NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, September 12, 2016

Stress Management: Taking Time Out For Self Care

When life gets hectic and stressful, it's easy to forget about the importance of self care. At those times, many people try to get through the stressful time by plowing through rather than taking care of themselves (see my article: Staying Emotionally Grounded During Stressful Times).

Stress Management: Taking Time Out For Self Care

For other people, it's a matter of not feeling entitled to take care of themselves (see my article:  Self Care: Feeling Entitled to Take Care of Yourself).

Not feeling entitled to self care is often part of a larger problem that is usually longstanding.  This could involve a tendency to put others first, being unfamiliar with the concept of self care or a tendency to be a perfectionist to the point of exhaustion (see my article:The Connection Between Perfectionism and Core Shame).

Needless to say, a lack of self care often leads to burnout, whether it involves personal stressors or work-related stressors (see my article: Managing Your Stress: What Are the Telltale Signs of Burnout?).

Many people come to therapy when they get to the point where they feel they just can't cope any more.

The following fictional vignette illustrates how a lack of self care can lead to bigger problems, and how therapy can help:

Nina came to therapy after she developed stress-related health problems, including debilitating headaches, chest pains related to anxiety as well as insomnia.

Self Care: Taking Time Out to Take Care of Yourself

At her doctor's recommendation, she took off a month from work, which she had resisted doing for a long time.  But when her doctor warned her that her symptoms would get worse unless she took time off to relax and regroup, she knew she had to do it.

During that time, she stopped having headaches and panic attacks, but she began to feel depressed at home without her usual demanding work schedule.

When she consulted with her doctor again, she told her to get help in therapy, so she started therapy a week after she began her break from work.

Nina was a perfectionist since she was a child.  If she didn't do things perfectly at school and at home, she felt she was a failure.  There was no in between.   She was a straight A student, but she derived no joy or satisfaction from her accomplishments because she felt this was what was expected of her--she had to be perfect.

Both of her parents were perfectionists as well.  Before they retired,  both of them were rewarded in their fields for their perfectionism.  Her mother was a well-respected lawyer and her father was a top surgeon in his field.  So, Nina grew up in a household where there was a lot of pressure to be "the best."

Nina did very well in college and in graduate school.  She found it relatively easy to be at the top of her class.

Then, she came to NYC and entered into a highly competitive field that attracted the top people in her  field from all over the world.  Even though she came from a highly competitive family, she never experienced this type of competition.  She felt like she had to always be on her toes to stay on top.

She was rewarded with the respect of her superiors as well as monetarily for her long hours at work but, as previously mentioned, the pace was taking its toll on her health.

Self Care: Taking Time Out to Take Care of Yourself

When her therapist mentioned self care, Nina wasn't even sure what her therapist meant.  She wasn't even sure where to begin.

Her therapist taught Nina breathing exercises and how to meditate, and she recommended that Nina practice for a short time everyday to get into the habit of taking care of herself.

Initially, this felt so unfamiliar to Nina that she felt guilty taking the time to de-stress instead of working or "doing something productive."

When she felt her mind wandering, her sense of perfectionism got in her way because she was sure that she "wasn't doing it right," which almost felt unbearable to her.

It took a lot of practice and a lot of encouragement from her therapist for her to stay on track with her self care practices.

Once she was able to practice meditation and breathing with less difficulty, her therapist helped Nina to work on her perfectionism.

Nina learned that underneath the perfectionism there was core shame.

Working on her shame was more challenging because it was uncomfortable for her.  But her therapist helped Nina to see that this is a common problem and shame is often at the core of emotional problems for many people.

Self Care: Taking Time Out to Take Care of Yourself

When Nina went back to work, she got into the habit of taking time each morning to do her breathing exercises and meditation, even if she only did it for 10 minutes.

Nina also made a conscious decision that her health was more important to her than her next promotion and that if getting that promotion meant compromising her health, it wasn't worth it.  So, she reduced the hours that she put in at work.

Nina and her therapist continued to work on Nina's longstanding sense of shame that fueled her perfectionism.  Her therapist used a combination of EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) and Somatic Experiencing.

Over time, Nina was able to work through her feelings of shame.

Eventually, she decided that her current profession no longer suited her and she began to train for a less stressful profession.

She continued to engage in the self care techniques that were helping her to cope, and she learned that she didn't have to be "perfect" at it.

Along the way, Nina developed a greater sense of self worth and an appreciation for life that she never felt before.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you're struggling with stress, anxiety or depression, you're not alone.

Many stress-related health problems can develop if you learn how to take care of yourself on a physical and emotional level.

If you've never developed strategies for self care or you don't feel entitled to take care of yourself, you could benefit from working with a therapist who specializes in helping clients to overcome these problems (see my article:  The Benefits of Therapy).

Rather than waiting until you are experiencing burnout or health problems, get help from a licensed mental health professional so you can begin to live a more satisfying life.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.