Miss., who offers a powerful and candid testimony of the impact of self-care. My hope is that the self-care habits of these therapists may encourage you to start your own, or renew your commitment to your own health.

What have you found to be most challenging about being a clinician in this time?

I serve clients throughout the state of Mississippi through telemental health services. As a counselor specializing in working with adolescents, marginalized populations and people with disabilities, it has been most challenging to know that some of the most vulnerable in my state have not had access to therapy because of limited access to broadband services and/or devices. In Mississippi, there are many rural areas with limited broadband connectivity. These are usually also places where poverty is rampant.

What does self-care mean to you?

Self-care is about understanding, accepting, and acting upon the fact that I need to be well in order to help others improve their wellness. In understanding this, I continually seek knowledge about what wellness can look like in my life. In accepting, I acknowledge where I need to make changes.  In acting, I implement practices that foster wellness in my life.

What self-care practice have you found most beneficial in these times?

Listening to my mind and body and seeking help from others as needed.

In what ways does this help?

Earlier this year, I began experiencing extreme fatigue. I decided to tune into my mind and body more to see what was going on. First, I began increasing my physical activity with walking and yoga. I also altered my diet to incorporate more produce. Then, I started chiropractic care and mental health therapy. I visited my doctor for a general wellness check and soon learned I was pregnant, which was unexpected after trying for the past five years with no success. Of course, today, I pay extra special attention to my mind, growing body, and baby, and I have a team of support from both professionals and family and friends.

When you can't do what's most beneficial, what's your plan B?

When I am struggling to listen to my mind and body or seek help from others, it is usually because I am in a moment of distress. When in distress, my to-go solution is to breathe. I take a slow deep breath in through my nose for five seconds and even slower out through my mouth for 10 seconds.  I repeat this until I become grounded in my mind and body again and can hear them once more. From there, my mind and body let me know if I need to reach out for help.

By the way, this is a skill in dialectical behavioral therapy that is important to use for building distress tolerance. I often share this with my clients because we don't know what to do when we don't know what to do. Yet breathing is something easy to remember to do in those moments and highly effective when done correctly. I often model this for and with clients in sessions to make sure they understand the science and practice of this skill.

Why is it important to have self-care practices?

Self-care practices are what sustain us over time in our lives. They help us last and keep striving toward the goals and dreams we desire. I like to think of them in terms of upkeep on a vehicle. Our vehicles need fuel and maintenance to perform and last over time. Self-care practices are what fuel and maintain us over time so we can perform. When we omit them, we find ourselves running empty sooner or later. We cannot go far if we're running on empty.

My hope for myself, family, friends, and all of my clients is that we all can perform well and go far in achieving our goals and dreams in life. Self-care is absolutely essential as we do this work called life together.