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How to Practice Self-Care at Christmas: Therapist Edition

Dec 09, 2022

As a mental health professional, you spend your entire career focusing on other people: how they’re feeling; what they’re thinking; how you can best help them to help themselves. You love it; it’s your passion – but it can also be overwhelming, and at times, completely exhausting.


When it comes to the festive period, our to-do lists are bigger than ever: on top of the usual career commitments, there’s gift buying, food shopping, activity planning and family politics to juggle. The idea of self-care at Christmas then can feel totally out of reach. But you know better than most how crucial it is to fill your own cup when you’re in the helping professions.


Let’s take a look at why.


Why Therapists Need to Practice Self-Care


Did you know that between 21% and 67% of mental health workers experience occupational burnout (Delgadillo et al., 2018)? It’s hardly surprising when you think about it: you’re constantly supporting people who are in distress, and you spend your time listening to not only other people’s worries, but their darkest – and most traumatic – moments.


People in the mental health professions commonly struggle with everything from burnout and emotional exhaustion, to compassion fatigue and secondary trauma. Looking after your mental health is even more important at this time of year, because we’re more at risk of succumbing to these things when our reserves are low.


It’s therefore absolutely crucial that you prioritise your own wellbeing over the Christmas period – otherwise, you’re not going to be able to support the clients who come to you for help and guidance.


The Importance of Switching Off


Christmas is a chance to focus on what really matters, but to do that, you need to switch off from your client work during the holidays – otherwise, when will you?


Therapists need adequate opportunity to recover from hearing details of other people’s trauma; without that opportunity, the chances of developing secondary trauma are significantly higher. Take that time this Christmas.


Whether you’ve booked time off, or just have the usual bank holidays to enjoy, you need a complete break from work – so shut down your laptop, disable your notifications, and don’t even think about checking your emails. Work can wait; whatever it is, it can wait. Now is YOUR time to recoup your energy and focus on the fun of the holidays.


Have trouble switching off? Our brains often crave a creative outlet when we need to distract ourselves, so try some of these activities out for size:


  • Make your own Christmas cards
  • Bake Christmas goodies (for yourself, or to pop into a hamper)
  • Try your hand at making some unique decorations
  • Decorate a gingerbread house
  • Design your own wrapping paper
  • Create personalised Christmas crackers


If you’re not feeling particularly creative, why not work your way through the countless Christmas films that grace our streaming platforms at this time of year? Or pop on the festive tunes and have a good dance around the house!


Self-Care Isn’t Just For Christmas


As well as distracting yourself with creative pursuits or leaning into the fun of the season’s festivities, it’s important to prioritise basic self-care activities – like taking a walk in nature, getting an early night, taking a leisurely bath, catching up with a friend, spending quality time with family, eating a balanced diet, and enjoying some low-intensity exercise.


These are all things that you should be doing throughout the year to take care of your own mental health and general wellbeing.


You can also use the time over Christmas, when you’re away from the demands of work, to get into the habit of journalling. Journalling gives you the chance to get all of your thoughts down on paper, make a note of your achievements, remind yourself of what you’re grateful for, and set your goals for the future.


So this Christmas, why not take the opportunity of some down-time to plan for 2023? Think about what you want from both your professional and personal lives, fix on your priorities, and set some boundaries that will help you on your way. Whether you want to take on more clients and grow your business, or scale back to spend more time at home, Christmas is the perfect time to really get to the heart of what you want for the year ahead.


And that should always involve a healthy dose of self-care.

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My Little Therapy box all started with my passion for helping clients in therapy who struggle to open up and articulate their feelings into words.

In this 30-minute training session, I share the barriers some clients face in therapy and how we as therapists can help them overcome this by using creative ways to help them engage and get the most out of the therapeutic relationship.

This is the same presentation I was invited to deliver at this year’s BACP Annual Online conference.


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