Early Career Professionals Corner: Self-Care Needs for ECPs

Vaneeta Sandhu, PsyD

It is quite easy to be overwhelmed with recent events such as the tragedy in Orlando, the current political climate of the United States, and Brexit and its unknown consequences, to name a few. The multiple sources of news, increased access, and immediacy of communication means that we are bombarded with information on a daily basis. If it is not through reading the news or scrolling through debates on Facebook, it is conversation patients initiate in session. This chaos reminds us once again that self-care is fundamental in our professional lives, but ultimately, our personal lives.

While we are experiencing our own reactions to the events around us, we find ourselves holding a safe space for patients to discuss these, as well. As health psychologists, we know that the experience of stress, grief, or anger can impact someone’s experience of diabetes, chronic pain, high blood pressure, and other chronic conditions. Therefore, we attend to the patient’s needs and develop a plan for their well-being. So, then, have you developed your plan for well-being?

Although psychologists are proponents of self-care, we are not always great at following through and practicing self-care ourselves. Did your supervisors or professors model great self-care? Do you find yourself in one of those supervisory positions now? How well do you believe you are modeling self-care for your students and trainees?

ECPs are more likely to work longer hours and get less sleep, while also being concerned with building a professional network, credibility, and job security. However, in addition to these everyday unique stressors, there is also the added experience of recent events. Whether it be forgetting to eat a meal one day, arriving home later than you would like, or simply noticing how much sitting you have been doing in one week, there are small signs in our daily life that indicate we may need to put forth more effort in attending to our physical and mental health needs.

Conduct a realistic assessment of your time and resources. It can be tricky to assess for how much time you have for self-care. For example, you may use Facebook as a way to unwind and catch up with friends, but one hour later, you find yourself caught in a debate regarding gun control. Maybe you decide to watch Netflix to relax only to be caught up in a two hour documentary about climate change. Ask yourself, “was that helpful?” Do you feel the way you imagined feeling after engaging in this self-care activity? What and who do you have access to for support? Who can you rely on to help shift your thinking from these stressors, and not encourage it by wanting to engage in a discussion about immigration?

Then, reflect on your priorities – what are they? Who are they? Finally, match the two responses together: are you allocating your time and resources according to your priorities? The realization that they are aligned can be validating and relieving. However, if they are not aligned, just a slight shift to making them closer to being so can already improve your wellbeing. This practice is a constant work in progress and shifting will occur as life demands and events occur.

There is a qualitative difference to self-care as it relates to ECPs and it is important that the unique factors we face are addressed when cultivating a culture of well-being. Given that many ECPs are managing career transition (i.e., job security, longer hours), family considerations, and general economic stability (e.g., student loans), self-care practices and opportunities will look different compared to those in later stages of their career. Not only will this make us a better psychologist in the short term, but it helps to reduce the experience of burnout and negative health outcomes in the long run. – outcomes that also impact others in our lives.

Finally, as this is my last column, I wanted to say thank you to everyone who has supported this column for the last three years. Thank you for your feedback, comments, and meetups at conferences! A special thank you to Zeeshan Butt who got me involved with this column after a conversation in San Francisco, and to Annie Bradford for her editing skills! I am happy to pass the torch on to Julie Radico!