The holiday season is upon us. That can come with challenges for mental health professionals, including increased demands on our personal time, as well as enhanced feelings of vulnerability for many of our patients. Balancing professional responsibilities and care for the self is a perennial challenge for many workers, and therapists are no exception. Spring Health recently covered some tips for workers, managers and employers to beat the holiday blues.
As clinicians, how do we balance the uptick in patient demands with the pressures of personal obligations, and our own desire to find some peace and joy in holidays and traditions? I have three suggestions that I’ve found to be helpful.
Maintain your personal boundaries:
I wouldn’t be surprised if many people feel a need to say “yes” to every invite that arrives this season. The sheer number of holidays that fall between November and January can be overwhelming — and you might feel pressure to make up for holiday traditions and time with loved ones because of the impact of COVID-19 last year. Remember, an invitation is not an obligation. Human beings have finite time and energy to commit to others. It is reasonable, normal, and important to decline events that are beyond our capacity.
Give yourself permission to clearly and directly communicate with your loved ones about your wants, needs, and limitations. You can be authentic and kind to both yourself and others when you prioritize your needs. Something along the lines of, “I feel overwhelmed this week and won’t be able to attend your cookie swap — I would love to email you my favorite recipe, though!” can clearly indicate that you appreciate the invitation. Using an “I” statement gives others more insight into what you’re going through and might help them reconsider their own needs and boundaries, as opposed to a “You” statement which can elicit defensiveness.
Be strategic in your clinical schedule:
One of Spring Health’s values is that patient care comes first. We believe that it’s important to accommodate patient needs while still giving yourself the time and space to nourish your own wellness.
Scheduling a patient’s follow-up during their session is a great way to take control and set expectations as you navigate any disruptions to your calendar. Try asking patients directly about how they feel around the holidays and what they might experience differently. It can help you prioritize case planning. Some of your patients may be doing well enough to miss a week or two of therapy, and others may benefit from supplemental support.
Loop in the Care Navigation team to provide auxiliary support for patients when you’re unavailable. And, if you need to go “on hold” for new intakes in order to meet the needs of your established patients, they can also help with that.
Try a little mindfulness:
As the days grow shorter and the holiday activities ramp up, try to focus on what brings you joy and fulfillment. Notice the small things that put a smile on your face — maybe you love a certain seasonal coffee flavor, or have family, cultural or religious traditions that you find meaningful. The more we are able to mindfully tune into our positive experiences, the more adept we can become at prioritizing those aspects of our lives and drawing boundaries around things that don’t serve us.
Experiment with some mindfulness techniques — see how it feels to slow down and really notice the sights, sounds, smells, and flavors of the season. I find sensory-grounding techniques to be a great way to promote relaxation and mindfulness.
I hope that these tips are helpful to you in navigating the busy-ness of this time of year, and wish you and all our patients the very best for a safe and healthy holiday season!
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