011: Redefining Holiday Plans for Therapists

November 22, 2023
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This episode of the Joy After Burnout podcast focuses on thriving during the holiday season as a mental health professional. Dr. Jen Blanchette discusses the importance of setting realistic boundaries and expectations to maintain a healthy therapist balance. She advises therapists to consider the length of time spent with family and friends during the holidays, keeping in mind their own needs and well-being.

Adjusting to one’s current season of life is also highlighted, as it may require redefining holiday plans and finding a balance between clinical work and personal life. Dr. Blanchette emphasizes the necessity of recovery time after the holidays and offers strategies for managing stress. Furthermore, she encourages therapists to challenge idealized holiday expectations and create their own traditions that bring genuine joy. The episode concludes with a reflective exercise to visualize a happy and grounded future self during the holiday season.

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Speaker A: This is the Finding Joy After Burnout podcast, a podcast for therapists and mental health professionals. Together, we unravel Burnout and find our road back to Joy. Here’s your host, Dr. Jen Blanchette.

Speaker B: Hey, therapist. Welcome back to another episode of Joy After Burnout. This is the place where we dive into really what therapist life is like, navigating the roller coaster that is the world of mental health. So if you haven’t met me before, if you’re new to the podcast, my name is Dr. Jen Blanchette. Before we dive in today’s topic, I wanted to share a little bit of a personal story from my summer adventures. I know it’s November, almost December. At the time of this recording, we’re thinking about Thanksgiving, but I wanted to take you back to my summer trip. So I had the opportunity to travel with my kids to see my grandmother. I think even that it’s an opportunity I felt like I needed to make this trip. She’s 91, and it was a great trip. Overall, it was a great trip. There was so much laughter, there was fun. And don’t get me wrong, I absolutely adore my family. However, at the same time, I also cherish my routine, my space, and this is a lesson I keep learning. During part of the trip, I ventured off without my partner to spend some quality time with my grandmother. That sounds great, right? It’s all going to go well. We’re going to hit the airport. I have two boys that are eight and ten who have a lot of energy, and they demand my attention, especially during really different environments. It’s exciting to go to the airport when you’re a kid. It’s hard to balance my needs with my natural desire for breaks, to have slow mornings with coffee, being with family, with my kids needs, right? For movement, for play, for doing whatever they want to do. And I think summer is also a naturally depleting time for me because my kids are out of school and I’m not working a ton. So when I decided to go on this trip, I realized, hey, I am a little bit like a dressed salad. I need to travel with the utmost care, and that doesn’t often work out in my favor. But I told myself, I can do this. My kids are older. It sounds like a great idea. However, at the end of this trip, I found myself feeling utterly depleted and drained. It’s a lesson I’ve learned before, but sometimes I need that reminder. Long trips away, especially without my partner, are a challenge for me, I think. What a contrast with another journey that I had this year where I traveled alone. I had ample time to hang out with my brother, exploring the beach where he lives. It was a totally different experience. I felt restored and alive upon my return. Oh, just an insider tip. My brother told me that you can book an airport club for like $50 because I had this long layover. I expensed that fee, by the way, where I got a free drink, snacks, a private bathroom y’all, it’s the only way to travel. It nearly paid for itself in food costs. So this was in stark contrast that experiencing highlighting your season of life may dictate different plans. You have to prepare for those difficult trips before and after. So the takeaway from that is it’s okay to recognize your needs and adjust accordingly. Why my dream of solo adventures and my alone time in this season of life. The reality is that I really need to travel with my partner when the kids are involved, and that’s perfectly fine. It’s all about finding balance, what works for you, and understanding that your season of life may dictate different plans. And I found that time and time again as different seasons have come up. Now let’s tie this back to the theme for today thriving during the holidays. This is your survival guide. These experiences that I just shared taught me that the importance of setting realistic boundaries and expectations and finding really joy in the moments that align with your unique needs. So whether it’s embracing the chaos of children like in my own life, or savoring those quiet solo adventures, I think it’s important to chat about boundaries. I get it, family and festivities are fantastic, but too much of a good thing can throw off our delicate therapist balance. I don’t know about you, but I am just more sensitive as a person the longer I am. Being a therapist and being in mental health, you may need to consider to limit the time you entertain others. My wise grandmother always says that family and fish go bad in three days. So figure out what time frame works for you and your sanity. If two weeks is pushing it, maybe consider a week. A few days is your sweet spot. But I think we don’t ask ourselves these questions. We think, oh, well, my family wants me to come down for a week or they’re coming for ten days. Okay, I’m going to cancel that workout that I was going to do. I have to jump right into work to doing cooking for a big crowd. That’s really tough. So secondly, I’d have you think about adjusting to your season of life, just acknowledging that each season of life comes with its own set of rules for the holidays. If traveling, your hosting, being fully available to clients as well, the holidays may feel like this herculean task. It’s okay to redefine your holiday plans based on where you are in your life and what you might need around your clinical work and also your personal life. We don’t consider that busy season is coming for us as therapists during the times before and after the holidays, my clients can be my clients were I’m not in practice anymore. More dysregulated, so they needed more attention and care maybe not so much right around the holidays. Some of them did and others it would be like a couple of weeks after the holiday, busyness into January, some in December, with grief and things like that