“LifeLines is a monthly column dedicated to addressing issues of mental, behavioural, and social health. The column is written by professionals in the field of social work, mental health, and community medicine“.
Michele de la Coudray-Blake
What do we mean when we talk about self-care, and why is it important? ‘Self-Care’ refers to a set of behaviours, specifically and intentionally undertaken to ensure that emotional, physical, spiritual and mental health needs are addressed by the individual. Self-care behaviours, ideally, are proactive and ongoing, meaning that people should commit to constantly engaging in activities that sustain their mind, spirit and body before some type of crisis occurs in their lives.
When we think about taking care of self, we are associating it with concepts like ‘resilience’, ‘wellness’ and ‘emotional and physical balance’. Persons who engage in regular self-care behaviours tend to be able to ‘bounce back’ more quickly from traumatic or extremely stressful situations in their lives. They also tend to be able to have more effective ways of coping, and find the ability to bring back balance to their lives in the event of a crisis; and they tend to be able to describe themselves as feeling well, healthy and at peace.
In lives that are busy with work, school, family, community and other commitments, people tend to neglect this important aspect of care and preservation, often relying on short, one-time activities to bring a spurt of energy to their minds and bodies when they are stressed or overwhelmed (like ‘taking a sick leave’). In other words, people rarely put in the work of regularly attending to or nurturing how they think, how they shape their perspectives, how they see themselves in relation to others and how they regulate themselves.
The analogy could be made of a garden that is not properly tended. Unless the gardener makes an effort to regularly weed, water, enhance the soil, and ‘feed’ the plants, then weeds and destructive plants take over and the garden can’t exist. If self-care is not intentionally and regularly undertaken, then the stresses, chaos, conflicts and disharmony that exist pervades the daily life of the individual, and impact thoughts, behaviours, spiritual harmony, and physical health.
So how can persons engage in self-care? There are no stipulated or singular set of activities that each individual must engage in, to take care of their needs. Self-care activities are uniquely suited to the needs of the individual, so the range of interventions available to people is vast.
The following information regarding self-care behaviours, is adapted from RAINN.org, UK Violence Intervention and Prevention Programme.
Food is a type of self-care that people often overlook. People are often so busy that they don’t have time to eat regularly, or they substitute fast food for regular meals.
It’s not always reasonable to expect people to get 3 square meals a day (plus snacks!) but everyone should make sure they get adequate nutrition.
One example of a self-care goal: Even if it’s a small amount, I will eat something for each meal.
Exercise is one of the most overlooked types of self-care. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control & Prevention) recommends at least 30 minutes of exercise 5 times a week.
Exercise, even if it’s just a quick walk at lunchtime, can help combat feelings of sadness or depression and prevent chronic health problems.
One example of a self-care goal: I will go for a walk Tuesday and Thursday after I get out of my morning class.
Although everyone has different needs, a reasonable guideline is that most people need between 7-10 hours of sleep per night.
One example of a self-care goal: I will go to bed by 11:00 p.m. during the week so that I can get enough sleep.
Getting medical attention when you need it is an important form of physical self-care.
One example of a self-care goal: I will set aside money in my budget (or seek financial help) so that I can get my prescriptions filled every month.
This will mean different things for different people. It might mean:
Seeing a psychologist, clinical social worker, or therapist, to explore feelings or solutions to life’s challenges.
Keeping a journal
Some persons find that recording their thoughts and feelings in a journal/diary helps them express and manage painful emotions.
One example of a self-care goal: I will write in my journal at least 3 times this week.
Support from people around you.
It’s important to make sure that the people in your life are supportive
Nurture relationships with people that make you feel good about yourself!
Make spending time with trusted friends and family a priority
Many of us have full time jobs, go to school, volunteer and have families. Finding time to do activities that we enjoy is an important aspect of self-care.
Be aware of things you may be doing that take up a lot of your time but don’t support your self-care, such as too much time on the internet, watching TV, or even sleeping. These can all be relaxing, enjoyable activities in moderation, but can become a way of retreating and isolating yourself.
Get involved in a sport or hobby that you love!! Find other people who are doing the same thing! Knowing that people are counting on you to show up can help motivate you.
Make a date night and stick with it, either with a partner, friend or a group of friends.
Turn off your cell phones, within reason. (If the babysitter needs to be able to find you, consider leaving him/her the number of the restaurant so that you can turn off your ringer!)
Treat leisure appointments as seriously as business appointments. If you have plans to do something for fun, mark it on your calendar!
Make your self-care a priority, not something that happens (or doesn’t happen!) by accident.
Michele de la Coudray-Blake is Director of The Counselling Centre in St. Kitts.