Prioritizing your Mental Health: The Importance of Self-care for Behavioral Healthcare Providers

Making self-care a priority is essential when you work in behavioral healthcare. Day in and day out, you help others navigate challenges in their own lives – which can take a personal toll on you. In addition to the work you do normally, COVID has introduced new challenges for mental healthcare providers. More people are going through difficulties and reaching out for help. In the midst of an increasing caseload, you also have to deal with the challenges that the pandemic has created in your own life. Making time for your own mental, physical, and emotional well-being is more important than ever if you want to provide your clients with the highest level of care.

Make Sleep a Priority

As a mental healthcare worker, you are familiar with the research on sleep. You may even talk to clients about the importance of getting adequate sleep to improve symptoms of depression and anxiety. Yet despite knowing the facts, many behavioral healthcare workers ignore those facts and burn the candle at both ends in an effort to take care of clients and keep up with the demands of their own life. The pandemic has put even more demand on behavioral healthcare workers as people try to navigate the mental impact of an ever-changing and distressing situation. 

It may seem like there is simply not enough time for you to get adequate sleep. The reality is, however, that you cannot afford to be sleep deprived on a consistent basis. It is not safe for you or for the people you serve. The Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress published information for healthcare providers about the importance of sleep, in light of the COVID pandemic. They point out that disruption to your sleep can negatively impact your health and increase your chances of having an accident or making errors. Conversely, getting enough quality sleep can help your body fight off infection and remain healthy. You will be in a much better position to serve your clients when you are getting enough sleep to function properly and stay healthy.

Give Yourself Credit for Being on the Frontlines

Acknowledging the difficulty of a situation can be an important step in self-care. As a behavioral healthcare provider, you have likely witnessed the value of acknowledging the difficulty of a situation in the work you do with clients. It is always challenging to be in the mental healthcare field but the complications from COVID has made it even more difficult. More people are suffering and the demand for care has increased. As you work to meet that increased demand, you also have to protect yourself from getting sick, while dealing with all of the challenges the pandemic brings. 

It is important that you take the time to acknowledge your concerns and the unique difficulties that you are facing. It is demanding and exhausting to be a mental healthcare provider in the midst of the COVID pandemic! Acknowledging these emotions can help you stop feeling like you are not doing enough. You need to give yourself credit for being on the frontlines in a difficult time. This process can also help you identify areas where you need support. The CDC outlined strategies that healthcare providers can use to cope with the increased challenges of providing care during the pandemic. The strategies range from talking openly with others in similar situations to engaging in mindfulness techniques. None of the strategies will be a surprise to you, but it is important to remember that the strategies you teach clients can also help you cope with complex situations.

Step Away from Work when You Get the Chance

For the past year, the demand on mental healthcare workers has been higher than ever as people try to cope with the impact of the COVID pandemic. It can feel like there is barely enough time to come up for breath, much less take any type of real break. It is noble to be committed to your work and serving the needs of others. The problem is that you risk burnout, and your own mental and physical health can suffer if you don’t make taking time away from work a priority. The Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress points out that healthcare personnel can experience fear, grief, frustration, guilt, exhaustion, and insomnia as they work to meet the needs of others. 

An important part of protecting yourself from becoming overwhelmed with negative emotions is to be intentional about taking much needed breaks. The CSTS recommends taking time out and doing things that are unrelated to work – things you enjoy or find relaxing. You can also implement relaxation techniques during those breaks. Mobile applications like Calm, Headspace, and Mood Balance all provide guided activities to help you relax and deal with work-related anxiety. Small breaks during the day are beneficial but taking an actual vacation from time to time is important as well. Stepping away completely by getting out of town can help you recharge and come back to work with renewed energy. Even a staycation spent focusing on a hobby or home project can help you fight off burnout and reduce stress. Guilt is common when you step away from work for self-care, but it is important to recognize that you cannot provide proper care for others if you are unwell.

When it is your job to help others navigate mental and emotional difficulties, it is easy to put your own needs on the backburner. You can get by for a while neglecting your own needs but it is not a strategy that will work long term. Prioritizing your own mental health is the best thing that you can do for your clients. Practicing self-care will create the bandwidth you need to provide your clients with the best care possible.

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