Mental health counselors play a pivotal role in society. Using both compassion and dedication, they work with multiple people, groups and communities struggling with a variety of problems, such as mental disorders, substance abuse and family issues. It is all about guiding people toward wellness.
As a mental health counselor, you are probably (and understandably) proud of the work you do each day. That does not mean you should not take some time to yourself, though. Working with struggling people all day every day can take a toll on your mental health, especially if you pour too much of yourself into your work.
To make sure that you look after yourself just as much as your clients, here are eighteen work-life balance tips for mental health counselors.
1: Study Your Master’s Degree Online
Many mental health counselors decide to advance their education with a master’s degree and even a Ph.D. For many, the learning never ends. This amount of work can be overwhelming, though, so consider pursuing a masters in mental health counseling online. By doing this, you save time that would have been spent in a classroom, allowing you to take the rest you need when you need it.
Of course, you still have to put as much effort into an online masters in mental health counseling as you would a normal one. However, being able to study at home (and in between your shifts) means you do not have to worry about travel. The more time saved, the better.
2: Do Not Rush Your Progression
As a mental health professional, there is not much of a limit when it comes to career progression. After your bachelor’s, you can study for a masters in mental health counseling, and after that, you can pursue a Ph.D. Even once you earn a doctorate in psychology, there are still plenty of qualifications and certifications to pick up.
With so much to learn, you might be eager to push forward, but that could cause burnout. Remember – your education is not a race, and you have your entire career to become better at mental health counseling. So, enjoy the ride, make the most out of your education, and go at a pace that suits you.
3: Get Up Earlier
Many people, especially healthcare workers, struggle to make the most out of daylight hours. One way to ensure you have enough time to yourself when the sun is out is by getting up a little earlier. Don’t worry – you do not have to get up at 4am for a 9am start; even just getting up thirty minutes before you usually do is enough to give you more freedom in the mornings. Just some benefits to getting up earlier are –
Watching the Sunrise
There is no better way to start your day than sitting outside with a cup of coffee (or herbal tea) and watching the sunrise. With the positive impact that it will have on your mood, you will flourish at work when promoting wellness.
Time to Make Breakfast
Too many people rush their breakfast. When you have the time to create something delicious, it is not only your health that benefits, it is your mood, too.
Rushing to shower, brush your teeth, and eat breakfast is a sure way to set yourself up for a disorganized day. By aiming to get up earlier, you ensure you have plenty of time to get all of your morning tasks done (and then some).
Quiet Time Alone
Work-life balance is not always about fitting in time to go wild with your friends (although that can be part of it!), it is also about finding time for peace. There is no better time to be alone with your thoughts than in the morning, especially just before everyone else arises.
4: Improve Time Management Skills
To improve your life balance and health, you must be a master of time. As a mental health counselor, you more than likely already have excellent time management skills. After all, you need them to get through a masters in mental health counseling! By improving those skills and using them in your home life, you will find you have more time in the day to do what you please.
5: Make Time for Your Friends and Family
It is easy to become so caught up in your work that you forget to call your friends and family for weeks at a time. Sometimes, it is only when you check your messages that you realize just how long it has been since you saw someone outside of work! Seeing your loved ones is important not just for keeping up relationships, but also for your own wellness. So, when you have a spare few hours in the afternoon or a weekend free, give a friend or family member a call or meet up for a drink.
6: Find Enjoyable Ways to Improve Counseling Skills
If you are truly set on advancing in your counseling career, and you put most of your working hours toward improving your skills, find enjoyable ways of doing so. You could chat with your friends about mental health issues, read interesting psychology books, or even people-watch for a while to improve your social knowledge.
7: Make the Most of Your Time Off
As a mental health counselor, especially one who is studying a masters in mental health counseling at the same time, you might find full days to yourself few and far between. For this reason, you must make the most of any time you have off. If you find you have a few days away from work, consider teaming up with some mates and getting out of town for a night or two. If you would prefer to spend some time alone (understandably so), try and fit some self-care into that time; for example, have a pamper day, take long baths, or spend time reading an easy fiction novel.
8: Give Your Clients Your Full Attention
Separating work and home life can be challenging, especially for mental health professionals. When you are at home, you should try to focus on your home life; for example, if you have a family, spend time talking and hanging out with them rather than thinking about the client you are meeting the next day. Of course, there are times when home and work blend, such as studying for a masters in mental health counseling, you should try to ensure that you hold onto some boundaries, though.
