Self-care for psychology students: Strategies for staying healthy & avoiding burn out Melanie A. Badali, M.A., & Martine E. Habra, M.A. Source: Badali, M.A., & Habra, M.E. (2003). Self-care for psychology students: Strategies for staying healthy & avoiding burn out. Psynopsis: Canada’s Psychology Newspaper, 25(4), 14. It may appear rudimentary to comment that a good idea for you to start striving for a Psychology students need to pay adequate balanced life now. attention to their personal lives. However, attaining balance between academic and If you are working 80 hours as an undergrad personal pursuits is easier said than done. to land that top grad school spot, be Numerous books, websites, as well as an prepared that the program will have high APA Monitor on Psychology “Special Issue standards and you will likely have to Devoted to Self-Care” (July/August 2002, maintain that pace. Similarly, tenure track 33, 7) address the topic. professors’ research publications do not write themselves. For undergrads, striving for and completing the grad school application process can be There are numerous stressors related to all consuming. If you are one of the lucky Psychology graduate training, including: few to progress to graduate studies, the pressure is still on to obtain scholarships, • high workload & role demands (“I’m a complete coursework and “comps”, defend student, teacher, researcher, clinician, & theses and dissertations, as well as publish an administrator – I feel like I have 5 full- your research. If your program requires you time jobs”), to complete an internship, you will find • performance anxiety and frequent demands are high during this training period evaluation by others (“Yikes, do I really as well. As a Psychology student, and sound like I do on audiotape?”), eventually, a Psychologist, you will likely • lack of experience/mastery (“I’m happy have a multitude of roles (e.g., my abstract was chosen for presentation intern/resident, student, researcher, at a conference but that also means I must administrator, teacher, parent, sibling, child, deliver the goods”), friend, significant other, partner, spouse • peer competition (“All my classmates are etc.). You will have expectations of yourself competing for the same awards, program and others will have expectations of you, spots etc.”), and it is important to ensure that your • imposter syndrome (“I don’t belong expectations are realistic. Although we often here”), hold on to the idea that our lives will ease up • boundary issues (“Should I accept these once we finish graduate school as a rationale homemade cookies from a client?”), for pushing ourselves beyond our limits, it is • ethical quandaries (“My client wants to important to realize that the next stage (e.g. see her raw test scores”), tenure-track position, starting own practice, • institutional demands (“I only have 3 teaching) will likely be just as busy. So it is sessions per client”), • dealing with criticism (“My manuscript • Cynicism based on my Master’s thesis was rejected • Excessive use of drugs or alcohol and ripped apart”), • secondary traumatic stress (“I’m Think your professional fire may be starting hypervigilant and anxious after speaking to fizzle? It may be time to seriously reflect to that traumatized client”), on your current condition (see • compassion fatigue (“Geesh, this client www.lessons4living.com/burnout thinks she’s got problems? If only she t_inventory2.htm for a free downloadable knew what the guy in the room next door burnout questionnaire). is going through”), • countertransference (“This client is really Self Care Tips: annoying me. Perhaps it is because he reminds me of the bully that beat me up • Avoid overwork (there is a reason most in high school”), people work no more than 35 hours a • managing interpersonal and professional week) relationships (“My supervisor has • Know your limits (just because the unrealistic expectations” or “My partner student next door can work 90 hours feels I focus on work too much and don’t straight doesn’t mean you can or should) spend enough time with him/her”). & accept your limitations • Reward yourself when you reach your Any of these sound familiar??? goals and schedule fun activities • Take care of physical needs: The purpose of listing these here is not to • Exercise regularly freak you out, but only to raise your • Maintain a regular sleep schedule awareness of the things you will need to • Maintain a healthy diet monitor and manage during your training as • Ensure your cognitive style is healthy a Psychologist. (develop realistic self expectations) • Attend to your emotional needs: It is normal for students and trainees to push • Make personal connections with themselves hard to accomplish the many colleagues goals they have. The trick to staying healthy • Talk about your fears and doubts is ensuring you take care of yourself well (chances are you are not the only one enough to avoid burnout. “Burnout” is a with them) stress condition brought on by being • Seek personal therapy involved in an intense situation for a long • Remember your social needs: period of time without adequate rest and • Value family and friends recreation. • Have relationships outside of health care • Keep time for yourself (SERIOUSLY!) Warning signs of burnout include: Why bother? If personal health and sanity • Fatigue or exhaustion (emotional, are not reasons enough, remember: “If you physical, cognitive) cannot take good care of yourself, you • Disengagement or withdrawal cannot provide optimal health care to • Frustration/irritability others”. So if you won’t take care of • Helpless/hopeless feeling with patients or yourself for yourself, do it for your others patients/clients, colleagues, friends, relatives Health Psychology Track at the University and neighbours! of Washington School of Medicine. Melanie A. Badali is a doctoral candidate in Martine E. Habra is a doctoral student in the Clinical Psychology programme at the the Clinical Psychology programme at the University of British Columbia and a University of British Columbia in resident in the Rehabilitation, Pain, and Vancouver, BC.
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