Until I was recovering from my first manic episode, I had never really paid attention to the concept of self care. I had heard the term thrown around and it definitely seemed like the newest buzzword for mental health, but I had no idea what self care actually means.
True self care is not all bubble baths and manicures (although doing those things are legitimate self-care activities.) According to PyschCentral, “Self-care is any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health.” And according to my own personal therapist, each of the three areas are equally important.
The concept of physical self care is probably the easiest to grasp as being activities that promote and maintain a healthy body.
But the distinction between mental and emotional self-care may need a little more explanation. (It certainly did for me.)
To make it easier to remember, think of mental self care as M = mind. So any activity that keeps your mind actively engaged to that it stays sharp and focused. This allows you to make sound & healthy decisions in your life.
When you think of emotional self care, Emotions = Feelings. This type of self care would include any activity that makes you feel good. (But this is does not include indulgent behaviors like taking drugs, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, overspending when you shop, or overeating for comfort.) Emotional self care includes uplifting activities like hobbies, pursuing a passion, staying connected with friends and family.
WHAT NOBODY TELLS YOU ABOUT SELF CARE
Self care is not easy. It’s not about overindulging to make yourself feel better. If you find yourself turning to alcohol or drugs to deal with the hard parts of life, that is not what self care looks like.
Self care is work.
But when you put time and effort into taking care of yourself, there are huge benefits.
Does self care make life easier?
But it will make handling the challenges that life brings more surmountable. And you will have more hope that despite finding yourself in hard circumstances that you can work through these circumstances and find peace.
WHY IS SELF CARE IMPORTANT?
According to Dr. Matt Glowiak, a professor in the Clinical Mental Health Counseling Master’s program at South New Hampshire University, self-care is important for many reasons. More specifically, it increases our overall health physically, mentally, and emotionally. He goes on to point out that “in a society in which people are expected to work long hours and pass on vacation days, there is an underlying belief that we must always be productive–which can ultimately take away from opportunities for self-care.” And while it may, at first, seem like making time to take care of yourself leaves less time during the day to be product, the opposite is true.
CONSEQUENCES OF POOR SELF CARE
Allowing you to get run down causes many negative consequences. When you neglect self care, it takes a toll on your body. You jeopardize your physical, emotional, and mental health. It may become hard to concentrate and focus and you may be so exhausted all of the time that not just your health suffers, but also your productivity. Practicing self care can actually increase your productivity and keep you healthy.
Here are a few consequences you may experience:
- Loss of concentration and focus
- Overwhelming exhaustion
- Mood fluctuations
- Feeling depressed and/or anxious
- Tense muscles due to stress
- Strain relationships
- Excessive worrying
- Feeling guilty
- Get sick more often
BENEFITS OF PRACTICING SELF CARE
We’ve already talked about the toll it can take on your overall health if you neglect taking care of yourself. The benefits of practicing self care affect all aspects of your life. For instance, when you are stressed and tired all the time you may choose to eat takeout instead of cooking. Obviously you are sacrificing nutrition that affects your physical health, but you may also creating financial stress since it costs more to eat out.
The minute I get overwhelmed and stressed out I forgo cooking dinner and turn to fast food. And I see the negative results on my credit card bill and also the scale.
So some of the following benefits of self care may surprise you:
- Keeps your immune system from getting run down therefore you get sick less often
- Improve energy so that you can be more active and exercise
- Your ability to focus improves therefore increasing your productivity
- Reduces your risk of heart disease, stroke, and cancer
- Gets you out of survival mode and allows you to experience more joy
IMPORTANCE OF SELF CARE IN MENTAL HEALTH
The physical benefits of self care are what first comes to mind for most people. But self care is vitally important to your mental health. This is true whether you live with a formally diagnosed mental health condition or not.
But if you do struggle with your mental health, then self care becomes just as important as medication and therapy. Self care was one of the first things my psychiatrist talked to me about after my Bipolar 1 diagnosis. She said that even with the correct medication and therapy, if I don’t practice self care, then I am putting myself at risk of having another manic or depressive episode.
SELF CARE FOR BEGINNERS
If you’ve ever googled “self care,” you probably were hit with an overwhelming amount of information and some results might even seem to contradict one another.
The basic concept of self care is pretty simple. And it’s best to use the K.I.S.S. method when you are getting started. (Keep It Simple Stupid)
There are no shortage of self-proclaimed “self-care experts.” And they all have different opinions on how to do self care “right.”
DIFFERENT TYPES OF SELF CARE
When my psychologist was teaching me about self care, he kept it simple. He explained there are 3 main types–physical self care, emotional self care, and mental self care.
If you search for “how many types of self care are there?” be prepared to see many different answers which might leave you feeling overwhelmed and worried you have to tackle all “14” types (or whatever that “expert” says is the right number.)
But the truth is if you analyze the 4, or 8, or 14 types other people teach, they actually all end up falling into one of the those three categories my psychologist taught me.
