For a long time, taking care of my mental health was not a priority. Heck, taking care of my physical health didn’t rank too highly either. I’m resilient, I’m a badass, and I’ll sleep when I’m dead, was essentially my motto. Over the past few years, that has changed, both as a necessity (spoiler: it’s not sustainable) and by choice: I’ve come to realize that the greatest form of self love is self care—and I was very much not caring for myself.
But no amount of self care could have prepared me for 2020. This year has taken a huge toll on our collective mental health, and the impacts of the pandemic, economic turmoil, fight for racial justice, and U.S. election have created a ripple effect that has permeated every part of our lives. The number of people with moderate to severe symptoms of depression and anxiety has continued to increase throughout 2020 and remains higher than rates prior to COVID-19, and loneliness or isolation consistently rank in people’s top three contributions to their mental health concerns.
But with everything that is going on, the additional task of seeking mental health treatment can feel like a burden. Maybe you’ve seen a therapist in the past and have been thinking about starting again, or maybe you’ve never seen a therapist and this is your first time—either way, we’re here for you. Here’s how to create your plan to start therapy in the new year.
I’m a big fan of to-do lists. They keep me organized, focused, and motivated. That doesn’t mean I successfully complete every to-do list I make, though. My apartment is covered in post-its, and the things that usually remain unchecked are the things I do to take care of myself: call my insurance about that incorrect medical bill, organize the pile of belongings I always trip over next to my bed, get new glasses.
Find a therapist.
When I read Anne Helen Petersen’s Buzzfeed article-turned-book on millennial burnout, I identified real hard. “I was deep in a cycle of a tendency, developed over the last five years, that I’ve come to call ‘errand paralysis,’” she said. “I’d put something on my weekly to-do list, and it’d roll over, one week to the next, haunting me for months.”
Finding a therapist is a multistep process that can seem extremely daunting at first—the ultimate errand paralysis—but if you set aside just an hour to get started, you can break it down into manageable steps, each of which you can check off your list (if that’s what you’re into). Block time on your calendar, set a timer for an hour, or set up a therapy-finding Zoom with a friend who is going through the same process. Whatever you decide to do, don’t let this to-do roll over for weeks on end. It deserves better than the post-it graveyard.
Thinking about why you want to go to therapy, figuring out what sort of therapy is right for you, and how you’re going to afford it can all be taxing. Once you set aside time to find a therapist, practice self care before, during, and after: try to make sure you’re well-rested, comfortable, and prepared to take on the task.
Put on some music you love or grab a fancy notebook and a nice pen. Make a list of exactly what you need to do:
The holidays are a great time to make your plan and find a therapist. Maybe you’re feeling cozy and happy. Maybe you’re thinking about your goals for next year. Maybe memories or conversations with family have exposed some feelings and you’d like some support processing. Those are all totally valid reasons to take some time to create a care-filled therapist-seeking bubble and take this step to get you the support you deserve.
One thing I really struggle with is my obsession with research. Most times, it’s a helpful skill and useful drive to have. It makes my work better and I learn a lot. It also takes me ten hours to buy new yoga pants, forty-five minutes to figure out what I want to eat at a restaurant (I look at the menu in advance! I’m not a monster), and I still don’t have a new pair of sneakers; I haven’t found the perfect pair.
All my research leads to some great decisions—and sometimes it doesn’t. I’m often plagued by decision fatigue where I labor over unimportant decisions over and over again and am burned out by the time an important one pops up later in the day or week (reminder: add this to the list of things to talk to my therapist about). The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually it looks for shortcuts, often by doing either one of two things: acting impulsively instead of expending the energy to first think through the outcomes or avoid any choice and do nothing instead of agonizing over decisions at all. Over the past year or so, I’ve tried to reduce the amount of time I spend on relentlessly researching every decision, and instead have turned to trusted sources to do the work for me.
Making it easier to find a therapist is the entire reason MyWellbeing exists. Our quick, free, and easy questionnaire asks a bit about what you’re looking for and afterward, you’ll receive three personalized matches who are likely to be a strong fit for you (if only I could find that for sneakers).
Your relationship with your therapist is key to your growth. While finding a compatible therapist on your own can be really hard, finding your perfect match is a great step toward supporting your mental health. You can totally celebrate checking this off your list and look forward to your first appointment!
And while it might seem silly to some to reward yourself for completing a task like finding a therapist, it’s actually a great strategy when it comes to building healthy habits. When we give ourselves treats, we feel energized, cared for, and contented, which boosts our self-command—and self-command helps us maintain our healthy habits, like crossing important things off of our to-do list and taking care of our mental health. When we don’t get any treats, we begin to feel burned-out, depleted, and resentful. There’s nothing wrong with a little positive reinforcement and all the reason in the world to reward yourself for taking care of you.
We know finding a therapist can be stressful, but with a good plan and a little help, you’ll be able to take this important step to get the mental health support you deserve in the new year and beyond.
Caitlin is an organizational change strategist, advisor, writer, and the founder of Commcoterie, a change management communication consultancy. She helps leaders and the consultants who work with them communicate change for long-lasting impact. Caitlin is a frequent speaker, workshop facilitator, panelist, and podcast guest on topics such as organizational change, internal communication strategy, DEIBA, leadership and learning, management and coaching, women in the workplace, mental health and wellness at work, and company culture. Find out more, including how to work with her, at www.commcoterie.com.