“As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.” — Maya Angelou
Happy holidays! It is hard to believe we are coming to the end of the year 2020. It has been quite a roller coaster ride this year, with emotions and events that have taken us up summits and on dives, complete with loops and curves, hand-gripping moments and also some relief.
As counselors, we often ride the roller coaster with those we serve. Because we understand the importance of work-life balance, many of us have conversations with our clients about the importance of personal values, lifestyle management and self-care. Given the distress surrounding the coronavirus pandemic and resulting life changes, self-care can seem an impossible task to many, further taking a toll on their emotional and physical well-being.
As counselors, it is sometimes hard to remember to be good to ourselves. That is why I want to focus this column on the importance of taking care of yourself, especially during the holidays, through both happy and difficult times.
The Global Wellness Institute defines wellness as “the active pursuit of activities, choices and lifestyles that lead to a state of holistic health.” Each of us is unique in how we take care of ourselves in different ways. The need for self-care is documented in books, research and even an ACA task force that focused on the importance of wellness and counselor self-care. Emotional, social, spiritual, intellectual and physical wellness are essential, and as counselors, it is our ethical responsibility to practice self-care and wellness for ourselves to best support those we serve.
As we coast into 2021, it has never been more imperative that we practice what we teach and advocate as counselors. To be our “healthiest self” by participating in daily exercise and incorporating wellness strategies into our lifestyle is of paramount importance. My adult daughter who is a certified yoga instructor often reminds me of the importance of conscience lifestyle living. Sometimes, just doing something as simple as getting outside for a walk, getting in touch with an old friend or listening to your favorite music can be healing and nurturing.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) provides five wellness toolkits that offer ways to practice a healthy lifestyle. These toolkits (see nih.gov/health-information/your-healthiest-self-wellness-toolkits) cover how to make our environment safer, how to handle life’s stresses, how to increase our physical well-being, how to create positive social habits, and how to protect our health.
From NIH, here are six strategies for improving your emotional health.
1) Brighten your outlook: Manage negative emotions and hold on to positive emotions.
- Remember good deeds.
- Forgive yourself.
- Spend more time with friends.
- Explore your beliefs about the meaning of life.
- Develop healthy physical habits.
2) Reduce stress: Learning healthy ways to cope with chronic stress can boost resilience.
- Get enough sleep.
- Exercise regularly: Thirty minutes a day can make a world of difference.
- Build a support network.
- Set priorities.
- Think positive.
- Try relaxation methods.
- Seek help.
3) Get quality sleep: Sleep affects both our mental and physical well-being. It is essential to allow your body to get the rest it needs to be the best version of yourself.
- Go to bed the same time each night and get up at the same time.
- Limit the use of electronic devices before bed.
- Relax before bed by meditating, reading or listening to calming music.
4) Cope with loss: Learn healthy ways to help yourself through difficult times.
- Talk with caring friends.
- Find a grief group.
- Talk with your doctor.
- Consider additional support.
- Be patient. Mourning takes time. Grief can be a roller coaster of emotions.
5) Strengthen social connections: Our relationships can have positive effects on our health.
- Join a group that engages in your favorite hobbies, such as hiking, painting or quilting.
- Volunteer for things that you care about.
6) Be mindful.
- Take some deep breaths. Breathe through your nose to a count of four, hold for one second, and then exhale through your mouth to a count of five. Repeat often.
- Enjoy a stroll.
- Practice mindful eating.
- Find mindfulness activities or resources such as yoga and apps.
Finally, if you are looking for a good book as we approach the holiday season, pick up a copy of Counselor Self-Care (2018) by Gerald Corey, Michelle Muratori, Jude T. Austin II and Julius A. Austin (published by ACA). I especially loved Chapter 2, which discusses seasons of a career and includes some wonderful relatable stories. It was featured as part of ACA’s package of 15 free continuing education products this year.
Looking forward to ringing in 2021 with hope for wellness, peace and a year of new beginnings!