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A Psychologist's top 18 Self-Care Strategies 

Oct 11, 2020
By Dr. Ava Ghasemi Holdich, Clinical Psychologist 

Yesterday was World Mental Health day. I’m embarrassed to admit that I completely forgot about it this year. In the last few years, World Mental Health Day was a special day to be celebrated and talked about to continue raise mental awareness and to destigmatize mental illness. It wasn’t until an editor for a local newspaper asked me to write a few words on the mental health challenges of doctors and psychologists during Covid-19 that I realized how this important day slipped my mind. 

 

2020 deserves a mental health disclaimer. The whole world is going through a pandemic. Some have dealt with tragedies and unimaginable pain and sorrow. I have worked with many who are going through loss, anxiety, depression, sleep deprivation, isolation, suicidality, and a whirlwind of crisis after crisis.  So mental health has been on my mind every single day. Partly because I'm a psychologist but mostly because I'm a human-being too, going through this pandemic with the rest of the world. So this blog post is in the honor of world mental health day or should we say world mental health year? 

 

Here are some of my own daily practices that keep me somewhat calm and balanced. I hope you go through your own routines and identify which ones help you, calm you, and ground you. Currently these are mine: 

 

Self-care: 

  1. My own therapy: I started about 10 years ago and haven’t stopped since. Whether it’s regular sessions while I’m going through a stressful situation or whether it’s one off sessions to talk through some of my baggage from the past, my own therapy is the best investment I have made into my health and happiness. 
  2. Journaling and mental decluttering: Writing and getting things off my chest and onto my notebook helps me gain clarity in my day. My clients know I typically recommend them to start keeping a journal while we work together. 
  3. Physical decluttering of my space: Recycling, organizing or giving away clothes and creating physical space is a must for me. 
  4. Taking a long relaxing lunch break. Added bonus would be if it's one-on-one lunch with mom, dad, sister, spouse or a good friend.  
  5. Going for a walk, to the beach or to the pool...with a strong preference for lying on the beach or by a pool. 
  6. I sit a lot because of work so moving and working through any tensions in my body is absolutely necessary. I go for deep tissue and relaxation massages. A foot rub or back rub from the spouse will do as well! 


Marriage and parenthood: 

  1. Breathing! Some times sleeping more or eating well won't cut it and I just need a good old round of 10 deep breaths to help ground me when dealing with a chaotic day. Sounds simple but it's not. It is a complete game changer. If done on time, it can even prevent tantrums or arguments! Some apps that can help are Calm or Headspace.  
  2. Taking one of my children to play therapy to work through her trauma of her past cancer treatment. She is a survivor but therapy has helped her become a warrior! 
  3. Allowing my toddler to go on a staycation with her grandparents. The benefits of this is two fold. It helps nurture wonderful bonds in my family but it also encourages me to take a step back and surrender my parenting “control” to people I trust.
  4. Reading self-help and psychology books and articles. My latest reads have been Permission to Feel by Marc Brackett, The Body Keeps The Score by Bessel van der Kolk, and Focusing by Eugene T. Gendlin
  5. Listening to podcasts or watching documentaries related to mental health with my husband and having discussions together. We listen, we pause, we chat and then we listen some more. Some of the latests podcasts I have listened to are Under The Skin by Russel Brand, Unlocking Us by Brene Brown and Where Should We Begin by Esther Perel
  6. Going for date nights with my husband and talking about everything except children and our to do list. 


Friendship, work and community: 

  1. Meeting up with my sister and fellow professional mom, Mana Ghasemi, who happens to be a brilliant managing consultant at Propel. It's a bonus add on if her spouse is there too. Bouncing back and forth business ideas with this couple whose leadership and entrepreneurial spirit makes you want to make your business dreams and aspirations come true.  
  2. Checking in with my closest friends: You know the kind of friends you pick up where you have left off when you see them. For me these are childhood friends or friends from university and grad school. 
  3. Popping over to the office of my business partner and co-founder of Aurelia Psychology, Matleena Vanhanen, whose competency with complex couples cases helps me be a better couples therapist and feel more prepared before I go into a challenging session. 
  4. Going for a coffee or lunch with my office mate Dr. Yves Decarie who is a true humanistic psychologist who can talk to you about anything and you walk away feeling more connected with yourself. 
  5. Inviting over my friend Grainne Boyle and her kind husband over for lunch. Talking to this fellow mom, who also happens to be an awesome child and educational psychologist running Insights Psychology. Once upon a time I co-founded this lovely center with Grainne but I can take no credit for the success it has become. Talking about my own children and hearing Grainne’s impressions about their developments and behaviors gives me peace of mind. 
  6. Consultating with other experts. As a fellow human being with life problems no different to yours, I owe it to myself, my family and my clients to take care of myself so that I don't pass on my own baggage or biases onto their experiences. Everyone is an expert in something. Whether it's speaking to a trauma expert to consult on my cases or speaking to other moms who have gone through similar challenges as me, there's an opportunity to learn something new every day. Recognizing these learnings is part of my self-care. 


Some of the items on my self-care list are old and some are more recent. It is always evolving and becoming fine tuned. None of these strategies are forced, some are automatic and all take some level of effort and awareness. 

 

If you have any questions or comments contact me! I’d be happy to hear from you. 

  

Disclaimer: This article features the advice of a licensed expert, but it is for informational purposes only., It is not intended to be a substitute for diagnosis or treatment from a trained professional. In an emergency please seek help from your local medical or law enforcement services. 

Media


Campaign Middle East, October 13, 2020  "Managing your mental health in COVID-19 times"


Gulf News, July 20, 2020
"Why Worry: COVID-19 means going back to India, where my husband cheated on me"


Gulf News, September 16, 2020
"Why Worry: 'My wife's in India and wants to come back, keeps nagging me. What can I do?'"