would pop up. So I just have you think about you’re probably going into your heaviest season as a clinician. So what might you need to do to kind of buffer some of that stress that’s coming now for planning, for recovery, talking about tasks, recovery time is so important, anticipate how much time you’ll need to get back to equilibrium after the holidays or before the holidays. So I’m going to draw on my work with brain injury survivors. So I specialized when I was in practice working with survivors of brain injury and they just had certain limits due to their brain injury where they couldn’t actually attend a family gathering for, let’s say it was a twelve hour gathering, they could maybe do 3 hours and then they were toast. Either they had to physically lay down in a space at their loved one’s home or they needed to leave. So we would often create these plans around what their physiological needs were, which translated to emotional needs as well, to help them think about what can they really take on in the holiday season and what could they put off. So I often have found these parallels with burnout and with really cognitive rehab because their body puts limitations on them for what they can and can’t do. And for therapists who are struggling with burnout or just feeling really overwhelmed, I find we’re putting really a lot of stress in our bodies and it’s taking an emotional toll in our family life. So thinking about what we’re committing to and what the fallout of that commitment is, is crucial. I also hate to talk about self care for therapists, like breathing and yoga, I believe that stuff is important. I do those things. It might look a little different for me than some other people, but I feel like and I read it was a blog by a friend, actually, I think it was a newsletter from a therapist kind of in this space who was talking about weaponized self care, that if you do these things, then you should be better. Like if you’re doing your yoga, your breathing, your own therapy, then you’re going to avoid burnout, you’re going to avoid dealing with the aspects of the work that are difficult. I don’t believe that’s true. I think those things can help your baseline. But I think we can get to a certain point where there is a tipping point where we really have to think about that whole mind body reset versus putting in a few self care pieces, giving ourselves some more breaks. We have to really look at the whole paradigm and say, I need to change the game sometimes if I’m deep into burnout or deep into career overwhelm. So as for adjusting expectations. I think we need to realize that our family members have idealized holiday expectations. You deal with this with clients all the time. They feel like, oh, we have to do the Christmas Eve gathering, and then we all go to church together. And then typically it’s family with this one. Then I have to go to that holiday with the other family group, and then we do X, Y and Z. We help our clients figure out, okay, maybe those were the expectations put on you by your family, but you actually don’t have to do that. We’re really good about giving people some tips or thinking through, how can I manage the expectations for myself and my family members? However, I find as caretakers most therapists are, we don’t think about maybe we need to change how we are navigating the expectations within our own family systems. You know, the picture perfect scenes we see in movies. Consider how much space the perfect holiday takes up in your family dynamics. Adjust those expectations, make it your own, and release some of that pressure. That is not an easy task. It sounds great to just think you can do that, to have that idea. But to put it into practice, it’s a lot different. It can take years, it can take months. So I’m just planting that seed for you to give you permission to think of it differently for you or your family. We talk a lot about finding joy in this podcast. So I want to talk about joy. How can you experience genuine joy this holiday season? Is it a quiet morning with coffee? That’s me. Opting for fewer activities or even treating yourself to some takeout instead of spending hours in the kitchen? Find these moments that bring up joy and make them a priority. So I wanted to do a reflective exercise with you thinking about your future self. So as an EMDR therapist, when I was working in therapy, we would do a thing called future template. We would think about all the triggers that would come up and how we needed to think about what that client needed in the future. If they encountered a future trigger. We also would think about how could the future situation go really, really well? So as we approach the busiest season of the year, I want you to take a moment and visualize your future self during this time period, during this holiday you’re about to enjoy. So do that with me. Take a moment and just imagine for a second what would make it easier for you. What would your body need to feel grounded and supported? Imagine the experiences you’d like to have. Think of those that bring you genuine joy. What do you see? What do you hear? What can you touch? And where do you feel that in your body? So just notice all that come up. Allow yourself to feel what it’s like to give permission for these experiences to truly embrace whatever it is on your own terms. So hopefully you were able to come up with some experiences that you could think of that you would like to have this holiday season that would bring you true joy. For me, it would be calmly at Christmas time, sitting with my kids on Christmas morning and just enjoying a breakfast, watching them open presents and playing family games together. So having those experiences, I want you to remember, therapist, you deserve the same care and attention you provide for others. I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving if you celebrate Thanksgiving and have some wonderful rest. By the way, if you are thinking you need help with your career, if you need help kind of figuring out what’s going on related to your burnout or your career overwhelm, not knowing what to do next in your journey as a therapist, book a call with me. So I’m offering a free 20 minutes consult call. I’m calling this the career refresh 20 minutes consult. So if you look in the podcast player that you’re in, if it’s Apple, it has like some words there. Scroll down and look, there’s a link to book a call with me. I hope to talk with you soon. Happy Thanksgiving.

Speaker A: Thank you for listening to the Joy After Burnout podcast. Be the first to hear new episodes by following the podcast and your podcast player. This is an informational podcast only. Any information expressed by the host or guest is not a substitute for legal, medical or financial advice.


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