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Self-Care: Challenges Facing Mental Health Professionals During the Holidays

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Hi!
It’s patently obvious that mental health professionals are also human beings – very much so! I know how human I feel year-round, let alone the holiday season. Therefore, it makes sense that professionals also have to practice self-care, especially during the holiday season. In fact, it is even more important for professionals to keep it together because we are primary role models for our clients and friends and close family members (not to mention the ever-present awareness to keep our behavior totally above-board, ethical, etc.).
 
If I were teaching in a classroom right now, at this point I would ask everyone what their challenges are, especially during the high holiday season, and how they manage to cope with them. It is very helpful to share burdens and coping mechanisms. So perhaps having a few professionals to informally chat with, like a professional support group, might be a good idea.  While I can’t do that here, I can at least offer some important information and tips.
 
We understand that health care workers face disproportionate amounts of stress and risk burnout, making the holiday season all the more stressful to navigate through. It means that we also are at greater risk for experiencing anxiety, insomnia, depression, PTSD, and suicidal ideation.
 
More recently, we are learning about a phenomenon called vicarious trauma (secondary traumatic stress). Health care workers, especially mental health care workers, who engage in a kind, caring, loving, empathetic way with clients who deal with primary trauma, are finding themselves feeling isolated, depressed, stigmatized, and more. As professionals, we know that we need to keep some emotional distance while being kind and caring, but at times it is easier said than done.
 
I don’t need to tell you that during the recent pandemic, mental health in general has taken a major hit, and this especially includes health care workers. I am thinking about the nurses and others who played such a crucial role in selflessly administering assistance to very sick people, while working ridiculous numbers of hours each day. These people were not able to work from home.
 
While I can and will offer a few coping suggestions, which are even more important during times of such stress, you know how to take care of yourselves! But do you always practice it enough, or do you end up too tired to do it?!
 
Especially for health care workers of any kind, it’s important to:
 

  • Get adequate sleep in terms of quantity and quality.
  • Make time to eat meals, and ensure they are healthy ones. This may require pre-planning.
  • Take a few well-placed supplements to add more support, like Vitamins D and C.
  • Take breaks at regular intervals during shifts. Rest, exercise, stretch, check in with supportive colleagues, friends, and family.
  • Outside of your work hours, try to get some movement in, and be outdoors in the fresh area if possible. Make sure you enjoy what you are doing.
  • Take a pause from listening to news, social media, etc. if it adds to your stress load.
  • Practice mindfulness, even for 2 minutes! This can be meditating, praying, or whatever helps you get centered and relaxed.

 
Above all else, it is totally acceptable to reach out for help for yourself. In fact, especially if you are a recovering person, not reaching out for help could put you at high risk for relapse.
 
Remember – knowledge is power, so take charge of your health.
 
And, as always, please have a happy, holistically healthy day!
 
Dr. P

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