Long-term, mental stress in our profession can show up in a lot of different ways. It can present itself as anxiety, drama between team members or clients, imposter syndrome, feeling overwhelmed, financial worries, a toxic work environment, and more. The way to cope with this is self-care. By self-care, I don’t mean bubble baths, face masks, and massages. As nice as those things are, they do nothing to help you handle the situation tomorrow. I mean real self-care, which is the work we do after something has triggered us into feeling stressed—something we can do by asking ourselves a few key questions.
1. Is this about me?
If what is stressing you is someone else’s reaction to you then the answer is always NO. It is not about you. It is about them and the invisible rule book that they have in their head that you are unaware of and not following. Drop your judgment, send that person some compassion for their difficulties, and do not take these things personally. It’s not about you (yes, even if they are complaining to you, about you, it is still not about you).
2. Is there a boundary or standard that I need to put in place to protect my priorities?
Sometimes stress happens when our priorities take a back seat in our lives. This may be happening because we have wishy-washy boundaries. It can be hard for clients or team members to know where your boundaries lie if they are constantly changing. If texts from work are stressing you out and taking you away from personal time then create a standard operating procedure for contacting you when you are not at work. The stress that is being created is a gift for you to look at the situation and use it to help you get clear on when and where a boundary needs to be put in place and then serves as a reminder to stick to it.
3. What can I take personal responsibility for in this situation and what can I learn from it?
A growth mindset is absolutely crucial in this profession. You always have to be willing to look at the situation and think to yourself, what could I have done better? What is the learning point here for me? When you approach situations as a vehicle for learning and stay away from placing blame (on others and especially yourself) then you are keeping your personal power which gives you the ability to see these things as opportunities to grow instead of a setback.
4. Why do I need this to turn out the way I want it to?
So often we white knuckle grip the outcome of a situation or a case. We hold tight to what we want to happen for some reason and it is important to dig into that reason and figure out why we absolutely need something to happen a certain way. Once we do this, we can realize that the outcome is playing some part in our own personal story and we can begin to release our grip on our desired outcome. We do the best we can in the moment and when we are able to release our hold on the outcome, we also release the stress that comes with holding onto it so tightly.
5. If I’m going to think about the future, then why not puppies and rainbows?
We have no control over the future. Holding anxiety about what might go wrong keeps us firmly rooted in the future and robs us of enjoying the present moment. Staying up at night worrying about that case we saw or the surgery we did will not change the outcome at all. It doesn’t make you a caring person to sit and worry. And not worrying doesn’t mean you don’t care. It’s the realization that holding on to anxiety about the future is a self-harming practice and the opposite of self-care. It isn’t easy to give up the habit of worry but I find that repeating this little mantra helps me let go of my worry, helps me to envision the best possible outcome and then come back to the present moment. So remember, why not puppies and rainbows?
Stress is an inevitable part of our profession. It is what you do with those stressful moments that count. It can serve as an amazing way to help you grow, or it can burn you out, the choice is yours.