How Five Professional Sydney Psychologists Manage Their Own Mental Health
There’s something of a myth that floats around suggesting that Psychologists are somehow psychologically flawless individuals that never have a bad day. I know I’ve sat with my fair share of clients that appear bewildered at the idea that I could have times where I feel anxious or burnt out and somehow still be providing therapy.
The reality of course is we’re all built the same way and the idea of anyone having perfect mental health is something of a pipedream. With things like coronavirus having dominated our lives for most of 2020, there’s probably not a person on earth that can claim to have glided through without a worry in the world.
Even the best Psychologists in Sydney still need to take care of themselves and will occasionally feel overwhelmed by what life throws their way. Mental health professionals of course are at a slight advantage when it comes to managing life’s woes as they have a pocket full of strategies at their disposal.
To help you learn the tricks that Psychologists use to manage their own well-being, we’ve rounded up some words of wisdom from five fantastic Sydney-based Psychologists.
So jump in and see how these mere mortals try their best to stay on top when the going gets tough.
Manage Well-Being Through Action
After roping all of these fine Psychologists in to sharing their mental health well-being secrets it felt a bit unfair to not put my own top tip out into the world.
In a word, I maintain my mental health through “action”. The idea of committing to action has helped me through more than a few tough times. Often the inclination is to get lost in thinking about the situation. As a proud neurotic I know how easy it is to slip into rumination. There’s even a strange comfort to the process. But it takes me nowhere and stops me from doing what matters.
Instead I ask myself the question “what am I going to commit to doing in this moment?”
It doesn’t have to be big. It just has to matter to me.
When I commit myself to this action, I keep moving forward. I’m never quite sure where exactly I’ll end up, but there’s a sense of purpose that can drive me through the tough times and keep me steady in the calm ones.
Understand The Value of Kindness
I hold a promise to myself – for however hard I work – I must also care for myself just as hard. So I make it a habit to check in with myself in an honest and sincere way, that if I am struggling, or if I am having a hard day, I will admit first to myself and ask myself what I need to feel okay.
Some days, the answer would be to go for a long walk in nature as I find that is the best way to connect with myself and reset my biorhythms. As I tire myself out, I feel a sense of reprieve and my mind frees up to a higher perspective of life.
Some evenings after a tough day, I would look forward to my routine of running a hot bath and light a scented candle or have a dark shower which allows me to decompress and immerse in such experiences completely.
There is also the occasional indulgence of a favourite dish which brings with it, comfort from a childhood memory, coupled with the familiar sense of reassurance that things are going okay.
I make a point of investing and maintaining solid friendships over the years for when I am in need of meeting someone for a good D&M chat about life issues in general and be reminded too that I can also rely on others and not just myself.
Know What Matters Most
If you’ve ever looked up at the sky on a clear night, you may have observed a curious effect. Individual stars can be seen most clearly not by looking directly at them, but slightly to the side. My approach to my own mental health, informed by Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, is somewhat akin to this phenomenon.
The question of what we can do to look after our mental health, is a helpful and important one. I have also found that the best answers to that question in my own life have emerged through asking myself a slightly different, though intimately connected question: what steps can I take today, however small, in line with the life I want to lead and the person I most want to be?
I have struggled with anxiety at various times throughout my life, and had a couple of bouts of significant depression, and the greatest improvement came when I focused less on struggling with these difficult feelings and began to reflect on a regular basis on my deepest values, and the steps I can take – this week, today, this very moment – towards those values, even during difficult times.
I do this in a fairly structured way: each week I reflect on values in key areas of my life – for example, as a father, a husband, a friend, a psychologist – and look at simple steps I can take in line with those values. This process reliably leads me to actions that are ultimately beneficial for my mental health: like staying connected with others, trying to do work that is meaningful and effective, and keeping my body healthy through exercise.
As well as helping my mental health, they also help move me towards a life of meaning and vitality.
Boost Your Mental Health Through Flexibility
I approach looking after my own mental health with a sense of trial and error. I suspect I’ll be trying out new things, to see what works for me, for the rest of my life. I’ve used trial and error to see what works well for me with exercise, meditation, and a whole range of other things that are generally good for my mental health.
In the past 6 months I’ve been seeing what happens when I increase asking for help when I’m overwhelmed or drained. Frankly, I’m pretty terrible at this. I’ve never been good at it. I’ve always had the tendency to want to solve things on my own.
At times in the past I’ve held onto an unhelpful attitude that it’s a sign of failure to ask for help. In the last year I’ve made an effort to push through the discomfort involved and treat it like an ongoing experiment to run again and again.
Connect With The Power Of Self-Compassion
There are so many tools and techniques available to a psychologist that ranking them and seeing what comes in at number one is a great challenge. I use a lot of techniques here and there to help keep me maintain mental health.
Anything from sensory grounding, to the mindfulness strategy of observing thoughts, and also the tried and tested reframing of unhelpful thoughts, are all useful strategies for me. None of these techniques will get used by me though, unless I connect with self-compassion.
Self-compassion gives me the space from unhelpful thoughts and feelings (ones that might tell me I am worthless, or not enough, or bad) to be able to connect with my self-worth.
Once self-compassion has opened the door for me to connect to my self-worth, I am better able to use boundaries to protect myself and contain any behaviours that might push other people’s buttons. I am better able to use those boundaries to differentiate and/or defend my sense of what is real against others who may seek to influence me, which can even apply to my own unhelpful thoughts.
I can better allow myself to be imperfect and therefore to be more accepting of the imperfections of others. I am better able to know and meet my own needs and wants, while appropriately responding to the needs and wants of others. And finally, I am better able to live with moderation, being able to balance the need for structure and also the need for spontaneity and openness.
In this way, self-compassion becomes the doorway to connecting with self-worth from which all of these things flow.
Managing Your Own Mental Health In Sydney
These are just a few ideas to get you started on improving your mental health this year no matter what it brings. Take what you’ve learnt and go out and explore. You might be surprised as to what skill you already know!
And of course if you’re feeling down, worried or burnt out then you can always consider contacting a Psychologist in Sydney to pick up a few extra tips. You can even check out our guide of finding the right psychologist for you in Sydney to get you started. It never hurts to have a bit of professional help under your wing to help you make the change you want.