Self-care for psychology students Strategies for staying healthy

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					         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.