Mental health professionals share the self-care practices they firmly believe in. Be flexible and give yourself grace.


Mental health professionals share the self-care practices they firmly believe in. Be flexible and give yourself grace.

Mental health professionals share the self-care practices they firmly believe in. Be flexible and give yourself grace.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a time to prioritize our emotional well-being. Estimates from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration say that 1 in 5 American adults experiences mental health issues each year, which means that even if mental health problems aren’t afflicting you, they are almost certainly impacting someone you care about. The point being, we could all use a bit more mental health awareness.

We often turn to mental health professionals to navigate these waters, but what do those experts do to take care of their own mental wellness? Yahoo Life spoke to therapists and psychiatrists about the mental health practices that they rely on most. Here’s what they shared.

Speak kindly to yourself

You’ve likely heard the suggestion to “talk to yourself like you’d talk to your best friend,” and according to mental health professionals, that is advice worth following. “I urge my clients to be mindful of their inner dialogues,” clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly tells Yahoo Life. “This practice, which is something I use in my own life, brings conscious awareness to negative and self-defeating internal monologues. The more we become aware of any negative habit, the more we are able to shift it.”

This self-talk awareness can also be described as self-compassion. “Allow what you’re feeling to be there, without needing to criticize yourself for it. When there’s anxiety or anger or insecurity, [notice] that it’s there without adding an extra layer of self-loathing,” shares psychiatrist Dr. Marissa Stridiron, vice president and medical director of OnDemand Care at Array Behavioral Care. “Also — everything changes. Whether what we’re experiencing is pleasant or unpleasant, it will change. That’s something I repeat to myself all the time.”

Speaking to yourself in a kind way also means not punishing yourself if you don’t hit all your goals for a perfect day. “Self-care for me involves two things: a daily ‘phone detox,’ and some exercise or meditation time. And part of self-care is being kind to yourself even if you miss a day,” clinical psychologist David Guggenheim, national director of psychotherapy at Talkiatry, tells Yahoo Life. “It can be really hard to squeeze in time each day, so I’m gentle with myself and have plenty of days that get away from me without practicing self-care.”

It also means forgiving yourself for not having all the answers. “I remind myself about self-care and practicing self-compassion,” says psychiatrist Dr. Leroy Arenivar, who is also a vice president and medical director at Array Behavioral Care. “I tell myself that it is OK not to have all the answers, or it’s OK to not be perfect or it’s OK to fumble.”

Respect your changing needs

You could map out your ideal day for conserving your mental health, but the truth is we need different things at different times. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to navigating a particular challenge, and the mental health professionals Yahoo Life spoke with allow themselves flexibility to meet themselves wherever they are and to do what feels right in that moment — whether that’s holing up with a journal or working up a sweat.

“Self-care to me is listening to my body and tuning in to my emotions to discover what I need and trying to honor that as best I can,” says Erin Spahr, a therapist, podcast host and founder of the Inclusive Provider Directory. “I’m frequently assessing whether I need rest or play, time alone or connection with others, food or movement.”

“Self-care to me looks like trying coping skills that I will actually use and not judging myself for not doing it perfectly,” shares Dr. Jessi Gold, chief wellness officer of the University of Tennessee system and author of the upcoming book How Do You Feel? “Sometimes that is journaling, sometimes it is exercise and sometimes it is watching stupid TV or listening to the new Taylor Swift album.”

Self-care is all about flexibility, experts say. “Blending trauma-informed care with mindfulness-based practices is at the heart of my practice — both with my clients and with myself,” says Stridiron. “What this means is meeting yourself where you are, and to let whatever you’re able to do be enough.”

Talk to people you love and trust

Nearly every practitioner mentioned turning to those around them for support. “First and foremost, I lean on my support system,” shares Arenivar. “Whether it’s venting to my loving spouse or a trusted friend, having someone to talk to has always been incredibly therapeutic for me.”

Gold also relies on those around her to help her when she’s feeling down. “I talk to friends or family members that I can be myself and vulnerable with and who I don’t feel will always want to tell me their own stories at the same time (and dump on me),” she says. “It can be hard as the trained listener-friend to need people to listen, so it is good to know who those friends are when you need support too.”

“What really makes me feel better is community: talking to my partner, meeting up with friends and spending time with family,” adds Guggenheim. “Of course, alone time is important too, but connecting with others can really help us deal with difficult experiences. Sharing what’s on my mind, even through a simple text message, can work wonders.”

Manly agrees. “There’s nothing like chatting with a friend who knows you well and whom you trust to help you through a rough spell.”

When in doubt, therapy can help

“I engage in therapy on a biweekly basis, because you cannot pour from an empty cup,” says Arron Muller, a licensed clinical social worker and CEO of Modify Wellness. “It allows me to take off my husband hat, father hat [and] therapist hat, and I can be completely selfish and process my own thoughts and feelings. I remove myself from being a therapist and just be present in the moment.”

“If I hit a rough patch in my personal life, I don’t hesitate to reach out for support,” shares Manly. “I think this practice is essential, as it allows me to be fully present for my clients rather than unconsciously carrying unresolved issues into client sessions.”

“It’s quite a relief, actually, to just be able to lean back and let someone else be in charge of the session,” Stridiron says of turning to therapy of her own. “It’s so important for my work as a therapist to carve out time to process my own emotions and to have a space for me to just exist.”


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