As behavioral health professionals, we spend hours every day teaching our clients strategies to better look after themselves. But what about when the tables are turned? How good are you at following your own advice? Here are some friendly reminders to help you stay healthy.
Need to lighten your administrative load? Counseling Connection can help.
Three Pillars of Behavioral Health First Aid
We don’t need to tell you that mental health is closely linked to physical health. That means there are three core things you need to be doing – at all times – to stay feeling your best.
1. Diet and Behavioral Health
If you’ve been feeling a little low lately, or stressed out, you’ve probably attributed it to work. Ours can be a tough job at times. However, work isn’t the only thing that can impact your mood.
There’s an increasing body of scientific evidence that suggests gut microbiome is intrinsically linked to mental health. Conditions such as digestive inflammation can result in medical conditions such as depression and anxiety. With that in mind, it’s important that you prioritize your diet.
We’re mental health professionals, not nutritionists. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends “eating the rainbow.” That means whole foods that come in an array of colors and textures, because this will maximize your intake of essential vitamins and minerals. Your focus should be fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
Research suggests you’ll feel your best if you stay away from calorie-dense junk foods, which cause artificial highs (followed by non-artificial lows). This will give your body the fuel it needs to function at its best. Seriously, you’ll be amazed at the difference a hearty, healthy meal can make.
2. Exercise and Behavioral Health
When was the last time you recommended exercise to a client? And when was the last time you took your own advice? If it’s been a while since you reached your 10,000 steps for the day, it’s time to fire up your smart watch and hit the sidewalk. Exercise releases a range of feel-good hormones which are proven to boost your mood, improve your sleep, and alleviate stress.
But you knew that already.
You can stretch the benefits even further by exercising with a friend or heading outdoors to get some sunshine. Behavioral health professionals know that exercise is usually the first thing to fall by the wayside when people are feeling depressed or anxious. Don’t fall into the same trap.
No matter how stressed you are, you can always make time for a walk around the block. You could also mix it up by trying something new, such as ballroom dancing or rock climbing. Exercise doesn’t have to mean the same set of skills you learnt in a middle school gym class.
The main thing is just to get your body moving and endorphins flowing.
3. Sleep and Behavioral Health
The third pillar at the core of mental health first aid is sleep. It can be hard to drift off when your mind is racing at 350 miles per hour, so it’s imperative that you give yourself the best possible chance of entering dreamland. The CDC recommends between seven and nine hours per night for adults. The benefits are well-documented: you’ll get sick less often, lower your risk of developing serious health problems, think more clearly, reduce stress, and generally improve your mood.
So what can you do to help your mind slow down at the end of a busy day? For one thing, prioritize sleep. Turn off auto-play on your go-to streaming service so you don’t fall into a binge cycle. Remove your phone from your bedroom and try charging it somewhere else in the house, like the kitchen, overnight. Create a calming bedtime routine, whether that’s a hot cup of tea, skincare, a few minutes of meditation, journaling, or anything else that helps you return to normal speed.
Sleep debts are real, so make this a priority before you totally burn out.
4. Stress Also Impacts Your Behavioral Health
Stress is one of the biggest factors weighing on modern American behavioral health professionals. Our country is in the middle of a mental health crisis, triggered by the collective trauma of lived experience with COVID-19 and a looming skills shortage in behavioral health services. It’s completely normal to be stressed at times. However, it’s not normal to be 10/10 stressed every day.
Chronic stress can significantly diminish your mental health, while also having a huge impact on your physical health. In extreme cases, it can cause a type of mental paralysis, which is when you feel so overwhelmed you don’t know where to start tackling your do-to list so you just sit and stare at your screen for hours. That’s never a good thing, but it’s especially concerning in our industry because our clients need our full attention. And as the saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup.
Rather than reducing the stressors in your life, focus on adding things that fill your cup. It could be dinner with friends, a long walk in nature, teaching your dog a new trick, laying on the floor to play imaginary games with your children, learning a new song on piano, or any of a million different things. The point is to find something that inspires you and transports your mind to a different place.
5. Strategically Reducing Your Workload
One of the best ways to reduce stress is to identify opportunities to lighten your load at work. You obviously can’t stop seeing your clients, or cancelling sessions, but you can make a difference in other ways. Take administration, for example. How long do you spend calling people back every day, just to tell them you’re not available? How many hours do you spend finding suitable referrals for people who don’t match your skillset and experience? How many times do you open your inbox and groan audibly at the number of unread messages sitting there demanding your attention?
There is a range of options available. If you run a private practice, you could consider hiring a receptionist or expanding your front desk team. Alternatively, for a vastly smaller cost, you could sign up for a platform like Counseling Connection and revolutionize your online booking process. This innovative website allows you to create a profile with extremely detailed filters, which makes it much easier for people in your area to find you while increasing the changes that they’re a good fit.
It was designed by a mental health counselor, for mental health counselors. It’s just one option that can help streamline your workflow and it’s set to be launched later this year.
Positive Steps to Improve Behavioral Health
If you’ve been feeling a little overwhelmed lately, you’re certainly not alone. The good news is that you have all the knowledge you need to look after yourself and get your mental health back on track. It’s time to practice what you preach. Prioritize self-care, including diet, sleep, and exercise. Look for ways to cut back on stress and strategically reduce your workload. You’ll be amazed at the difference these things will make almost immediately, which will flow through to your clients.
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