By nature, counsellors, play therapists and psychotherapists are caring and compassionate people. We enter the field to help others. But sometimes caring can be over-done. We focus on other people’s well-being and spend hours giving, often leaving ourselves outside of the circle of care. Nutrition and stress management is an important part of re-balancing that.
The emotional stress of this job, combined with few or no breaks, leads to high rates of stress, depression and burnout in our industry. Counselling often means working long, unpredictable hours. It is often hard to find the time between clients to sit down and eat a proper meal. With me, this also leaves me craving rich foods at the end of the day. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Casting a critical eye over your lifestyle and diet can have a major impact on your ability to manage the stresses and strains of your job. You may find for example that four or five smaller meals spread out during the day suits your working pattern better than breakfast-lunch-dinner.
Healthy body, healthy mind
To avoid falling victim to fatigue and health problems, you need to cast a curious eye over your lifestyle and what you put into your body. Looking after our adrenal glands, for example, can help to reduce anxiety and moderate our stress response.
Self-care can help us calm our sympathetic nervous system (the fight, flight or freeze responses) and support our parasympathetic one. This helps improve our sleep patterns and digestion, helping our body to heal
Nutrition and Stress Management
Nutrition is key to good health. It can also help you when dealing with stress. How? Food can reduce stress in various ways. Comfort food, like a bowl of warm porridge boost levels of serotonin, a calming brain chemical in the brain. Other foods can cut levels of cortisol and adrenaline, stress hormones that take a toll on the body over time.
A healthy diet can help counter the impact of stressful situations by strengthening the immune system and lowering blood pressure. With this in mind, here are some top nutrition tips to get you through the day:
1. Swap simple carbs for complex carbs
Carbohydrates prompt the brain to make more serotonin. For a steady supply of this feel-good chemical, choose complex carbs, which take longer to digest. Swap white bread for whole-grain bread, white pasta for brown, and choose slow-releasing breakfast cereals such as porridge over sugary ones.
Complex carbs can therefore help you feel balanced by stabilizing your blood sugar levels. So, healthy snacks and regular meals will also help your concentration and mood.
Oranges make the list for their wealth of vitamin C. Studies suggest this vitamin can curb levels of stress hormones while strengthening the immune system. Opt for an orange rather than a sugary muffin for your mid-morning snack. Try cutting up some fruit and vegetables to take with you if you are working in a school or away from home. Along with a handful of nuts or seeds, this is a quick way to support yourself in the moments between clients.
Too little magnesium can trigger headaches and fatigue, compounding the effects of stress. One cup of spinach will help you stock up on magnesium. Don’t like spinach? Other leafy greens such as cabbage and kale are also great magnesium sources. Vitamins and minerals really help. A simple stress busting way is a good quality supplement of vitamins and minerals. Magnesium, by the way, really helps you sleep.
4. Fatty fish
To keep stress in check, make friends with fatty fish. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish such as salmon and tuna, can prevent surges in stress hormones and can help protect against depression.
For a healthy supply of feel-good omega-3s, aim to eat at least 3.5 ounces of fatty fish twice a week. Again, a supplement of fish oil is a good backup plan.
5. Go nuts
Pistachios and other nuts and seeds are great sources of healthy fats. Eating a handful of pistachios, walnuts, or almonds every day can help lower your cholesterol, ease inflammation in your heart’s arteries, and protect you against the effects of stress. Don’t overdo it, though. Sadly, nuts are also rich in calories.
Bonus Tip: Fish and nuts are great sources of protein. Aim for at least 30 grams of protein with every meal. Protein serves a few important functions. First, your body uses it to synthesize muscle tissue. Without it, you’ll lose muscle and gain fat. Second, it’s needed to keep your metabolism running at a high rate. And third, it provides satiety, making your meals more filling.
I find if I eat better, I also want to do other healthy things like stretching between clients, a few minutes meditation or walking in my breaks. All of these help me get through a working day on a more even keel. It models to my clients that it’s ok to pause to look after yourself.
I often find myself dishing out advice on nutrition, catching myself mid-sentence and thinking “this also applies to you.” Good nutrition reminds me I am not a machine – looking after myself is a right.
Ask other therapists what they do to look after themselves
Connecting with other counsellors and play therapists really helps us ground ourselves. It reminds us that we are not alone and that everyone has challenges around their physical and mental health in this job. Self-care is an important part of our creative supervision courses. They teach you self monitoring skills to help you focus on protecting yourself stress-induced burnout. They also teach really accessible skills to use as a supervisor.
Our next Course on Certificate in Creativity in Supervision course starts in September
Find out more here http://jillcartertraining.co.uk/creative-counselling-supervision/
Have your say!
How do you manage your nutrition? Share your tips below!