Watching the Clock: Getting the Most from Self-Care on a Schedule

As counseling psychology professionals, we have to take care of ourselves to be the best we can for our clients.

Self-care is about finding what works for you, and there are multiple ways to do that: A day at the spa, time with a great book or dinner with friends. But when we’re short on time, we often make ourselves the last priority.

Here are five small endeavors that can have a big impact on your well-being and help you make the most of the time you set aside for yourself:

  1. Sleep: Sleep (or a lack of) affects every moment we’re awake, and many of us simply don’t allocate enough time to snooze. The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention calls it a “public health epidemic,” linking sleep to “motor vehicle crashes, industrial disasters, and medical or other occupational errors.” The average adult needs seven to eight hours per night, and you don’t want your clients to see you yawning!
  1. Exercise: Entrepreneur Richard Branson has famously credited exercise as the number one reason for his success, and the medical community supports that conclusion. Exercise not only controls weight and combats disease, but impacts your mood, energy and the first rule of self-care: sleep …

“The health benefits of regular exercise and physical activity are hard to ignore. And the benefits of exercise are yours for the taking, regardless of your age, sex or physical ability,” according to the Mayo Clinic. “As a general goal, aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day.”

  1. Get Outside: Everyone from Oprah to your local fitness magazine will tell you to enjoy the great outdoors, but there’s a lot of science behind that. “Research has shown that spending time in nature has been associated with decreased levels of mental illness, with the strongest links to reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety, in addition to increased self-esteem,” according to Susanne Preston, a clinical mental health counseling instructor at South University, Virginia Beach.

Make this part of your everyday routine: Step outside for a quick lunch or take in some fresh air between counseling sessions.

  1. Let Go: We’ve all heard about the power of forgiveness or letting go of stress and anger, but do you know the full impact of holding things in? Releasing negative emotions can be one of the best ways to care for yourself.

“If someone is stuck in an angry state, what they’re essentially doing is being in a state of adrenaline,” according to Dr. Karen Swartz, a psychiatrist at John Hopkins. “And some of the negative health consequences of not forgiving or being stuck there are high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, not having a good immune response. You’re constantly putting your energy somewhere else.”

The American Psychological Association also has multiple recommendations to reduce stress.

The best news? This is something we can all practice without a huge time commitment. The next time someone cuts you off during the daily commute, take a deep breath and practice letting go of frustration!

  1. Learn: As we all know, stress isn’t always bad. Sometimes, it’s a necessary side effect of learning, which is always present when we push ourselves beyond our comfort zone.

“Humans are creatures of comfort. Our comfort zone is our natural, neutral state -- a place where stress and anxiety are minimal, where we know what's coming next and can plan accordingly,” The Huffington Post states. “There's nothing wrong with being in your comfort zone, unless you get too comfortable and start holding yourself back instead of challenging yourself to learn, grow and try new things.”

Learning and new experiences can improve your creativity, help you age and lead to some of the most fulfilling milestones of your counseling psychology career. This can also be a quick component of self-care: Whatever your interests, spend at least a few minutes a week learning more about them.

Take a look at other tips on self-care and preventing burnout!

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John Chambers

John Chambers has a passion for psychology. After graduating with an undergraduate degree in journalism and psychology from Eastern Illinois University, he covered human-interest topics, business, education and other stories as a newspaper reporter in the Midwest. John moved to Colorado in 2005 and transitioned into marketing before dedicating his career to the nonprofit sector. He is the director of marketing and communications at a homeless shelter in the Denver area, where he is involved in counseling and direct services. He is also a freelance writer and has a Master’s degree in marketing from the University of Colorado Denver.

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