The same goes the other way around – when counseling, you must give your clients your utmost attention and avoid thinking about home life. This not only ensures your clients get the best guidance possible, but it also ensures your work and home life is fully separated, helping you achieve that balance.
9: Keep a Piece of Home at Work
While you should not be thinking about your after-work drinks while seeing a client, it does help to bring some pieces of home with you to work. For example, you could keep a family picture on your desk or pin up a drawing by your kid.
This does not work quite so well the other way around, though. If you have to take some work documents home with you, keep them out of sight while you relax. You do not need to think about your clients when you are trying to catch up on the latest Netflix binge-worthy show! Of course, if you are doing an online masters in mental health counseling, you will need to study at home. In this scenario, make sure you create a designated study spot.
10: Write Weekly To-Do Lists
If your work-life balance is ever suffering because of your workload, start writing to-do lists at the beginning of each week, as this will help you gain control of your hours. You will know exactly what you need to do and when you need to do it.
If you are working as a mental health counselor while studying for a masters in mental health counseling, for example, write down a list of assignments you need to study for, as well as the clients you are seeing that week. Once it is written down, it will not seem quite so daunting.
11: Look After Your Health
Having enough energy to give 100% at work, spend time with your loved ones, and keep up with hobbies requires being both mentally and physically healthy. It is difficult to go to your weekly tennis club or your monthly reading group when your body is screaming for bed, after all. To give your body and mind everything it needs to enjoy a work-life balance, you should –
- Eat a Healthy Diet
- Fit Exercise into Your Schedule
- Practice Mindfulness
- Talk About Your Worries
12: Create a Morning Routine
Maintaining a good work-life balance is difficult without a routine – especially one in the morning. By being productive and saving time in the morning, you set the rest of the day up for success. If you are anything but a morning person, make sure you get up early enough to give yourself time to wake up properly.
13: Pursue Hobbies Outside of Counseling
Helping those with mental health difficulties might be your passion, but it is important to have something else you enjoy in your life, too. Being a mental health counselor takes a lot out of you, so having a more mentally relaxing hobby like painting or gardening might be the perfect balance you need. A physical hobby would be good, too, as exercise reduces stress – why not check out a local climbing club or join an adult’s sports team?
14: Assess How You Spend Your Hours at Home
You probably keep track of your hours at work to ensure you make the most out of every minute, but do you put the same effort in at home? While you do not need as strict of a schedule when you are just hanging out watching TV, it is important to understand where your hours of relaxation go. For example, if your ideal work-life balance looks like a mixture of work, hobbies, socializing, and relaxing, but the amount of time you spend socializing takes away from your relaxation, consider distributing your hours more evenly. That way, you will not miss out on anything.
15: Listen to Your Own Advice
When studying for your masters in mental health counseling or watching a supervisor for tips, you must listen to others for advice. When you have spent the day advising clients on mental wellness, though, you must listen to your own advice. Counselors often give out the best advice without taking it onboard themselves, especially when it comes to work-life balance – avoid being one of those people. By taking your own advice into account, you will find it easier to relax away from the workplace.
16: Do Not Skip Your Breaks
Skipping breaks is unfortunately common in many careers, but it must be avoided. Breaks are healthy for your mind and body, especially if you use the time to get some fresh air. If you are skipping breaks because of a hefty workload, think of it like this – you will likely work smarter after having a break, so you actually save yourself time in the long run. A five-minute breather outside your office will not destroy your schedule!
17: Create a Positive Home Environment
A positive home environment is a critical part of a work-life balance. After all, you want to leave work knowing you have got a comfortable and enjoyable space to relax in for the evening. A couple of factors that contribute to a comfortable and positive home environment include –
- A Good Temperature
- Comfy Furniture
- Bright Spaces
- Fun Activities
- Peace and Quiet (at least in one spot)
- Décor You Love
By working hard to create a home space you genuinely love being in, you will find it much easier to relax at the end of a long, hard day at work.
18: Stay Passionate
Passion is a key ingredient of happiness and a work-life balance. If you are passionate about your work, your home, your friends, and your hobbies, you are far more likely to put the time and effort into each of them.
Finding a work-life balance is not easy, especially when you are a mental health professional. As long as you stay on top of your schedule, look after yourself, and make the most of your time off, though, you are sure to manage it.