Our day-in-the-life series gives a peek into the lives of wellness professionals. See how they practice what they preach and discover their daily routines and self-care habits rooted in reality.
As humans, we have a natural curiosity about how other people live. It's the reason why aspirational daily life routine videos are very popular. We're not immune to its allure and while working with industry professionals in promoting holistic wellness this month, we have become curious about their day-to-day lives as well. How do they incorporate these self-care tips in their daily living? As wellness professionals, do they have special routines to prepare them for the day?
Ahead, Clinical Psychologist Dr. Annabelle Chow shares how she does her own personal mindfulness routine amidst a busy lifestyle, as well as the ways she copes with an emotionally demanding yet fulfilling profession. Here's what a day in the life of a psychologist looks like.
A busy morning
As a mother of two young children (the second only two months old), Dr. Annabelle Chow has a hectic schedule in the morning and admits that sleep has been something of a luxury lately. Nevertheless, she makes sure that she still has time for breakfast and enjoys a simple spread with her husband or — if she needs to rush to the office — with her colleagues at the clinic.
To have some time to prep herself before her first patient of the day arrives, Dr. Chow makes it a point to arrive early at the clinic. She uses this time to chat with her colleagues and go over the schedule for the day. Of course, early mornings with her officemates are not just all about work. "They fill me in on the latest Korean drama and recommend what to watch," shared Dr. Chow. No harm in a little fun before office hours!
"I average at 6 to 7 patients a day. Every day isn't the same, but as a practising psychologist, the bulk of my day is filled with patient appointments," shared Dr. Chow. It's a familiar routine that she more or less has been doing for the past 11 years.
Her more than a decade-long dedication to the field is rooted in the advocacy to help people struggling with mental illness and to destigmatise it. "I think especially in the Singaporean context there's a lot of stigmas when it comes to mental health, and there are not enough psychologist to help provide support and disseminate correct mental health information about it," she shared.
While her day is mostly spent meeting with patients, Dr. Chow shared that the work doesn't stop when the client leaves the room. "A lot of our work actually happens outside that one-hour therapy session. We need to prepare. Sometimes, in an area that we might not be the most familiar with, we need to read up. We need to make sure that whatever we're doing is evidence-based," she shared.
A mellow afternoon
"In psychology, you need to do something called clinical supervision. It's a practice to discuss, either with your peers or a supervisor more experienced than ourselves, the cases that are more complex. Or it might be cases we have difficulty managing or when we really don't know the best way forward. Even at my level, I seek supervision and meet my own supervisor every week to talk about the cases I'm struggling with," she shared. Dr. Chow said that this is very important especially for complex or severe cases as poor clinical practise often lead to irreparable harm to patients.
Dr. Chow shared that one of the challenges psychologists like her face is setting boundaries between personal and work life. It's one of those things that she struggled with when she was just starting her practice. "It was very difficult for me to leave my patients' problems at the doorstep of my home," she shared. "Because, sometimes, there are clients who are really struggling and might be suicidal. It's really hard to stop thinking about that just because it's already 6 o'clock."
But over the years, she has become better in drawing boundaries and findings ways to look after her own mental health. With her busy schedule, mindful driving is one of those things that help her relax after a long day. "That's the time when I really try and gently set down the day’s events from the clinic," she said. "I sometimes switch off the radio and drive in complete silence. That gives me the opportunity to allow my surroundings to fill my awareness as I observe them enter my mind."
How to do a mindful drive? "Usually when you're used to driving from point a to b, it becomes automatic and you don't really have to think about it. So you just might take a turn without thinking. Mindful driving is when you really observe and focus on things that are happening such how your hands feel on the steering wheel, how the traffic is, pay attention to your surroundings and just really being present in the moment and not worrying about what's next," she said.
A wonderful night
"I'm quite a stickler for the bedtime of my children," Dr. Chow said. "Because if they're not asleep by 8 in the evening, it will be bad for their cognitive development and for my mental health as well because I reserve that time for myself and my husband.
"It's important for me to practice what I preach and look after myself," Dr. Chow said. And so she dedicates an unwinding time for her and her husband after 8 PM. "If something from my day is still bugging me, I will write about it because journaling helps me make sense of it," she shared. She also likes to make calming tea and soak her feet in warm water to help her relax. Sometimes, she also takes evening walks with her husband and they talk about their day, a habit they formed when they were still university students.
Dr. Chow shared that her cat Mushroom comforts her and she even keeps a portrait of him in her clinic. "He's a very good cat, very good temperament," she shared. After cuddling with her cat, she starts to prepare for bed and puts on calming music. "I like to keep my room dark so I tend to use a nightlight and this tells my body that it's time to sleep," she said. "Then, my husband and I will cuddle for a bit and check each other's schedule for tomorrow."
That's a peek at a day in the life of a psychologist! When asked what life advice she tells her patient that she also does herself, Dr. Chow tells us this: "Laugh when you can and cry when you need to".