February is heart health month, complete with kitschy Valentine’s Day tie-ins to remind us all to take care of the relationships in our lives in addition to the physical heart. Being a doc who is generally oriented to emotional and mental wellness, I tend to think about this time of year as an opportunity to check in with ourselves and ask, “How is my relationship with myself? How am I taking care of my metaphorical (or emotional) heart in addition to my literal heart?”
This has been an incredibly trying year for many people. I have seen a number of patients struggling to take care of themselves due to overwhelm, anxiety, and exhaustion over the onslaught of trying news and changing policies. So, having some tools on board to keep morale up for the long term is something I’ve been working on with many of my patients, and I wanted to share one super important way to do this: develop a robust, individualized self-care routine.
Self-care is definitely one of the biggest buzzwords of the last few years. Believe it or not, it was even the #1 search term on Google for a while in the early days of the pandemic, and the topic just keeps getting more and more popular as the time goes on!1,2 It’s also true that self-care is an evidence-based choice that supports emotional and mental wellbeing, reduces burnout, reduces stress and stress-related responses, and supports trauma recovery.3
What do you think of when you hear the term “self-care?” For many, it strikes an image of a long bath, an adult coloring book, or a peaceful, enlightened meditation session. The reality is that self-care means a lot more than those three things (and there’s actually a bit of financial and cultural privilege present in those stereotypical strategies, don’t you think?).
Here are some ideas for how to reframe self-care to work for you and your needs:
1. Setting Boundaries & Saying No. This is one fabulous way to exercise your self-care muscles and protect your (literal and ethereal) energy! Learning when to set healthy boundaries with family, friends, and professional relationships can be a challenge – but it’s one strategy that can set you up for successful relationships (with others and with yourself) in the long term. Saying “no” to new tasks, requests, or obligations creates more time for you to take care of yourself and recharge; it also affirms your self-worth!
2. Scheduling Appointments & Getting Care. Sometimes self-care is setting aside time to make appointments, checking things off a to-do list, or receiving care from a healthcare provider, mental health provider, or personal care provider (getting a pedicure on a Saturday afternoon at a COVID-safe salon is still self-care!). This is all about you prioritizing your health, wellness, and overall needs. Doing it for yourself (and not to impress or satisfy anyone else) makes it self-care by definition.
3. Prioritizing Joyful, Peaceful, or Creative Activities. Setting aside some time to explore your creative, joyful side is one of the best ways to engage with self-care! This is where the coloring comes into play – but only if that does it for you. Having trouble thinking about activities that fit into this category (other than maybe Netflix and solo chilling, which can also ~totally~ count as self-care if it’s done intentionally!)? One option is to think about things you loved to do as a kid or adolescent. My favorite kid-thing is stickers, and I have a lot of fun surprising my coworkers with them as little gifts! For peaceful activities, think about when your nervous system or emotional system is the calmest: is it in the woods? Is it reading in bed? Is it spending time with pets, friends, or family? Actively engaging with these activities will always be self-care.
4. Okay: Baths are Awesome too! Bringing it full circle, some “me time” in the bath is always an option if that feels supportive for you. There are also strategies that can even optimize your bathing ritual to feel more in tuned with your senses and improve your stress responses in day-to-day life, like making it an Epsom salt bath, aromatherapy bath, or CBD bath. The possibilities are endless – and it is self-care if it’s about you.
It can be so difficult to prioritize your own wellbeing when there is so much chaos happening in the world. The entire team at NWIM knows this to be true, personally and professionally. I hope this list helped you to expand your perspective on self-care. Self-care isn’t selfish, and you’re not selfish for wanting to take care of you – and there are so many ways to do it!
Looking for more guidance on how to take good care? Feeling bogged down in the options? Let the mental health providers at NWIM take care of you and support your wellness journey. Click the link above or call (503)855-4341 to schedule!
- Google Trends. 2020. Google trends. Available at: google.com/trends. Access October 16, 2020.
- Searle T, Al-niaimi F, Ali FR. Google searches in patient self-care increase during the COVID-19 lockdown. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2020;83(5):e349.
- Smith KL. Self-Care Practices and the Professional Self. J Soc Work Disabil Rehabil. 2017;16(3-4):186-203