Dr Alissa Knight is a clinical psychologist and researcher, the founder and director of The Calming Suite Psychology Clinic, Yoga instructor and mother.
What does self-care mean to you?
This was something that took me a really long time to discover. Partly due to the fact for a very long time I perceived self-care to be something quite surface level (e.g., good hygiene, eating a healthy balanced diet, exercise, work-life balance, socialising, having down time). What I realised is that self-care for me, needs to be much deeper than that.
Until you have established your ‘self-identity’ and you know who you are on an authentic level, you are really going in blind to what you assume self-care for yourself should be. And in many ways, that is exactly what happened to me in my early twenties, when I thought I was doing all the things that should promote self-care, but was still feeling lost, tired, unmotivated and uninspired.
Nowadays, knowing exactly who I am as a person, my definition of self-care is: “giving myself permission to be, accept, forgive, love and nurture my authentic self in a way that offers me empowerment, balance, rest, excitement, and fulfilment”
How do you know when you’re feeling stressed or burnt out?
By nature, my personality thrives off being a ‘workaholic’. I vividly recall times sitting at my desk for over 14 hours on a Saturday, completely drained and exhausted while working on publications for my PhD.
I would be so annoyed that my body would not keep up with my mind’s intentions that I would almost tell it off by putting headphones on and literally blasting it with Eminem, “You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow, this opportunity comes once in a lifetime!”.
My old mantra of “work . push . work, I can rest later” has certainly steered me to achieve great things in my life, but the toll of pushing myself to the brink did catch up with me, and I have certainly been tapped on the shoulder a few times by the hand of burnout.
What I have come to learn is that ‘hand’ tapping me on the shoulder is in fact my body. While I always thought my mind was the supreme dictator, allowing me to simply ignore the exhaustion, the anxiety, tiredness, at some point my body steps in when I have reached close to burnout and simply says “no more”.
It has done that to me by either causing me to go into a panic attack, develop chronic fatigue syndrome, migraines, or chronic vomiting. All with the intention of forcing me to stop, when my mind cannot.
Do you have a regular self-care routine? If so, what does it look like?
To be honest, after so many years racing non-stop in a hamster wheel this was actually quite hard to establish. However, I think self-care for me now is more about self-preservation than a routine.
My role as a clinical psychologist, mother, and wife carries a lot of responsibility, pressure, and the weight of others trauma, pain, hurt and issues. So, part of my self-care is to wake up each day and preserve my energy, spirituality, mood, health and wellbeing in the face of this duty. To achieve this, I do maintain a few key essentials each day:
Quality time with my children (ensuring I am always able to wake them up in the morning, take them to school, bathe them, have play time, put them to sleep and be surrounded by their love).
Spending quality time each day with my husband.
Having some time in nature (even a ten-minute walk, or down the beach).
Having some kind of connection with friends and family.
Every morning creating one positive affirmation for the day.
Allowing time to eat well, have a coffee, and take breaks
Having time to myself (whether that be doing yoga, dance, reading, Tai chi, watching the Bachelor or Love Island)
What bumps you off your self-care routine and how do you get back on course?
I think self-care remains particularly radical for women in general, but especially for those who are mothers, and also work in roles where it is your job to look after others.
Sometimes this sense of stigma and pressure surrounding that can bump my self-care to the left a little, especially if I have deadlines fast approaching, extremely stressful events, or an unexpected case of suicide risk for example that I need to act with immediate precision.
What I try to do immediately after these types of events is to give myself some space from it. I usually do this by spending time with my children, my family and pets, talk to a friend about something we are really looking forward to doing, pop on some music and shake it out with some wild dance moves, or have some delightfully indulgent food as I watch a TV show that is not too serious, makes me laugh and has a general ‘feel-good’ vibe to it. Usually after following these steps, I find myself back on course fairly easily.
Where do you go for inspiration, ideas or tools for self-care?
Possibly one of the most inspirational humans I have ever come across in the field of self-care is that of Dr Wayne Dyer. I was very fortunate to come across a famous talk Dr Dyer presented about self-care, to which he stood in front of the audience holding an orange. He proceeded with asking an audience member:
Dr Dyer “If I were to squeeze this orange as hard as I could, what do you think would come out?”
Audience Member “Juice, of course.”
Dr Dyer “Do you think apple juice could come out of it?”
Audience Member “No!”
Dr Dyer “What would come out of it?”
Audience Member “Orange juice, of course.”
Dr Dyer “Why?”
Audience Member “Well, it’s an orange, and that’s what’s inside.”
Dr Dyer proceeded with “Let’s assume that this orange is you. And someone squeezes you, puts pressure on you, says something you don’t like, or offends you. And out of you comes anger, hatred, bitterness, fear. Why? The answer is because that’s what’s inside.”
The lesson he was trying to teach here is that life can be really hard. People can be really brutal. But at the end of the day the way you respond/handle those life stressors, and how much it impacts your emotional and psychological well being depends on what’s inside.
If we are reacting to pressure and stress with rage, anger, anxiety, panic, withdrawal, then it is an indication to us that something is off, and it is time for a reset. Ultimately, it is a message for us to remember self-care.
What do you think you need to improve in terms of your self-care practice?
I think self-care is something I will always be striving to evolve in and improve as I age. I know currently while I have done a lot to preserve my internal balance so my external self is as emotionally resilient as it can be, I still have a long way to go.
I still struggle to detach from maternal instincts sometimes when working with youth. If I am sitting in front of a 15-year-old sleeping in their car for example, and everyone else has given up on them.
Every part of my being awakens, I become tunnel focused, and I will stay up all night if I have to, work on a Saturday morning until I have found that child appropriate housing. I have personally gone down to a school many times and sat in front of a principal if my client has reported being bullied, demanding immediate resolution and an end to it.
These are things that I know many other psychologists would not do as it is not within our job description, but for me I just find it very difficult to go home at 5pm on the dot when I know there are children struggling like this and I could help.
So, I guess while I don’t think I can ever shut off my drive to help youth in this way once they are in my care, I could definitely improve on better managing my time in these instances so that it doesn’t cut so much into my personal life and time I could be spending with my family.
Before you go…
Self-Care is a content series exploring the different self-care routines and habits of people from all walks of life. Get in touch with us today if you’d like to talk about your self-care routine.