Last month I wrote a little blog about how, as a therapist, I try really hard not to give my clients any direct ‘advice’. I do offer to teach people different strategies, which may be more or less helpful for managing particular types of problems. But I try really hard not to tell people what to do with their lives, mainly because I feel that there really are no ‘right’ decisions, and that the only way to figure out what works for you is to try something and see.
I also have this particular perspective because I really dislike being given advice myself.
While I still stand behind this, I have to say over the past few weeks I’ve had to swallow my words a little bit and actually take some good advice. Mainly, my own.
When I talk about the “strategies” that I teach people, I mean things like mindful meditation (for people who come to be asking how to learn to relax, or to live more in the moment.)
I sometimes help people to take better care of themselves, if they feel tired or sick or stressed all the time, by finding ways to exercise, eat well, or sleep better, that work with their lifestyle.
I can teach people about the connections between their thoughts, emotions and the physical sensations in their body. About how problems like anxiety or depression can keep themselves going and about the things that can be useful in breaking these cycles.
And sometimes I coach people around how to say “no” to the things they really don’t want in their lives; and how to invite a bit more of the things that they want and need.
So recently I’ve been feeling pretty unwell. Kind of tired and stressed all the time, getting sick more frequently, and feeling just generally not a hundred percent. I was having a good moan to my partner about this, puzzling over whether I was working too much, or my job was too stressful, or whether I was just re-adjusting to so-called “normal” life after five years at university. And he, in all of his infinitely frustrating wisdom, said, “Don’t you help people to sort out these kinds of issues all the time? What would you tell a client to do in this situation?”
So after I rolled my eyes and groaned a bit more, I decided to suck it up and make a plan to get my life back into balance. To do all of those annoying things that I somehow always resist doing when I get busy and tired and stressed, despite the fact that I know they make me feel better.
I started walking again, not so much for fitness but to get out of the house or office every day and into the sunshine and some nature (sometimes my walks involve extended periods of “stretching” in the park ie: lying on my back in the sun). I re-started my pilates practice, both for fitness and also because when I’m physically worn out I sleep better. Instead of the regular take-away regime I had fallen into, I got back into cooking some healthy, simple meals and even trying some new, creative recipes. I cut down my workload, as much as I could, and I even got back into my own mindful meditation practice, which had dropped by the wayside long-ago amidst assignments and deadlines.
Mind you, I don’t do all of this, every day. Some days I don’t do any of these things at all. But I started making a distinct effort to try to do one thing from the list each day that I know will help me feel better. And of course, it did. I feel much less stressed, more balanced, less sick and generally more content in myself.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you do the same. Because I don’t give advice, remember? And because different things work for different people, of course. And because if I stop liking any of the things that I’m currently doing, I’ll stop doing them, and try something else.
But I definitely think, just on the odd occasion, that maybe I should take a bit of my own advice (just don’t tell anyone I said that).