Learning to Put Myself First – Sarah D Rees; Wellbeing Story

Sarah D Rees is a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist working in full-time private practice. She delivers therapy to people with a variety of mental health problems including anxiety, stress, trauma, and depression.

Having worked in mental health for over 20 years, Sarah is passionate about finding the most up-to-date, helpful and effective strategies for improving people’s psychological wellbeing. Last year, she launched The CBT Journal, a tool for self-care designed to help you understand your mind, build emotional resilience and improve your mental health.

Today, Sarah shares her own unique wellbeing story with the SOL community…

What Does Self-Care Mean to You?

In my clinical work, I constantly see how vital self-care is. I truly believe it’s the key to overall wellbeing.

Self-care is hugely important to me on a personal level too. I see my mind as the tool that enables me to do my job and support my clients. To be emotionally engaged with other people’s distress each day, I need to be in a good place myself, and that requires a great deal of self-care.

I consider self-care to be an investment in myself. It’s like having an insurance policy against the ups and downs of life. It ensures I’m as physically and emotionally resilient as I possibly can be, both for myself and for the people around me.

To me, self-care means creating a lifestyle with balance. It’s having space each day to tune in to my body and listen to what it needs.

Has Self-Care Always Been Part of Your Daily Life?

Although I’ve always worked in a caring profession, I didn’t master self-care until late in life.

As a nurse working long hours on wards in the NHS, I was so focused on other people’s needs, I constantly neglected my own. But to care well for others, we must take care of ourselves. I often use the analogy that if you’re on a plane and the cabin loses pressure, you’re told to put your own oxygen mask on before your child’s. If you don’t, you’re unable to help anyone else.

Has Self-Care Ever Helped You Through a Challenging Time?

When I hit 40, I became very unwell with an underactive thyroid. I’d been unwell for a while, but I was so used to feeling rubbish, I thought it was normal. Looking back, I think one of the triggers was stress and an overall lack of self-care.

The thyroid is a gland in your neck that balances your hormones and impacts every system in your body. When it’s underactive, everything in your system slows down. Your mood is lowered, and you experience a whole host of other unpleasant symptoms.

I was placed on medication to correct the imbalance, but for some reason, I became more unwell. As I struggled with fatigue and low mood, I felt helpless because ‘the fix’ for my condition wasn’t working.

I started to journal about my health. Slowly, I became more in tune with my body, my symptoms and their variations. I was then able to approach health professionals with much more useful information.

Taking responsibility for my own health in this way helped me regain control, rather than feel ruled by my broken body. Since then, I’ve adopted a much more holistic view of my health and wellbeing. It’s been a real journey, but I feel healthier, happier and fitter than ever before.

Self-care got me through my physical health problems, and it continues to play a huge role in helping me deal with any challenges. Previously, if things got tough, I looked outward to fix things. Now, I also look inwards and think about what I need for my wellbeing too. This approach makes me more resilient and less likely to burn out. I still have a tendency to overwork, but I know what my warning signs are.

What Self-Care Practices Do You Currently Use to Support Your Wellbeing?

I’ve developed a love of yoga which nourishes my mind and body. Going to the gym has become part of my lifestyle (I never thought I’d say that!) and I have a personal trainer who keeps me consistent. I use food to nourish my body and I ensure my diet is as varied as possible.

I’ve practised mindfulness on and off for a number of years and I recommend it to almost all my clients. Connecting with people face-to-face is so important for wellbeing. Now that we do so much online, in person connection is becoming rarer so I make sure I have regular dates with my friends.

I continue to journal a few times a week and I find the practice very grounding. There’s good research to indicate writing things down reduces stress in the body. I certainly feel lighter afterwards and it keeps me in tune with where I am and what I need. CBT is about becoming more aware of your thoughts, feelings and behaviours, so I use this framework when journaling.

Are There Any Specific Rhythms or Rituals You Use to Anchor Your Day?  

I don’t follow a rigid routine, but I do plan self-care into my week. If I write it in my diary, it generally gets done. That said, I do begin each day with a short mindfulness practice.

Over time, I’ve developed a pattern of self-care that really works for me. I like knowing I always have things like journaling, mindfulness, and yoga to fall back on. I call these my ‘stress anchors’. As long as they’re in my life, I know I’m doing well.

Of course, life can get busy and things can easily fall by the wayside. I’m far from perfect, but as soon as I identify a lack of self-care in my life, I commit to bringing it back, otherwise I know I’ll just burn out.

Continue the Story…

If you’re interested in Sarah’s work as a therapist, you can explore her website here. The CBT Journal combines two of the most effective psychological tools – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and journaling. Although it’s presented as a four-week project, it can form part of an ongoing daily wellbeing routine. Sarah’s also in the process of launching a new podcast called ‘Ask the Therapist’, so be sure to keep an eye out for that later in the year.

Love Lizzie and the SOL team x

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