Sitting in a psych ward offers up a lot of downtime. Other than going to group and meals, not a whole lot happens outside of the occasional patient freak out. Usually, patients spent their time watching television or coloring at one of the round tables.
Following a tumultuous few weeks and a nervous breakdown, I personally welcomed the free time on the inpatient unit. It provided me with a chance to clear my head and refocus. Although welcomed, it was not a position I wanted to find myself in again. I blamed myself for letting my well-being fall that far into despair. How could I have let my emotional, mental, and spiritual selves get to this point? During my 72-hour stint, I faced several huge decisions (I broke up with my girlfriend when she visited me.). In the least likely of places, I started my self-care journey.
I cannot believe that this was just under four years ago. For some reason, it felt like a good time to look back and reflect on this self-proclaimed trek for betterment. So much time, effort, and insight has gone into it. I thought it might be a good time to share the more important lessons from throughout and in no particular order.
- Taking care of yourself is not selfish. So many people struggle with the concept of self-care because the focus is on them. Especially for those of us who constantly care for those around us or work in the helping professions, it can be difficult to turn the focus inwards. It feels uncomfortable. I constantly battled with the guilt and shame associated with the foreign concept of self-care in the beginning. I reminded myself though day in and day out. What I was doing was not selfish. I merely needed time to refuel the tank. If I did take time for myself, then I could not provide the best version of myself to others. I was doing them a disservice by running myself down. Would you rather give someone fifty-percent of you or closer to one hundred? I prefer the latter, and self-care gets me closer to that number.
- Self-care must be incorporated into one’s daily routine. I always found it funny when people engaged in “self-care” after they “had a rough week.” They pull out a bottle of wine and throw back a few glasses. They go out to dinner with their friends. Maybe they jump into a soothing, warm bubble bath. If they would have taken small, active steps throughout the week however, a rough week now looks way easier. Rather than waiting until crisis mode, small daily activities make a huge impact. You can feel the difference.
- Practice makes perfect. One of my favorite quotes ever about recovery: “Recovery is no linear.”Do not expect to get it correct right off the bat. With any kind of improvement, there will be ups and downs. You are likely trying to undo habits, attitudes, and beliefs that took hold decades ago. Comparing one day to the next can dishearten an individual. The best comparison to make is the present time versus when you first started. Most of the basic self-care skills (i.e. setting boundaries, time management, etc.) are just that – skills. Skills require practice to develop them. We are seldom born with skill. Give it time, and keep at it. With practice, it does get easier.
- Individualize your self-care plan. I consistently stress the importance of balance. For every person though, this looks different. One person might thrive off of social interaction, while another prefers a quiet book at home as their form of self-care. Others rely heavily on religion to nurture their spiritual well-being, while others utilize a connection within themselves to achieve the same feat. It is important to try out different ideas and see what works best for you.
- Ensure that your self-care connects to your core values. I love asking my clients this question. “What do you value?” I guarantee a perplexed look followed by deep thought. Most of us rarely slow down to think about what we truly value deep down in the core of our souls. Our bigger life decisions, our relationships, and our actions are fueled by these values. Therefore, I cannot stress enough to adopt self-care activities and attitudes that line up with your core values. It provides a stronger impact and helps you remain in tune with yourself. It also increases the odds of success and likelihood that you will continue with your self-care.
So now some food for thought. If you had to teach someone about the basic principles of self-care according to you, what would you include?
-The Caring Counselor