Attending to Your Mental Health- The Importance of Self-Care for Professionals

I’ve had several different careers, and with each one, I’ve learned that self-care and listening to my body are the most important things in being able to keep up with the job, whatever it may be. Too few people in this society, particularly in the professional world, are talking about mental health.

Stigma

People who have real mental health issues aren’t encouraged to talk about their ailments. There are times when a person who falls into this category may need to take some time off of work to attend to their mental health. Burnout is real and can affect people with greater mental health needs than a person who does not struggle with mental illness. Often these people are made to feel like they’ve done something wrong, aren’t supported by their company/boss/co-workers, or are told to be silent about their situation.

From My Experience

I worked in a psychiatric hospital as a dance/movement therapist on and off for 4 years. I worked with adults with mood disorders, substance use disorders, PTSD, self-injurious behaviors, suicidal ideation, and psychotic disorders. Not only am I an empathetic helper, but I, too, have a mental health diagnosis. To say the least, it was hard.

I was very upfront with most of my supervisors about my diagnosis, particularly those who provided me with direct supervision. I knew that my countertransference would become an issue at some point in time and wanted to be transparent. Some of my supervisors were supportive, others were cautious. Some supervisors I didn’t tell at all for fear of being judged or discriminated against.

I worked at one hospital for a year full-time. I stopped taking care of myself; I would get home and just sit in front of the TV, eating yogurt or hummus, not bothering to make dinner. I stopped going to dance classes and yoga, two things that feed my soul. I stopped seeing friends during the week and sometimes would just come home and cry until I fell asleep, which would be pretty late.

After a year I had gotten to a place where my mental health needed more attention than it was getting and I needed to take some time off of work. There was no acknowledgment of my absence; it was as if I had just disappeared. In the end, I left the hospital completely to take care of myself and figure out whether working in a psychiatric hospital was the right career choice for me (spoiler alert- it wasn’t).

Self-Care

Everyone’s work environment is different, and just because you don’t work somewhere that you could easily end up being the client rather than the professional does not mean that you don’t need to attend to your mental health as a professional in whatever business you may be working.

Self-care takes many forms and looks different for everyone. Finding something that you are passionate about and that brings you joy is a good place to start. I know that many professionals work way more than 40 hour work weeks and may not have time to take classes or go to the gym, but you may be able to make time for the small things. Take your dog for a walk around the park, use a mindfulness app and learn to meditate, drink your coffee in your favorite spot in your house without doing anything else. These things may seem small but they go a long way.

You should do one thing every day that brings you joy. So many of us in the professional world are miserable. And when you’re miserable, you’re more susceptible to things like depression. Depression doesn’t discriminate; it doesn’t matter how successful you are, depression can creep up on you and before you know it you can barely get out of bed and your performance at work, as well as your quality of life, suffers.

Another way to tend to your mental health is by attending therapy regularly. I believe that everyone should be in therapy. Going to therapy isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s actually a sign of great strength. Being able to admit that you don’t have all the answers and that you need some help is a huge act of strength. Professionals, no matter the profession or career, need to take care of their mental health. And it should be okay to talk about needing help.

If you’re in a position of power, please treat your employees with compassion and understanding. And no matter who you are or where you fall on the corporate totem pole, please make sure you’re listening to yourself and attending to your needs. It’s in everyone’s best interest for you to be the best version of yourself that you can be.

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