When I started my own mental health journey twenty years ago, I had my therapist ask what I was doing for self-care. I responded with showering, brushing teeth and hair, eating right. I remember her smiling and she said while it was good, I was taking care of my physical body, what was I doing to help my mental and spiritual side. I remember responding something like “well I’m seeing you.” Again, the smile and her stating “that’s not enough.” I did and thought what many people do, I worried about my physical body, but I didn’t pay attention to my mental and spiritual wellbeing. In order to be fully healthy we need to take care of all three areas.
I ask clients to visualize them putting a pot full of water on a back burner of their stove, they turn it on and walk away. Every so often they might add a little water back into the pot, but adding a little water to a hot pot isn’t enough and eventually the water evaporates and the pot burns up. We are the pot of water on the back burner, we put work, school, kids, partners, etc., first, some of us add a little water just enough to get ourselves through life but it tends to not be enough and we burn ourselves out.
A big important point in regards to self-care, it is not selfish, or self-indulgent. Self-care is learning to take care of ourselves so that we can help others. If I for example don’t take care of myself, I would not have the mental capacity to help others. I would burn out very quickly and have to find a new career. Self-care helps us not only to better deal with our daily stressors, it helps us manage our depression, and anxiety, as well as other mental health struggles. It helps reduce our stress, improve our immune system, increase our productivity, and improve our self-esteem.
Three are three types of self-care, emotional, physical and spiritual. Emotional self-care is taking care of our emotional needs, validating and honoring our emotions without judgment. Some examples of emotional self-care are journaling, saying positive affirmations, doing hobbies, reading, watching movies or TV or spending some time alone relaxing.
Physical self-care is taking care of our physical body. This includes, getting enough sleep, eating nutritional meals, showering, brushing our teeth and hair, exercise (this doesn’t have to be going to the gym, it includes going for walks), using your sick leave, and going into the doctor regularly.
Spiritual self-care is taking care of our souls. Some examples are mediation, spending time in nature, clean your space, connecting with others. Human beings are social creatures, covid and being isolated for so long has shown us the negative impact of not being able to connect with others on our mental health. Connecting with others, even for introverts, is important as we all need some human connection. Unplugging from technology, praying or getting involved with our religion or honoring our higher power.
Self-care requires that we check in with ourselves and asking ourselves what our bodies need. Everyone’s self-care is going to look different, as we are all different. For instance, some people use cleaning their home as self-care as it helps them emotionally to have a clean house. For others, cleaning the house is a chore and they can’t wait to be done with it so they can do something else.
There are self-care techniques that have been linked to a longer life. They include exercise, eating a healthy diet, sleep and finding a purpose. Finding your purpose is a self-care issue I have seen almost daily with my clients. People who struggle with their sense of purpose struggle with their self-care and ultimately their mental health suffers.
How do you start a self-care routine?
- What healthy things do you do for fun? What things bring you joy?
- Google things you would like to try, pick a start date and give it a try. Start small, and if you don’t’ like it, that’s okay, pick something new.
- Start practicing once a week. For example, if you want to start exercising, pick a date, and start once a week. Set yourself up for success.
- Pay attention to your emotions. How are you feeling? Honor your feelings. This can be done by doing a body scan, pay attention to how your body feels and what emotions you are feeling at the moment.
- Add in other things when you are ready. If you want to start to the gym one week, and then in a few weeks start eating healthy.
- Get help from a professional if needed. For instance, are you wanting to start eating healthy but you are struggling? Working with a nutritionist is a good resource.
Getting started with self-care can feel uncomfortable for many people. Feelings of guilt, and “I don’t deserve this.” Can pop up for some people. If you are struggling with those ideas when it comes to self-care, you might be struggling with low self-esteem and low self-worth. Pushing past those feelings and recognizing that doing things for yourself is just as important as for the people in your life. If we don’t put ourselves first, it can lead to burnout, emotional and mental fatigue, and in some cases hospitalization.
There are many different resources out there for people to choose from for help. Using the internet is a great resource for many to find different tips and techniques. However, for some it can be a case of having too many options to choose from. If you are struggling with getting started and feel you need professional help to guide you, on your self-care journey, and help you with the feelings of “you’re not worth it” or guilt. Please don’t hesitate to contact us today at Life Enhancement Counseling Services 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced mental health counselors.