Upfront

Graduate students and early career psychologists have a lot to juggle. Huge debt. Academic demands. Working to launch their careers. Possibly starting a family. Yet too few students and new psychologists recognize the stress they are under and fail to make self-care a priority, said speakers at the APA Annual Convention symposium "When Self-Care and Real World Collide for Students and Early Career Psychologists."

"As graduate students and early career psychologists, I think there's a tendency to postpone self-care," said Leigh A. Carter, of Loyola University in Maryland. "People think, 'I'll do self-care later after internship, after I'm licensed, after I start a practice.'"

But research shows not taking care of yourself can lead to stress, distress, even burnout—and that can undermine your professional competence. So self-care is not just essential to yourself, it's essential to your clients and work colleagues.

"It's an ethical imperative—and it really needs to start in graduate school," said Carter.

And it's more than that occasional meal with family and friends, said speakers. You've got to establish a self-care lifestyle. That means the obvious, like good sleep, nutrition and exercise, but also building your support networks at home and work, seeking out peer support groups, developing your hobbies and even doing volunteer work and seeking psychotherapy. Experiment with what works for you. "Self-care is not a one-size-fits-all model," said Carter. "It should not be a unique or infrequent practice, but rather a life-long habit."

—S. Martin