There can be a misconception that counsellors are always cool, calm and collected: and because we’ve trained and had many hours of personal therapy – we are “fixed”.
I don’t want to burst anyone’s bubble, but this isn’t entirely true. Even counsellors like myself experience the same mental health challenges that you do. The difference is that because of my training and years of experience, I do, in the main, have the presence of mind to know how to handle it in a more productive and effective way – I have lots of tools in my tool box. My bouts of anxiety/depression are less frequent, less intense and I can de-escalate the thoughts and sensations more rapidly. The reason I decided to train in this field was because of my own issues and how therapy helped me turn my life around and see things from a different perspective. This is what makes me a compassionate and human therapist – I have been in mental anguish and I’m open and honest about it - it resonates with my clients.
When my first bout of depression arrived, in my early 20’s, it was like a body blow and knocked me off my feet, literally. The approach I started with back then was medication and psychiatric help. Unfortunately, for me, that wasn’t very helpful, so I accessed counselling, of which was a game changer. Since then and after becoming a therapist, I have a very different approach to caring for my mental health.
For a number of years, I’ve been practising MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction). It’s something I can easily build into my usual daily activities, which is good for me, because when I’m feeling very low or stressed, I feel pressurised to add another activity into my day, such as a walk or meditation, so the practise of mindfulness is convenient and effective. I’m not holier than thou and I do get caught up in being on auto-pilot, the racing mind starts, then my nervous system goes into overdrive, as I’m inclined to “get busy” and at times, use my work and study as an unhealthy avoidance. So, for me I need to have a sense of awareness for when I’m slipping into old habits.
Self-compassion and the attitude of gratitude helps me significantly, it removes my critical stick and reminds me that I’m human and vulnerable, with flaws, and that I’m fortunate in many ways. I have a morning ritual of saying out loud what I’m grateful for, breathing exercises, a face massage to stimulate my vagus nerve which then activates my relaxation response, and a short meditation if time permits, if not I’ll meditate in the evening.
Generally, I will take a brisk walk and connect with nature, and take my dog too, she’s getting on in years now, so not always up for a walk.
And last but not least, my favourite thing is to have a really good laugh; I’m fortunate to have been blessed with a great sense of humour. Sharing laugher with my family and friends is something that is priceless for me.