What is self-care?
Goodtherapy.org defines self-care as “the actions that an individual might take in order to reach optimal physical and mental health.”
I think of it as intentional ways of nourishing and building resilience in the spirit and body; deliberate efforts to support physical, mental, and emotional health.
Why is self-care important? You can't pour from an empty cup.
My answer is that when I was in grad school, one of my professors, Dr. Bernadette Torrez, made the point that we (therapists) are “the instruments of therapy.” I understood her at the time, but as I came to practice I realized in a more profound way how my energy level, health, and mood affect sessions with my clients. Like most therapists, I developed a certain ability to set my problems aside, and be present for my clients, but certain things, like migraines, can't be ignored. It's on me to do my best to prevent those sorts of things from happening in the first place. Self-care is especially significant in my field where I am helping people process, contain, and navigate heavy emotional experiences. There is a high rate of burnout in my profession, and I don’t want to fall victim to it. The field as a whole recognizes how important an issue this is, and places a strong emphasis on learning to prioritize and practice self-care.
A self-care plan involves:
Recognizing why self-care is important to you.
Creating a list of ideas that work for you and your lifestyle. I think that it’s good for the ideas on your list to vary in terms of ease, commitment and expense. After a hard day at work, you might not want to go on a hike, but an Epsom salt bath might be just the thing.
Setting aside time in your schedule to incorporate those ideas.
Some of my favorite self-care ideas, and some links to more information:
Spend time in nature!
Regulate your sleep, and when that’s not possible:
Take a nap – This could be a 10-15 minute “power nap,” or it could be a luxurious 2 hour nap, depending on your needs and available time.
Create a happiness journal. This can be an excellent resource when you are feeling over-extended. Imagine a book where every page reminds you of something positive in your life that you have a personal connection to.
Vary your routine. This will create a shift in energy and thoughts.
Bring mindfulness to ordinary activities. Maybe 15 minutes of meditation in the morning is too much of a commitment, but slowing down to savor your food, feeling your feet on the ground as you walk, rubbing your fingers together and trying to feel your own fingerprints; these are things that can be done easily and will still bring your focus into your body, and into the present.
Find a swing and use it! Play connects us all with our happy memories.
Breathe deeply and with intention. This might be the easiest way of practicing self-care.
Drink lots of water; our bodies need it!
Practice saying no to things you don’t want to do.
De-clutter. Some people function better in chaos; I am not one of them. When my space is clean and clear, I find myself being much more productive and creative.
Dance, stretch, move your body.
Unplug from social media.
Indulge yourself. This could be a small indulgence like a piece of chocolate, or it could be a getaway to a tropical island. It all depends on your tastes and budget.
Activate your self-soothing system. I do this by putting lotion on my arms, or getting a massage.
Create a compassionate mantra for yourself (see earlier blog post on how to do this).
Laugh – whether this means watching a comedy or calling your best friend, laughter is truly the best medicine.
Come up with a list of compliments for yourself. Don’t limit yourself by what you think. What would your favorite aunt have to say about you? Or your best friend? Or your cat?
Look for beauty. Try using your phone to take pictures of 3 beautiful things a day.
Write a heartfelt thank you note to someone who has been of help to you. Whether or not you send it, the writing will put you in touch with your feelings of gratitude.
Buy a set of Mixed Emotions Cards. These are one of the best tools I know of to help identify emotions, resolve conflicts, and make decisions.
Find an animal to play with or cuddle: unconditional love wrapped in soft fur.
Take time for yourself. Many of us have over-packed schedules and overwhelming responsibilities. Take a break; you deserve it.
Take a bath, preferably with a lot of Epsom salts.