As my first contribution, I thought it may be useful to start with something which forms the foundation of good mental health. Too often, we look at new and complex ways of trying to improve our daily experience, when in fact, a simple, foundational strategy can make a large impact.
Sometimes it can feel as though our lives are filled with a seemingly endless list of activities and responsibilities we are required to fulfill. The majority of these activities are likely to be things which we may not choose to do if we had the choice. Laundry, cleaning, meetings, emails, getting the kids to their extramural activities, cooking… the list is potentially endless. Each of these activities takes time, personal energy and physical and emotional resources. We do not have an endless supply of these. Think of it as a bank account which you are constantly making withdrawals from and very seldom, if at all, making deposits into. You’re overdrawn and running on empty. On a personal level you may feel exhausted, as though your battery has run flat. When this has been happening for too long, difficulties such as burn out, depression and anxiety may appear.
While this can seem overwhelming, there is a simple strategy we can make use of which can help to limit some of the stress of our daily lives. Self-care, which basically means doing something which you enjoy and makes you feel good, may not be a cure, but it can make a significant difference to our daily existence. If applied regularly it can help prevent us from getting to a place of running on empty. In instances where someone is facing burn out and struggling with mental health issues, self-care can be an excellent strategy to incorporate into your life to complement other supports such as therapy and medical intervention.
People often confuse self-care with selfishness. That taking time for yourself makes you selfish. In fact, selfishness is doing what you want, when you want and stepping over or through anyone to get it. Self-care means taking care of yourself so that you have enough energy to take care of those you love. If you don’t look after yourself first, you simply won’t have the energy to keep looking after others. Parents, just think about those evenings you have just desperately wished the kids would go to bed so you can have a few minutes or an hour to sit still. Or the times your alarm has gone off for work in the morning and you literally feel as though you need to drag yourself out of bed and are not sure how you will face the day ahead.
So, what does self-care look like? It is important to drill down and form a clear picture of what this concept will look like on a day to day basis. Otherwise, it simply remains a lofty principle wafting out there that sounds good but never actually happens. Self-care is about finding healthy ways to take care of your mental, emotional, physical and spiritual self. First, you need to ask yourself what it is you enjoy doing? Think of those times you have found yourself smiling, feeling good, felt a little lift of energy. What were you doing that brought this about? What makes you feel good? This can be different for everyone, and activities can range from having coffee with a friend, going to a gym class, having a nap, a night out with mates, a movie, a walk in nature with the family dog, a massage, reading your book, taking a walk in your lunch break etc. For some ideas to get you started, have a look at the list of different self-care ideas at the end of this article for different ways of caring for yourself.
It’s a good idea to pick a few activities of different lengths, so something which can take a few minutes and something which may take a couple of hours. This way you can make sure you have a self-care strategy for when time is of the essence, as well as for when you have more time on your hands. Create a self-care plan (a useful template is provided at the end of this article). This is easier than it sounds. You list what you like to do, keep the plan somewhere you see it every day, stick to it and do the activities regularly. Remember you need to practice to do something well. Once you have noted these things down, ask yourself what may get in the way of your self-care plans? Then ask yourself what you could do to remove these potential barriers. If you can’t remove the barriers, adjust the activities.
Assess how things are going once a month – what makes it difficult, which activities have you managed to do, what made those easier to action? This plan is a work in progress and you will need to adjust it until you find a way that works best for you.
So, here’s the hard part: no one will come along and do this for you. As an adult, it is your responsibility to establish what your needs are, and you are the only one responsible for making sure these needs are met. Remember doing just one of these things, once a week, can make a positive difference.
Examples of self-care strategies:
Self-care at work:
- Strict boundaries with staff or clients – don’t read emails after work, no calls after your work hours
- Peer support – have coffee with a colleague whose company you enjoy
- Take a walk in the local park in your lunch break
- Regular exercise – even if it is a 30-minute walk with the family dog
- Use your sick leave
- Get enough sleep (7-8 hours a night)
- Try eating regularly and choose healthy options when you can
- Take up that hobby you have been thinking of e.g. furniture restoration, painting, join a book club, do a park run
- No email or work connections once you are home
- 10-minute mindfulness- there are some great free apps available for download
- Make a time to spend time with friends and family that you enjoy being around
- Put time into friendships that leave you feeling good and positive
- Join your sport friends for a meal after a game
- Do something you enjoy – go to the movies, have a coffee at your favourite coffee place
- Talk honestly to a friend you trust about how things are really going in your life
- Keep meeting with your mothers’ group / friends from sport
- Take a walk in nature
- Go to yoga or a mindfulness group
- Attend a place of worship that you enjoy engaging with
- Spend time with a trusted friend
Self-Care plan template
|SELF CARE PLAN|
|What may get in the way? How can I adjust to overcome this?
|Any negative habits to avoid:
|What worked well? What made these easier to action?
|What are some of the benefits I may feel by engaging in self-care?
Blog by Gillian McGregor – Psychologist