As a mental health professional, I am constantly reminded of the importance of self-care in being an effective therapist but also in finding balance among my personal responsibilities as a mom, wife, and daughter. Many people use the term “self-care” very loosely and think that self-care is just a matter of scheduling some activities during your free time in order to have fun or to find some peace. However, self-care is more than that, it entails being aware of what kind of activities or behaviors help you to get energized on a daily basis. Self-care could include one or more of the following areas: physical, cognitive, spiritual and emotional.
The key of effective self-care is knowing what works for you and being intentional about how you plan those activities based on your personal life experiences. What do I mean by this? Basically, what works for you during most of the weeks may not be effective when you are having a stressful week, or when you are going through a difficult situation. For example, if on a regular basis taking a bath or reading a book help you to feel energized, those activities may not work if you are experiencing a very challenging week at work. You may have to engage in additional activities that may help you during those difficult times.
Here are some questions that may help you in becoming intentional on how to practice self-care based on your particular life experiences and life style:
1. What activities/behaviors energize you on a regular basis? The list is infinite and could include from going to the movies to writing in a journal. The possibilities are many, but the key is to be aware of what activities work for you. It may be that you like going for walks and that gives you energy, a sense of well being but this doesn’t mean that this works for everyone.
2. After trying some activities, are these activities working for you? If the activities you tried didn’t work for you, try something else. Be open to feel uncomfortable in trying things that you have never tried before. You will be surprised at the types of activities that you will find helpful for you. Learning on how to take care of yourself requires being open to try new adventures.
3. What are some seasons, days of the week, holidays or anniversaries that required additional self-care? This is a very important question to ask yourself because the answer to these questions will help you to prepare for what is coming. For some people holidays are stressful and they may need to set activities to help them deal with it. Personally, I have a hard time during the anniversary of my early pregnancy losses. I know that during this time, I need to schedule additional self-care that is congruent with this situation such as taking a day off at work, writing, talking to someone who understand my grief etc
4. What are you telling yourself when you are practicing self-care? Our self-talk has a lot of power on our emotions and on our behavior. If you are engaging in self-care but you are telling yourself that “I should be doing something else” or “I am not a good parent by taking time to myself” or “I really don’t need this”, “I should be strong”, then self-care is not really happening!
What you tell yourself is the result of your family culture and the implicit messages you received about what it means to be a good mom, dad, husband, wife, daughter or son. Moreover, they could be the result of our beliefs about what it means to be a strong person. When you find yourself felling guilty about engaging in self-care, remember to dispute those thoughts and replace them with the truth. The truth is that self-care is extremely important for your well being. Self-care will result in being a better partner, mom, dad, husband, wife, daughter and son. You will have something to give to others because you took care of yourself.
From my heart to yours,
Ana Baratta, PhD., LPC.tc