At its core, self-care is about finding and honing the coping strategies you can rely on in times of need. Whether you meditate, run, draw, write, or take a long bath, these small rituals strengthen self-reliance and foster confidence in your ability to handle whatever life throws at you. While self-care ultimately comes down to personal preference (and years of trial and error), I’ve always been curious as to how mental health professionals respond to stress and anxiety in their personal lives. As veritable experts in the “field” of self care, what easy-to-implement self-care tips can they offer us? How have their professions influenced their personal approach to mental health?
To get answers, five mental health professionals were tapped to give insight on their own wellness routines and tried-and-true strategies. Not only do their responses run the gamut — 30 minutes of reading in the morning, unplugging in the evenings, organizing a desk, laughing with friends, etc. — they're also super relatable and possibly things you already adopt yourself.
And while there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, their answers can serve as inspiration for your own rituals or simply offer some perspective during this challenging time. Below, learn what self-care means to five practicing psychologists, counselors, and therapists.
Easy-To-Implement Self-Care Tip: Indulge In Small, Simple Pleasures
Dr. Sanam Hafeez, Psy.D, Licensed Psychologist and founder of NYC-based Comprehensive Consultation Psychological Services, has had the same self-care routine since she was a teenager. “In the morning, I carve out 45 minutes to have breakfast by my kitchen window, read the New York Times, and catch up on the news,” she tells TZR. “If I don’t get this time, I feel mentally blocked. It clears my head and prepares me for the day.” For Hafeez, this routine is all about downtime. “I believe in self-reflection, and I think this has helped me tremendously as a psychologist, a mom, and a business owner.”
When dealing with stress or anxiety, Hafeez relies on her training in cognitive behavioral therapy. “I practice small things that pack a powerful punch, like walking to get fresh air, chatting with a friend, or taking a warm bath or shower — these rituals kickstart the brain, get the endorphins going, and help me gain some perspective,” she explains. “These tools will be invaluable in the weeks and months ahead as we fight the spread of coronavirus and practice social distancing.”
Easy-To-Implement Self-Care Tip: Show Yourself Some Compassion
“To me, self-care isn’t elective. It’s essential to keep my life running,” says Annie Wright, licensed therapist, mother, and founder of Evergreen Counseling. “It’s not some big, elaborate ritual I perform every day or every week — it’s a few key ingredients woven into my days, plus a dose of grace, compassion, and flexibility.” For Wright, those ingredients include waking up early, getting in a solid workout, chatting with her girlfriends, unplugging from work by 7 p.m., spending time with her daughter, and indulging in some escapist TV. “Even in these days of lockdown here in the Bay Area, getting dressed for work sends an important message that what I’m doing still matters,” she adds. “It helps me prepare myself mentally for the day.”
Above all else, self-compassion is integral to Wright’s approach. “If I’ve been up super late with my teething daughter, I might sleep in and not get up to work out, and I let that be okay,” she says. “Flexibility, above anything else, feels like a true act of self-care. So as much as I try to incorporate these elements into my life, I always try to be compassionate when life doesn’t allow for them.”
Easy-To-Implement Self-Care Tip: Be Present
For Dr. Vassilia Binensztok, PhD, Licensed Counselor and Founder of Juno Counseling Center, self-care is a delicate balancing act. “Sometimes, self-care means doing chores that will benefit us later — I’ll organize my desk, respond to emails, and press my clothes so I can relax in the future,” she explains. Other times, it’s about slowing down and being present. “Whether I’m enjoying a cup of tea and reading, taking a long relaxing walk, or doing an at-home spa routine, I make sure to do so mindfully,” she notes. “I'll savor the flavors of my tea, listen to the birds on my walk, and deeply inhale the scent of my bath. Self-care isn't just about doing certain tasks or rituals, it’s about the joy of the moment.”
In moments of anxiety, Binensztok always tries to talk to herself in a kind voice. “I find that treating yourself with kindness and compassion is one of the best things you can do when stressed,” she adds. “Because I know what works for me and what doesn't, I can never let myself wallow in unhelpful behaviors for too long.”
Easy-To-Implement Self-Care Tip: Laugh
Laughter and exercise serve as the two main ingredients in licensed psychologist Dr. Dana Dorfman’s self-care cocktail. “Exercise has been my go-to stress reliever for most of my life — I’m highly dependent on the endorphin rush, the release of physical tension, and the time alone,” she explains. “Like many helping professionals, I’m prone to feeling guilty when I take time away from my other responsibilities to go for a run. But, I've learned that my family and patients will actually benefit from my workout.”
Additionally, the adage “laughter is medicine” is taken very literally in Dorfman’s case. “I grew up in a family in which humor was not only a highly valued attribute, but one of the predominant coping mechanisms and communication styles,” she explains. “ I rely heavily on this for connection and centering — I need laughter for survival!”
Easy-To-Implement Self-Care Tip: Be Still
A solo cup of coffee and dedicated reading time constitutes self-care for Allison Kranich, a licensed clinical counselor with Northwestern Medicine McHenry Hospital. “Talking with people all day is great and I love my job, but I also need time to process my own emotions,” she shares. “I’ve recently started waking up 30 minutes early to read a book and drink my first cup of coffee alone.” To that end, she aims to read two books per month to mandate this cherished solo time. “It’s a small but manageable goal,” she adds. “It’s taken me two years to get back to reading, but it greatly helps with my self-care.”
Above all else, her work as a counselor has taught her the importance of taking time for herself. “I teach people how to manage emotions effectively, but that doesn’t mean I always follow my own advice,” she explains. “But my expertise has made me realize the value of self-care. Spending those extra few minutes listening to a song in the car, or reading that one last page, helps me, and therefore helps the people around me.”