Mental health experts on self-care: they show us how it's done
Here’s how the pros are coping during the pandemic
Ten minutes of me-time in the evening, sitting on the balcony with a cup of masala chai can help you de-stress and unwind, taking you from a flaming Cheeto to a warm, gooey Camembert. All mental health experts believe that taking time out for self-care is an integral pillar of maintaining mental wellbeing and encourage us to do it.
Whether it’s a workout to raise your dopamine levels, cooking a nutritious meal, or watching movies with your family, mental health experts advise a variety of things you can do to practice self-care. But how do these professionals, who help us deal with grief, irrational thoughts, panic attacks and more, guard their own mental health when the whole world seems to be falling apart?
Imagine the kind of pressure mental health experts must have felt when the pandemic started, to be there for struggling clients.
Sure, it’s a job they trained for. But as has been said a million times since March, these are unprecedented times, and mental health professionals are as vulnerable to the pandemic and its far-reaching tentacles as the rest of us.
“People tend to view therapists as ‘emotionally perfect’ individuals that have ‘mastered’ life or are ‘experts’ at living. I would like to debunk this myth: therapists are vulnerable and experience similar messy and raw emotions. We’re ‘trained’ to cope better, have more knowledge and guide our clients, but it doesn’t mean we’re always able to apply it to our own lives as effectively,” says Rhea Kishnani, mental health therapist.
Exposed to our deepest insecurities, compassion fatigue and professional burnout have increasingly become a concern for mental health experts around the world. So, we asked them to share their self-care routines.
How mental health experts are practising self-care in the pandemic
“Just because we’re working online doesn’t mean we’re working 24X7”
Prachi S Vaish enjoyed the first few days of lockdown, they allowed her a break from the usual work schedule. But soon, people who previously found it difficult to fit therapy into their busy lives now had time to focus on their mental health.
The clinical psychologist and psychotherapist found herself back at work at Emotional Wellness Initiatives, which she founded. “It sometimes becomes hard to set boundaries — we receive texts to book appointments at all hours and we struggle to convey that just because we’re working online, doesn’t mean we’re working 24×7.”
Like us, Vaish would get frustrated cooped up at home and anxious over the possibility of not being able to meet her friends. People around her started to lean on her, automatically presuming they could vent their anxieties and expecting a “miracle mantra sometimes that will help them relieve it.”
“It creates an awkward situation sometimes when you confess that you too are in the same boat and have the same discomfort with the prevailing uncertainty,” she says.
Vaish found some solace in is cutting down on screen time first thing in the morning. Now, she won’t look at her phone until after breakfast and puts it aside for mealtimes. “This helps me disconnect and feel refreshed,” she says, advocating a policy of no-gadget time every day, especially before bed.
She started making sleep playlists to help her sleep, picking tunes of delta waves and binaural beats which she says have worked wonders. Another thing she began taking time out for was a nighttime skincare routine to unwind before she gets into bed.
Sundays are for sleeping in and watching movies. “Weekdays and weekends tend to merge into each other and that really takes a toll because we don’t have the usual weekend entertainment options available any more. So I completely stay off work on Sundays —took me some time to not feel guilty about that,” she says.
“You might forget to take care of yourself”
“We are in an unprecedented and challenging time which invariably impacts our moods, state of being and wellness quotient. I’m not spared,” says Rhea Kishnani, mental health therapist.
She has had a significant increase in people reaching out for support at her counselling practice in Mumbai, Mind Heal(th) since the lockdown began.
There was increased pressure to support the people who were reaching out. She found herself needing to continually check in with herself, assess her own abilities to provide expertise and engage in emotional labour. Being able to replenish and get back to another day is a crucial part of preventing therapeutic burnout, she says.
Kishnani believes that self-care is one of the most important facets of being a therapist. What the professionals themselves engage in can also serve as a model for clients who have been struggling with self-neglect.
“You might forget to look after and take care of yourself. I am occasionally a victim to this too. Over the years, I’ve learned to create better practices that facilitate my own nourishment.”
Her self-care includes meditating and yoga, indulging in aromatherapy with essential oils, and journaling.
She’ll dive into a book to disconnect from reality, binge-watch a feel-good comedy show and take an evening stroll to get some fresh air and space from her work.
“Adjusting to working online creates added pressure”
Being a psychologist gave Lavanya Iyer the ability to manage her mental health better than the rest of us and stay positive. But she hasn’t been immune to feelings of emptiness and frustration.
The pandemic created a new pool of people who came to her for help. It isn’t just the increase in the need to be supportive and empathetic towards people coping with bad mental health. It’s also ensuring her help gets to them effectively.
“With the overall sentiment of negativity, fear and uncertainty, the situation has been difficult and different. Plus, there is a paradigm shift in the way counselling is done since everything is online. That adjustment also adds to the pressure in terms of achieving the desired outcome,” she says.
While she has adjusted well to this new way of life, there have been tense moments. She would start spiralling into the dark hole of scrolling through media outlets, watching the news of increasing COVID-19 cases and obsess over the illness reaching family and friends.
She stresses the importance of personal time. As a practice, she makes sure to get alone time for activities that she enjoys. Streaming her favourite music playlists, immersing herself in the latest trending show and befriending a new novel.
Iyer is all about optimism and positivity. She believes that in times like these we need to remember all the things that we take for granted. Be grateful for the people we have in our lives and the moments we have spent together.
“Having a positive outlook towards situations can help ease anxiety,” she adds.