SELF CARE MODEL (MY EXPLANATION)
If you look at the three different types of self care as corners of a triangle, it shows that each type of self care is equally important. And to have a good balance you need to participate in self care activities from each category.
Physical Self Care
Physical self care is any activities you do that have a positive or healing effect on your physical body. Things like nutrition–exercise–medical care-hygiene
Emotional Self Care
Emotional self care has to do with activities that make you feel good and how you process the various emotions you experience.
Mental Self Care
This type of self care is about taking care of your mind and your ability to think clearly. Activities that help reduce stress, clear your head, or keep your mind active and engaged are all part of mental self care.
WHAT IS PHYSICAL SELF-CARE
A lot of times we think we are taking care of ourselves, but if you have a mental illness or chronic illness you probably struggle to keep up with all aspects of physical care. I can tell you that I really had to learn new habits and make certain things “non-negotiable” when I first started my self-care plan. In group therapy, we would fill out a “Things to Do Today” list at each session. Our therapist would encourage us to write down things that were simple. So I started writing down simple things that I didn’t even realize I was not keeping up with-like showering, going for a walk, and having a night time routine that would help me fall asleep easier, etc.
Here are some examples of what physical self care looks like:
EXAMPLES OF PHYSICAL SELF CARE
- Eat meals regularly
- Eat fresh fruits & vegetable
- Drink plenty of water
- Reduce process foods
- Reduce alcohol consumption
- Strength Training
- Shower/Bathe regularly
- Wash and comb hair
- Brush and floss teeth
- Trim nails
- Wear comfortable clothes
- Get regular checkups with your doctor(s)
- Go to dentist twice per year
- Get vision checked
- Take all prescribed medications
- Don’t use recreational drugs
- Get enough sleep
- Get some fresh air
- Wash clothes
- Schedule a massage
- Make your bed in the morning
SIGNS OF POOR PHYSICAL SELF CARE
When you are not taking care of your body it wears down your immune system making you more likely to catch an illness.
- You get sick more often
- Your skin can looses it’s color
- You can have more breakouts
- Unexplained body aches and pains
- Low energy
UNDERSTANDING EMOTIONAL SELF CARE
When you are creating an emotional self-care plan, you have to be honest with yourself and those close to you about what you really need. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help and definitely don’t refuse help that is offered. You may feel ashamed of needing help with some very basic things, but you can’t let that stand in your way. Your well-being and emotional health is the key to you getting the most out of life.
Here comes the bubble baths and manicures! Doing things you love to do (and that will look a lot different from person to person) is one way you care for yourself emotionally. This could be a simple activity like watching a movie or starting a hobby. It can also be about pursuing a dream.
The following are examples of what emotional self care looks like:
EMOTIONAL SELF CARE EXAMPLES
Create & Maintain a Support System
- Meetup with a friend
- Call someone you’ve lost touch with
- Join a support group
- Reach out and ask for help when you need it
- Make a new friend
Do Things That Bring You Joy
- Find a new hobby
- Spend time engaging in a hobby regularly
- See a movie, concert, play, or art exhibit
- Read a book on a topic you’re interested in
- Listen to music or a podcast
Activities That Help You Grow
- Create and use positive affirmations
- Set some goals for yourself
- Pursue a passion or dream
- Choose a way to volunteer
WHAT IS MENTAL SELF CARE?
Keep your mind active and engaged doing things you enjoy.
Even though medication is usually a big part of mental self care, there are still many other things you can proactively do to improve your mental health.
Try to avoid stressful situations that you don’t have to put yourself in is very important. Sometimes that may mean scaling back on your social engagements, especially if you have any toxic relationships.
There are many things you can do to either improve your mood or keep your mood balanced. During my recovery, I did a lot of adult coloring and that really helped stabilize my mood. It forced me to focus on something simple like choosing what color to use next instead of the worrisome and frantic thoughts rolling around in my head.
And lastly, carefully choosing the commitments and demands you put on yourself is important to living a balanced life. I don’t volunteer much anymore. My first and foremost concern is my health and that of my kids and husband. Volunteering for committees at my children’s schools is something I have let go of and I allow myself to say no to many more things.
So think of mental self care in the following categories: (this is not a complete list)
MENTAL HEALTH SELF CARE EXAMPLES
Keep Your Mind Engaged & Active
- Sudoku, Jigsaw, or Crossword Puzzles
- Learn a new skill
- Read or work through a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Book
- Tackle a project to purge and declutter
Decrease or Avoid Stress
- Don’t over commit yourself
- Practice deep-breathing techniques
- Leave toxic relationships
- Make time away from technology
- Take a day trip, weekend trip, or vacation
- Make time for self-reflection
- See a therapist
- Create a gratitude journal
- Use a bullet journal for organization
FREE SELF CARE ASSESSMENT
Before you start to delve into creating yourself care plan, you definitely need to take time to assess your current self care practices and discover ones you want to add to your daily routine. This self care assessment checklist covers all three aspects of self care that we have talked about in this post–physical, emotional, and mental self care. CLICK HERE
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