Let's Talk about Self Care...
I’m going to let you in on a little therapy secret. One of the first things I look for when meeting a client for the first time is their current self-care routines. What do I mean by self-care? Well, I look for multiple different areas - physical, emotional, social, and spiritual.
First up - physical self-care. This includes all the basics of hygiene, nutrition, hydration, sleep, exercise, and the specific medical needs of your body. Often these “basics” are the first to go when someone begins struggling with mental illness or a difficult season. When someone is depressed, these basic care items become extremely difficult to do; however, I have also noticed that once these basic needs are met, our moods and overall functioning begin improving. So, what do our bodies need? An adult needs (generally speaking, of course) between 7-9 hours of sleep, basically 3 meals a day, a lot of water, and some form of movement or activity every day. Also, if you’re slacking on taking prescribed medication or attending regular doctor’s visits, that might be a good step to ensure your body is functioning behind the scenes as it’s supposed to.
Second - How are we doing with emotional self-care? To me, this includes how one deals with and processes emotions, as well as how we spend our free time. Emotional self care usually starts with naming and accepting what we feel. This can be done through journaling, talking, drawing, singing, or any other form of creative expression! There is also a lot of research that talks about the benefits of creativity and nature on our overall well being.
So, to me, healthy emotional self care includes the ability to name and deal with our emotions through words, creativity, movement, nature, play (for children especially!) and whatever other ways we connect with ourselves. It involves the development of healthy coping skills to handle our vast array of emotions. It does NOT mean scrolling endlessly on Instagram, binge watching Netflix, or sleeping 16 hours a day. These are usually warning signs to me that we’re ignoring our emotions and trying to disconnect rather than connect.
Third- What about our social connections? Are we isolating when we are upset? Do we tell our friends how we feel when we are struggling? Do we have safe people to connect with? Social self-care is the ability to establish and maintain healthy and safe friendships and relationships. This includes the ability to set boundaries, practice vulnerability, manage conflict, and avoid isolation.
Last but not least, spiritual self-care. This obviously looks different for everyone based on their spiritual beliefs. For the believer, I look for how one’s relationship is with God. Are we connected with other believers, attending church, and practicing healthy spiritual disciplines to foster a strong relationship with Christ? If not, what holds us back? Often we are struggling to do this because of past hurts, misunderstanding about God’s character, or just not knowing where to begin in the first place!
You may start to think that this feels like a lot. Trust me, I know. In the beginning of my practice, I was not good at self-care. I overworked myself, didn’t give myself time to process emotions, never took days off, and tried to handle everything by myself. Developing a holistic, healthy self-care mindset takes a lot of time and effort. Each type of self care is equally important, as one cannot be fully healthy if all our health needs are not met; however, you may find some areas more challenging than others.
“But Mikayla,” you may ask, “Isn’t self-care selfish?”
It certainly feels that way sometimes, doesn’t it? I’ve met so many people who struggle prioritizing their own mental and physical health and they end up burned out, exhausted, and struggling with anxiety attacks. Self-care is not selfish because it enables us to serve others from a place of plenty, vitality, and health. The healthier you are, the more you can give to those you love. So take a day off, assess your self-care strengths and weaknesses, and set some small goals for yourself!
And if you look at the list of self-care items and feel so overwhelmed and have no idea where to start, begin by finding a good counselor. That’s part of our job - to help you learn how to care for your mind, body, and spirit holistically. Impact is here to help you navigate those big questions!
If you’re looking for a good self-assessment, check out this test from therapistaid.com! https://www.therapistaid.com/worksheets/self-care-assessment
Mikayla Bugh, LPC