Self-care is a term we hear all of the time in our profession; we discuss it with our clients, we encourage them to engage in it, we talk about it in supervision, and we generally understand the importance of self-care in our lives. However, as much as therapists talk about self-care, we don’t always practice it ourselves. I often find myself talking with clinicians studying for their licensing exams who, for one reason or another, are not regularly engaging in this process. While it most certainly can be challenging to integrate self-care into your study plan, especially when there are so many competing demands for your time and energy, it is a key component to preparing for your exam. In this month’s anxiety management blog, my goal is to help you build an understanding of what self-care really looks like and help you identify effective ways to integrate it into your study process.
So what is self-care?
Self-care is not just the fun activities we participate in, like getting a massage or going to a yoga class. Self-care encompasses all of the activities we need to engage in to nurture our mental, emotional, and physical well-being. It includes the fun activities that bring immediate joy, as well as the essentials like getting enough sleep, eating well, and exercising. Self-care also includes the not-so-fun activities like scheduling a doctor’s appointment, getting that dental check-up, or taking your car in for an oil change. While some of these activities are clearly more pleasant than others, each is important and should not be neglected while studying. In fact, integrating self-care into your studies will contribute directly to reducing your anxiety and will help you progress through your studies with greater ease.
As therapists, we tend to be really good at endorsing healthy habits with our clients, but sometimes are not as good at embracing those habits ourselves. I am definitely guilty of this behavior and have spoken with many others who confess to this dynamic as well. Similar to resistant clients, we can justify our lack of self-care; we’re too busy, if we engage in self-care there won’t be time to study, etc. Incorporating self-care into your study plan will reduce anxiety and help you approach the exam with greater confidence and success. To that end, the following activity is designed to help you focus on self-care and work to overcome the obstacles that prevent you from engaging in self-care.
Self Care Activity
Take a blank piece of paper and make four columns on it. Label the first column “Activity.” Take some time to write down the various self-care activities you really enjoy as well as those you should engage in (yup, including the dental cleaning). You can always add to this list if you identify new activities over time. Label the second column “enjoyment scale.” In this column, you can assign a value between 1 and 10 to the corresponding activity in column one (1 being the least pleasurable and 10 being the most enjoyable). You can use this enjoyment scale to balance on any given day or week a mixture of really enjoyable activities with those that you know are good for you, but are not as pleasurable. Label the third column “obstacles,” and as you can imagine this is where you will write down all of the reasons you believe you cannot engage in this activity (financial constraints, fears, time constraints, external pressures, etc.). The final column can be labeled “brainstorming.” This is where you get to be creative and can even engage friends or family if you are struggling to identify ways to overcome the obstacles. This is probably the hardest part, but an important step to help you achieve balance and maintain good mental and physical health as you prepare to sit for your exam.
It is possible that going through this activity may cause certain thoughts and feelings to arise. If this happens, I would encourage you to revisit my prior blog, Combating Test Anxiety with Self-Compassion
For those who have listened to Amanda Rowan’s lectures (whether you’re using our LCSW, LMSW, or LMFT programs), you know how passionate she is about integrating self-care into your study plan. This is not an arbitrary request, but one founded in the science of learning. The better your mental and physical health, the more successful you will be in learning and integrating the information provided in your study system. If ever you feel guilty that you are going for a planned hike rather than taking that quiz again, remember that hike you're taking is in fact an integral part of your study plan, and Amanda Rowan and her team at TDC would encourage you to do it!