It is advised early on in our schooling to practice self-care as a means to prevent and combat burnout. Preventative self-care is usually along the lines of making sure you are staying healthy. This can mean eating right, working out, or finding something you enjoy in every day, like listening to music or reading before bed. Ideally when you are burned out, self-care would include taking a day or two off to recharge, maybe going on a weekend getaway, or getting a massage.
Realistically, for many therapists that isn’t possible. As Ben discussed here last week, far too much discussion of self-care ignores the practical and financial reality of being an early-career therapist. This recent Counseling Today cover story is a great example of talking about burnout in ways that put responsibility for it on counselors’ and therapists’ own shoulders, without mentioning several of the systemic reasons why mental health professionals early in their careers actually get burned out.
Most jobs offered to us cater to the lower SES community, where we tend to put in more work on our end of the treatment. This can mean driving to people’s homes, communicating with case managers and social workers, handling complex paperwork, and so on. These jobs often are high-stress jobs with difficult clients, low pay, and variable levels of supervision quality and support. At the same time, we scramble to take on as many hours in a week as possible to reach licensure and find better jobs with better pay. We are essentially set up for burnout.
When thinking about taking a day off, I find myself calculating the hours that would be lost towards licensure, and how far taking a day off would put me from paying off my bills or student loan debt. It’s usually either not worth it, or I find myself later “making up” time I took off, which of course leads to more burnout.
I’ve noticed that over time, my standards for self-care have had to be lowered. With limited time off, I’ve sacrificed a change of environment such as vacations or day-trips as a means to recharge. With limited funds, I find myself having to decline invitations to go out to eat with friends, and opt to do my own nails instead of being pampered at a salon. This has created somewhat of a dilemma because I no longer feel like I practice self-care when my options to treat myself are limited.
I’ve found that I had to sit down a make a list of little, inexpensive things I can do for myself, and then before doing them, remind myself that this too is self-care. The one thing that always seems to bring me some sense of relief is reminding myself that I am in a temporary phase of life, and better days are ahead. Below is my self-care list, and as you make your own, I hope some of these ideas may be helpful.
Emma’s Little Inexpensive Self-Care List
- Have a potluck or game night with friends
- Watch more than one episode of something consecutively on Netflix
- Work on a project (crochet, garden, writing, etc.)
- Go on a walk or hike somewhere new
- At-home spa night (bath, facemask, nails, etc.)
- Go out for dessert or coffee
- Check Groupon for affordable activities