Work was rough last week. I had many clients who were sad, in pain, deeply struggling with heartbreaking circumstances. I’m usually pretty skilled at being empathetic with clients in session and then leaving those feelings behind at the office. It’s not perfect, and clients do sometimes stick with me after their sessions, but for the most part, I have learned to compartmentalize well. Not so much last week. Last week felt like I was in it all the time, and it actually felt completely appropriate, and also draining.

I was very aware of giving myself what I needed all week. I was giving a lot to others and was conscious of keeping my tank full in order to show up for them.

I’ll start by sharing the morning routine I have been maintaining pretty consistently throughout 2023. I wake up and immediately write in a journal that I have on my bedside table. I do not get out of bed before writing. Actually, let me back up. First, my sweet kitty Leilani comes in my room around 5am to sleep with me. So when I wake up to the sunrise setting on my Hatch at 7:00, she is cuddled up on my tummy, and that is a great way to start the day. Then I scoot to a sitting position and she stays curled up near my feet while I write my one or two or three morning pages.

Next, I go for a walk, followed by a 30 second plank and stretching (yes, only 30 seconds, but almost every day!). I’ve never been able to pull this off in my life up until now, but have done it most days for most of this year, and I am impressed with that success. The reason it’s been successful? Because I am actively mindful of how good it makes me feel. It’s not about trying to lose weight or get exercise or stay fit (although those are all bonuses). It is purely about the fact that I feel good and am more likely to have a good day and a positive mindset when I start with this routine.

I’ve experimented with listening to podcasts during my walk, but more often enjoy music or simply listening to the birds singing. About a month ago, I realized I was gravitating toward a few particular songs to establish a mood of appreciation and love, so I made a “morning tunes” playlist that I often listen to. “Heavenly Day” by Patty Griffin, “The World Exploded into Love” by Bob Schneider, “The Light” by Sara Bareilles. A short list that allows me to then listen to whatever else I might be in the mood for that day, or nothing at all if that’s what I need.

So I had those things already in place last week, and they helped ground me to start my hard days.

The additional self-care last week was a mix between healthy and unhealthy, and I feel completely fine about all my choices. There was some junk food stress eating (I’ll also blame some of that on Halloween!). There was an uptick of wine drinking. There was more than the usual amount of vegging out, catching up on the latest season of The Morning Show (which is amazing!). And that was all okay because it truly felt like that’s what I needed. I was gentle and accepting of myself and my choices, and that was important. I can often indulge in these kinds of things and then feel guilty about it, but last week I simply allowed it all. I also slept a lot and talked with other therapist friends for support.

I also got through the week knowing that I would do very little over the weekend. I gave myself all day Sunday to work on my new book, which felt like a wonderful gift, and paid off with a nice writing flow. I took time to catch up on tasks I avoided during the draining week, to play some board games, work on a puzzle, have some good conversations, and sleep even more.

All this circles me back to my words of the year, and the ways in which I’ve become increasingly aware of what satisfies me. My priorities this year have been fun, health, connection and creativity, and I’ve been ever-mindful of surrendering. This week proved once again that these are the things that help me feel good. I surrendered to what I needed when the week was hard, then spent the weekend having fun, connecting with others, and creating. The healthy habits of walks and stretching and sleep helped, and the unhealthy habits of wine and TV and chips helped too.

I share all this not to gloat about how well I handle things, but rather because I have learned that without taking care of myself, I can’t handle things well at all. I feel called to help others, but have learned that I can’t do that well when I ignore what I need. What do you need? How do you take care of yourself when life gets tough? I hope to hear from you, or at least get you thinking about it.