It’s a hard time to be a mental health therapist. At this point, most of our severe life changes are nothing new—most of us have been stuck at home, isolated and struggling in a multitude of ways for a while now. But adapting to these changes as a therapist has been a completely different experience. For the first time in my career, all of my clients have the same exact major stressor, and for the first time, I too have the same stressor! This both unites me with my clients in a way that was never before possible, while also making it harder to maintain boundaries—it feels as if the curtain has been pulled back, and I am left standing there, exposed and vulnerable.
At first, I resisted this blurring of boundaries, wanting to remain professional and unaffected, like a blank slate on which my clients could lay down their greatest worries and burdens. But this approach felt exhausting after just a few days—I wasn’t being genuine, and I could feel this discomfort (and I’m sure my clients could as well). So instead I decided to lean into the blurring of boundaries, by sharing with some clients what has helped my mental health during this time. Instead of this vulnerability feeling exposing, it actually felt like it deepened my connection with clients and normalized our collective struggles. Below, I share the tips that I shared with my clients, in the hope that they can be applicable to anyone who is having a hard time:
- Catch your negative thoughts.
If you haven’t heard of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), it’s basically the idea that our thoughts impact our feelings, which then impact our behavior. So for example, if an incident occurs, such as your boss reprimanding you, your automatic thought might be, “I’m so stupid. I’m going to get fired.” That thought could trigger feelings of anxiety and sadness, and the resulting behavior might be that you withdraw from your boss and your co-workers. The idea behind CBT is to catch those automatic thoughts before they trigger certain feelings within us, and instead challenge or replace these thoughts with others that might be more helpful for the situation. So for this example, you could replace that automatic thought with, “My boss is dealing with a lot of stress. This isn’t about me.” This new thought will trigger different feelings, likely of decreased anxiety and sadness, and the resulting behavior will be different, likely not withdrawing from your boss and co-workers. Catching and replacing our thoughts is so helpful in controlling our feelings and behaviors, and can be used in any situation that we’re facing now in which we are having negative thoughts.
- Connect to others.
Connection is important now more than ever! It can seem especially appealing now to stay in bed, pull the covers over our heads, and tune out the rest of the world, including our loved ones. But while this might feel better in the moment, that moment will pass, and this disconnection is ultimately harmful for us. So even if it takes a little force, we need to urge ourselves to reach out to others—either virtually or in person (through walks or drive-bys from a safe distance). Connection helps us escape our own thought patterns, consider other people’s perspectives, and care for others in a way that is beneficial to our stress levels and mood.
- Set a morning routine.
Anxiety often increases when we feel like things are out of our control. One thing that we can absolutely control right now is our routine, so it’s helpful to start the morning with a routine, to decrease our anxiety from the very start of the day. Your routine can be simple—something as straightforward as “wake up, wash face, brush teeth, make bed, pour coffee” can be really effective in terms of decreasing our anxiety.
- Stay in the present.
Mindfulness can often sound scary or intimidating to those who don’t practice it, and I completely understand—I’m not someone who likes to sit in a quiet room by myself while focusing on my breathing, it’s too daunting. That’s why I often offer my clients the concept of active mindfulness, which essentially means paying attention on purpose while doing an action. For example, when you are washing dishes, instead of letting your mind wander, you can think to yourself “I feel the warm water running from the faucet, I smell the bubbles of soap, I see the clean white dish in my hand…” You can do this with any everyday action that you are engaging in (walking, cooking, cleaning), and it will help to ground you in the moment while decreasing your stress and anxiety.
- Be kind to yourself.
Cut yourself a break! This is a very hard time, and we need to lead with self-compassion. Being hard on ourselves is not going to increase our productivity, motivation, or mood, but research shows that self-compassion actually can. So the next time you start to get down on yourself, try finding a quiet space, taking a few breaths, and then repeating a few self-affirming statements to yourself. It works!
I hope that this is helpful! To learn more, visit RachelShineTherapy.com
Content provided by Women Belong member Rachel Shine