We all know how important self-care is for being our best selves. And when we take care of ourselves, we essentially take care of our clients as well. After all, if you’re exhausted and burned out, you’re probably not offering the best therapy to your clients.
I teach therapists about the value of micro self-care – short, simple practices that can be used every day. These are especially effective during the workday. So instead of waiting for a weekend or an evening to replenish yourself, you can feel cared for and nourished throughout the work day.
Practically, micro-self-care can be as simple as taking one of your existing self-care strategies, ’shrinking it down’ to its most powerful essence, and then sprinkling it through the workday. For example, you might not be able to get to a yoga class today, but you can benefit from the stretch and relaxation of one power-pose between clients. You might not be able to schedule a full body massage today, but you can realize the benefits of myofascial release by massaging your feet with a tennis ball before you go home.
The idea is to create a personal toolbox of micro-habits – self-care activities that you can do in a few minutes or less which can then be threaded through the day. With this new approach, you can take care of yourself before sessions, between sessions, and even during sessions.
Here are 5 sample practices to get you started on workday self-care:
- Circle of Care
When: First thing after you’ve settled into your office and before you begin your workday activities.
What: Take a circular object and hold it in your hand. I have a small rose quartz circle that I keep in my desk drawer. Hold the object in your hand and say, “I’m part of a vast circle of helpers around the globe.” As you say this, close your eyes and imagine helpers and healers of all persuasions in your town, state, country, and in countries around the world. Know that you’re a part of this web of helpers.
Why: Whether we work in private practice, in a clinic, or some other setting, at some point we close our doors and are alone with our clients. This can feel isolating, as if we’re alone in our endeavors. If there’s one thing all schools of psychology agree about, it’s that relationships are crucial to our well-being. This brief technique reminds us that we’re part of a tribe.
- Hark How the Bells
When: At the start of a session.
What: Ring a Tibetan singing bowl (or other chime) three times with your client. Listen to the sound as it dissipates into the air around you and then begin the session. I use the following introduction: “I invite you to close your eyes and tune into your breath. Allow yourself to rest into the moment of now, focusing on your breath and inviting presence and curiosity towards whatever needs to arise. When you hear the sound of the bell, allow the tone to calm you, ground you, and take you deeper into your own spacious stillness.” This practice is calming to both therapist and client.
Why: This mindfulness-based ritual helps you and your client transition into your time together, preparing the space for meaningful work.
- Restorative Breath
What: Do 3 rounds of the “4-7-8” breath. Breathe in through your nose for the count of 4. Hold your breath for the count of 7. Exhale through your mouth for the count of 8. Repeat the cycle two more times.
Why: This ancient yogic breath has a powerful effect on your nervous system. Using this cycle regularly is known to stabilize and deescalate your nervous system.
- Strong front/Soft Back
What: Think the words, ‘strong back’ and simultaneously sink your belly button back to your spine as you exhale. Then think the words, ‘soft front’ while simultaneously expanding your stomach as you inhale.
Why: This practice, adapted from Joan Halifax in her work with dying patients, allows us to bring awareness to our strength and vulnerability in the face of intense emotion. It helps us key into our own equanimity.
- Wring It Out
When: At the end of the workday, before you go home.
What: Sit upright in a chair. Slowly and gently twist your body to the right from your hips to your head. Turn around as far to the right as you can. (You might wish to grab the chair handle to help you turn further.) Hold for 10 seconds or longer, allowing your muscles to relax and stretch. Add an extra stretch with a deep inhale, letting your chest expand. Then exhale as you come back to the front. Then repeat this process to the left. As you wring yourself and exhale, imagine that you’re a sponge that’s absorbed your clients’ energies. You want to squeeze out this sponge, freeing yourself from their concerns. Take a moment to notice how your body feels after you twist. Once you’re done, shake your arms in front of you as you release the day’s work.
Why: The essence of this micro self-care practice is in the stretch. As we sit in our therapy offices, conference rooms, lunch tables, and in our cars, the muscles of the back, chest, and shoulders tighten and clench to keep our posture. Gentle and slow twisting relaxes them, signaling to our bodies and minds that it’s time to leave work at the office and lighten our load for our homecoming.
When you rethink self-care using this new template of micro practices (weaving small well being habits into your day), you’ll find that you have the time, the ability, and the means to take care of yourself every day, throughout the workday. As a result you’ll feel better and find that you do better clinical work.
Ashley Davis Bush has been a psychotherapist for nearly 30 years. She has a private practice in southern New Hampshire. She is a Huffington Post contributor and the author of seven self-help books, including Simple Self-Care for Therapists: Restorative Practices to Weave Through Your Workday. Check out her work at www.ashleydavisbush.com.