While at the gym one morning I overheard a trainer inform his client that she should always use the treadmill on an incline and that walking on the incline is “the difference between you walking the treadmill or the treadmill walking you.” That stuck with me because, while I would walk briskly, I wasn’t a fan of using an incline. I realized that I was exerting so much effort and not gaining near the reward I imagined. I discuss self-care with every client as do all the therapists I know, and one day I was reminded of the conversation I overheard and it clicked. Now I ask my clients, like the treadmill, if they are living life or if life is living them. Perhaps you feel life is living you. Perhaps you feel you’re going through motions and watching life go by. Maybe you feel spent and exhausted because your time is divided up by work/school/family responsibilities. It is time for some self-care.
Have you ever flown on an airplane? Remember the preflight instructions that most of us tune out (let’s be honest)? When the flight attendant demonstrates using the oxygen mask they always instruct the passengers to secure their own mask first before helping others. Many of you reading this work in helping professions or customer service and take care of families, pets, and others. If you’re not taking care of yourself, you can’t take care of everyone else to the best of your ability. That being said, the main reason we should practice self-care is because we deserve it. We need to breathe, have our favorite meal, relax with a cup of tea or coffee, and take whatever time we can for ourselves. It’s not a luxury – it’s a part of how we regenerate and feel whole. We need to laugh, cry, and spend time with friends. We need to curl up with a good book or put on some records (hey, vinyl is totally in right now). What happens when we don’t practice self-care is we can experience burnout, which in turn can cause anxiety, depression, and a roller coaster of moods and emotions. Burnout can also cause us to snap at customers, make mistakes in our jobs, and even yell at loved ones. It’s time to breathe, folks.
What Does Self-Care Look Like?
Here’s where the fun starts. Self-care looks different for everybody. Sitting down with a nice book may be the most amazing alone time ever but could be pure torture for another person. To identify your optimal self-care, stop and think for a moment of what you would do tonight if you had free time and no obligations. Assemble the perfect evening in your mind. If you are able to schedule such an evening, do it! If your evening involved hopping a flight to France to taste test Macarons (yes I would totally do this, provided coffee was involved) and fly back the next afternoon and you are unable to do this, try for the next best thing (but start planning the trip to France. Carpe’ Diem!). Allow yourself a trip to your favorite nearby bakery or coffee shop to enjoy time with a friend/read/puzzle/sketchpad/game. The bottom line is to choose the thing that will let you reconnect with yourself and regenerate your energy so you can be at your best for yourself and others.
From Us to You
Even therapists practice self-care. In fact, it is our ethical responsibility to do so in order to ensure the best care for our clients. Below are some suggestions for self-care from the counselors at Deepwater that we personally use or have recommended to our clients, and have seen good results.
- One of our clinicians suggests a three-centered approach to self-care, engaging the body, heart, and head centers. For the body, it is suggested you pay attention to the most practical concerns: Are you getting enough sleep? Are you eating three meals a day (proper nutrition)? Do you engage in some kind of physical activity? If not, try to make a commitment to those. Also, incorporating a body-based practice such as Yoga can be very helpful. For the heart center, do a feelings check-in: How am I feeling right now? Do I feel in line with my authentic needs in this moment? If not, what can I do to make that happen? Do I need to say ‘no’ to some things? Are there boundaries in my life that need to be set? How do I feel safe in this moment? For the head, our clinician encourages some sort of mindfulness practice. Whether it is a meditation practice, a breathing exercise, or working to focus on a single point, the practice is attempting to calm your thoughts, particularly in times of stress. Ask yourself “where is my mind now? Is it being pulled to future planning or to past events? If so, how can I focus on this breath now?”
- If you are someone that enjoys cooking, take a private lesson with a chef or baker or go to a place like Sur La Table and take an occasional class. If you can afford an extra thing per month you may enjoy something like the Blue Apron boxes that allow you to cook a restaurant-style quality meal. It will give you something to look forward to and you will feel good about having made something quality, as well as having learned something new.
- Along the lines of Blue Apron, depending on where you are in life, you may enjoy a subscription box of some kind. They have them for single people and couples. There are mystery solving boxes and boxes containing products specific to your state. The options are endless. If money is an issue and you can’t afford a subscription, you can make your own. Get three or four boxes from the dollar store, and fill them with various items you would use for an evening of self-care, wrap the box and place it in your closet. When you are ready and have time, open the box and take time for just you.
- Hang out with friends
- Be in nature. Take walks or jog if you enjoy it. Engage in some walking meditation, noticing your surroundings including the scents, sounds, and sights.
- Crafting (coloring, knitting, crocheting, drawing, building)
- Dine out or order in
- Take up a sport
- Join a book club
- One of our clinician’s forms of self-care is in the form of daily, 30 minute walks, which she also prescribes to her clients. Thirty minutes of daily walking – especially in nature – has been shown to have the same benefits of an antidepressant. Walking can also help with anxiety, stress, insomnia, grief, and even processing trauma.
- Another one of our clinicians (who may or may not be the one writing this…) is obsessed with coffee. (okay it’s me!) Like, genuine artisan, hand-crafted and small batch roasted coffee. My favorite method of self-care is to spend one or two hours at an artisan coffee shop, both enjoying the coffee, reading, or getting work done. I will even drive an hour to try new places as they pop up! If you enjoy things like this, it is a fun method of self-care (especially if you have that one equally quirky friend who will randomly go to the new places with you!).
From You to You: Your Plan of Action
While we have given you at least 12 suggestions, the truth is that the above list could have been endless. I challenge you to try at least two new things from the list that you haven’t tried before, as well as come up with your own self-care list. After you have your list, look at your schedule and obligations and if need be, let your spouse/others know of your plan for self-care and enlist their support. You may want to encourage them to make a plan of action for themselves too! The bottom line is that you are worth it. We all deserve self-care. We all need self-care.
– By Annen Weber, LLPC