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The Importance of Self-Care

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Like many people, I find that I wear different hats throughout my week. In addition to being a psychologist, I am also a mother, wife, friend, sister and so on. Each and every role I fill is important to me and deserves my attention, time and consideration. However, like many people, I am often so busy that I find it hard to balance these roles in ways that fit with my values and needs. By the end of most weeks I have often neglected caring for myself in the way that I care for others.

Self-care regularly comes up with my clients, as they too find themselves being pulled in many directions and do not make time to attend to their own needs. The analogy I use to help highlight the importance of self-care is the oxygen mask on an airplane. There is a very good reason that you are instructed to put your own oxygen mask on before assisting someone else. If you run out of air while attempting to assist others, you’re not of much help to anyone, let alone yourself!

A good definition of self-care is taking intentional actions to care for your mental, physical and/or emotional wellbeing. When a person has neglected caring for him or herself, they find it difficult to care for others the way they may want to. People who have neglected self-care may find themselves becoming irritable more often than normal, being easily fatigued, feeling bored or unfulfilled in their daily activities, becoming physically ill more often than is to be expected, as well as, being ill for a longer period of time and can even be more susceptible to depression and anxiety. I have found that my clients who do not practice self-care use negative coping skills to manage stress that may further contribute to poor physical and mental health.  If you’re unsure if you are using positive self-care or negative coping skills, you can take this quick assessment, click here.

Self-care is particularly important for individuals in high stress occupations, those who care for others (children, aging parents, sick family members) and those who are currently or have previously experienced mental health concerns as these individuals are at higher risk for burn out. Areas to consider when thinking about self-care can include healthy eating, exercise, maintaining relationships, leisure activities, relaxation/stress reduction, mindfulness practice, attention to spiritual needs and treating yourself.

Ways to incorporate self-care into your day-to-day life:

Nutrition

  • Make time to eat three meals a day and several snacks to avoid over or under eating
  • Prepare healthy meals in advance to bring to work/school to avoid stopping for fast food or eating unbalanced meals
  • When eating, only eat. Don’t eat at your desk while working or while watching TV. Take time to enjoy your meal
  • The following websites/mobile apps can help you in finding and planning and tracking nutrition
    • EatingWell.com
    • MyFitnessPal.com

Exercise

  • Take a walk on your lunch break or between classes
  • Set your alarm to wake up 10 minutes early to stretch or do light yoga, pilates, or tai chi
  • Go for a short walk with a friend, partner or children before dinner
  • Join an exercise class
    • You can find discounted exercise classes or free exercise groups on
      • Groupon.com
      • LivingSocial.com
      • Meetup.com
  • Rent a bike for a day and ride around a part of San Diego you haven’t visited in some time
  • Go for a hike at one of the hundreds of trails San Diego County has to offer, click here
  • Other resources for finding low cost/free workouts:
    • YouTube – you can search videos to work out in your own home
    • Search “workout apps” in the iPhone or Android App Store on your phone or computer

Relaxation/Stress Management

  • At home:
    • Sit outside on your patio and enjoy the sights and sounds
    • Take a long bath or shower; light a candle or use a favorite scented soap
    • Watch an episode of your favorite comedy show to inspire a positive mood
    • Call a supportive friend or family member just to say hello
    • Turn on your favorite song and sing and dance along to the music
    • Move to a quiet room in your house and take a moment to breathe
    • Read for 15 minutes before bed
    • Participate in a form of artistic expression (draw, paint, play an instrument, sew, write in a journal or create a blog, find adult coloring books/pages)
    • Plan an at home “date night” with a partner or friend (Parents, try to find a babysitter, family member, or friend who can care for the kids for a couple hours outside the home)
  • At work/school:
    • Take a bathroom break at work even if you don’t need one to get up and leave your stressful environment – splash cold water on your hands and face
    • Leave the building and walk outside for a couple minutes every 1-2 hours
    • If you have vacation/paid leave, use it! Take a day or a couple days off
  • Other activities:
    • Schedule a massage
    • Plan an experience just for you (get a manicure, go to a local sporting event, research bands you like to attend a show/concert, take a day trip out of town); bring a friend or enjoy your alone time
    • Pick up an old hobby or find a new one and make time once a week to engage in this hobby
    • Go to Balboa park and attend a museum; The first four Tuesdays of each month offer free admission to one museum on a rotating basis

Mindfulness

  • Mindfulness has been shown to be incredibly helpful for physical and mental health. Try these free apps (found in the App store or online) to get you started
    • Headspace
    • Smiling Mind
    • Stop, Breathe & Think
    • Take a break

Image: Takashi .M on flickr and reproduced under Creative Commons 2.0

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