10 Tips for Counsellors to Stay Strong During the Pandemic
As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, mental health problems are on the increase, so how can we, as counsellors and other helping professionals, maintain our own emotional resilience with the extra pressure this puts on us?
Here are 10 simple but effective support tips put together by myself (Judy Blee) and Kelly Smith from Devon Counselling Training to support you with your care of self and identify any continued professional developmental needs you may have.
1. Challenge what stops you looking after self
Some key reasons why we don't practice self-care:
Self-care comes after the 'to dos' and so you don't usually get to it
The needs of others are more important
Self-care feels over indulgent or silly
When we are under more pressure, such as during this pandemic, conscious attention to self-care is even more crucial in order to build emotional resilience. Hopefully the points below will reinforce your ability to challenge some of the thinking that stops you self-caring.
2. Challenge what drives you to exhaustion
In Transactional Analysis, there are considered to be 5 main behaviour drivers (or counter injunctions) which are the result of false beliefs (injunctions) convincing us if we don't behave like this we will break or 'go under'.
Here are the 5 main, exhausting drivers that may be part of your inner dialogue to self:
I must try hard
I must hurry up
I must please others
I must be perfect
I must be strong
Trying to achieve these super human feats means there is little or no room for self-care so it it important to both examine where they come from and challenge their validity.
A simple technique to challenge them is in the use of more realistic phrases. For example, to challenge the thought "I must be perfect" I use "good enough is good enough" something I learnt from studying paediatrician Donald Winnicott's work (1953) about the importance of being a 'good enough mother' . This model illustrates the dangers of aiming for perfection as it is actually unachievable and therefore perpetuates a constant feeling of failure.
3. Know what your physical self needs
Address your need to move, rehydrate, refuel regularly throughout the day, the week and longer term. A good indicator as to the correct balance for you is how you generally feel physically by the end of each of these periods of time.
If appropriate, turn your camera off on Zoom meetings or training every now and again to stand up and stretch
Explore how you can fit in little bits of physical activity at work or during your day
Work to time not job before taking a break
Work out the ideal length of work time for you before you need a break. For me this means not going over an hour
Be realistic about the time you need between clients or jobs
Take a lunch break
Be really honest with yourself when setting longer term goals as to what is realistically possible
4. Know what your mental self needs
Address your need to be mentally stimulated and rested regularly throughout the day, the week and longer term. A good indicator as to the correct balance for you is how motivated or overwhelmed you are feeling at the end of these periods of time.
Look for opportunities to delegate jobs that do not stimulate you or you don't have time for
Allow time on a regular basis to work on what excites you
Allow time and activities for your creative brain as well as your intellectual one
5. Know what your spiritual self needs
Address your need to be spiritually stimulated regularly throughout the day, the week and longer term. A good indicator as to the correct balance for you is how calm you are feeling at the end of these periods of time.
Breathe deeply whenever you remember
Explore activities such as meditation, mindfulness, yoga and cold water immersion as there is growing evidence that such practices produce a calmer mind more able to cope with life's stressors
Plan time for other spiritual activities that help you to feel whole
6. Know your limits and be strict with your boundaries
When we over extend our kindness we can end up feeling resentful and drained because we have disrespected our own needs in putting another's needs first. It is important to know what our comfortable limits of kindness are and to learn to hold these boundaries in order to look after self.
Be honest with yourself about what you are prepared to do and what you are not
Learn to say "no" from your polite, respectful, assertive adult self and you will be respecting your own needs too
Practice ways to say "no" that can be applied generally so that you have a script to use
Think about the cost to others when you over-extend your kindness, you may be dis-empowering them by preventing them from helping themselves
7. Know what your job is
It is important to know what the expectations are for your job role and to know where there are grey areas. In counselling and other helping professions this may often need careful guidance from supervisors and perhaps peers in response to individual cases. It is an important part of self-care to be able to work collaboratively and reach out for support when needed as this keeps you safer in your role.
Ask for support when you feel unsure or out of your depth, it is likely that others have had similar experiences
Notice and challenge the thinking that make asking for support difficult for you
Notice and try to value when you are able to support others in return and how indicative this is of the learning process you have been through
8. Know who your energisers and drainers are
As mammals, humans are inherently social creatures, it has been one of our greatest assets in survival as a species because we can problem solve together and support each other. However, companionship does not always feel supportive and some people undermine our self-worth. Knowing who, out of your family, friends and colleagues energises you and who drains you makes it possible to choose to spend more time with those that bring you energy.
A simple indicator is to check in with how you feel after you have been with someone.
Try not to apply logic to how you feel around people, just trust that how you feel will be telling you something important about them
Pause before you say "yes" to something you don't want to do to buy yourself some thinking time
Learn to say "no" from your polite, respectful, assertive adult self and respect your needs too
Actively seek out opportunities to spend time with those that energise you
9. Work on realistic optimism
As humans we are pre-disposed to notice the negative. This has played an important part in our survival as a species because, in the past, this vigilance for danger helped us to spot predators. This phenomenon is particularly well demonstrated by Meercats! However, we can become hyper-vigilant, especially during scary times such as the current pandemic and develop a strong negative bias which can interfere with self-care. Realistic optimism means becoming aware of and challenging any negative biases you may have with realistic thinking. For example, if you struggle with not feeling good enough, sometimes called Imposter Syndrome, it is important to challenge the reality of the evidence around you.
List what you have achieved at the end of a day
Ask yourself what you can do when you start worrying about what you can't do
List 5 things that you have achieved / like about yourself and say them out loud if you are feeling negative about yourself or your work. This can be effective even if they are tiny things like "today I like my hair"
10. Learn how to stop
We can get caught in the false belief that if we just keep attending to work and responsibilities whether it is actually doing them or simply attending to them in our thoughts we will be more in control. The reality is though, that we will be less rested and less efficient and ultimately this leads to burnout. Stopping doing and thinking about work is important in order for us to recharge so that we can work more efficiently when we return. When this becomes difficult, such as during the current pandemic, then it becomes even more important to work hard to find ways to stop.
Find what totally distracts you from thinking about work and do it as often as you can, especially when times are tough
Always book in the next time off work so that you have something to look forward to
Dare to dream about your future job, life, holiday after Covid 19. Draw it, write about it, talk about it with those you trust to nurture it with you, research it and try to look for tiny steps and opportunities to work towards it
If you are interested in learning more about building emotional resilience in counselling and other helping professions on one of our face to face or online courses at Devon Counselling Training please click here