Self-Care is a phrase thrown around quite a bit in the mental health field. As in, self-care is essential for individuals dealing with grief to avoid a nervous breakdown. Or, as in, mental health professionals need to practice self-care to prevent burnout and continue to function in the everyday world.
Both of these statements are true; I don't dispute them for a second. Still, whenever I hear someone talk about the importance of self-care, my eyes glaze over, and I vacantly nod my head and say, "Oh yes… self-care…super important", while thinking, "Uh oh, they're starting to talk about self-care...just walk away…no one will notice".
When we talk about self-care, we refer to efforts towards a healthy lifestyle and stress management, which I fully support. However, what irks me is that the tools and techniques suggested for self-care are often so un-relatable, I can't get behind them.
As a working mother of two, I reject the idea that I must give up bad habits like Lifetime Movie Marathons and adopt healthy lifestyle choices like organic diets, daily exercise, and yoga to take care of myself. Lifetime Movies help me to escape. And although I understand yoga and exercise are good, they require perseverance and hard work. These are resources those most in need of self-care – the distressed, over-stressed, overworked, anxious, angry, and depressed – may not have in abundance.
That said, if you fall into this category, please don't give up on self-care. Not until you fully understand what it requires and have considered how it might be realistic for YOU.
The BAR approach to self-care
Woah, not so fast, put that bottle down. In this context BAR is an acronym that stands for:
Balance, Awareness, and Realism
…let me explain
Balance can have quite a few implications when it comes to self-care. For example, it could mean that you try to maintain a good balance between your needs and the needs of others (your children, your work, your significant other).
Or it could mean finding a balance between coping strategies that are typically thought of as negative (staying in bed all day, drinking every night) and coping that may have a more positive impact on function (going on daily walks, seeking therapy).
The basic underlying idea is that you should give a decent amount of time to things that will make you feel better by increasing health and happiness and decreasing stress. Your efforts might be as deliberate as scheduling an hour to play tennis or as subtle as allowing yourself a 15-minute break to put on your headphones and listen to music when things get tough.
After a significant event like a death, we suggest looking introspectively at how you are coping every so often. Doing this can be challenging because it means having to be honest with yourself and possibly say, "I'm not doing that great."
If you find yourself saying, "I'm not coping well," then it may be time to make lifestyle changes or get help. We should note, when you are at your lowest, self-awareness can be hard to come by. It may be hard to be objective so consider talking things over with trusted and honest friends and family.
This one is simple. It means that it's important to set realistic expectations for yourself, go easy on yourself and choose practical coping methods for you. The things that enrich your life may be totally different than the things someone else might choose. So take some time to make a list of the things you find fulfilling and strategies you might realistically utilize to reduce stress.
Grief and Self-Care: 20 Ideas
Here are a few examples. As you will see, self-care doesn't have to be complicated and can include various activities.
1. Go outside:
- Get 20 minutes of sunlight and/or fresh air
- Take a walk
- Open the windows
- Be active: bike, hike, explore
2. Put on headphones and listen to music
3. Read a book: Choose books that will help you escape (mysteries & romance)
4. Watch a movie
5. Deliberately unplug:
- Turn off your phone
- Shut down your computer
- Don't respond to e-mails after work
6. Get a hobby:
7. Get enough sleep/Take a Nap
9. Make a date with yourself
10. Make a date with family or friends
11. Do things that make you feel fulfilled:
- Volunteer time
- Raise funds
- Donate items
12. Do things that make you laugh
13. Get organized
14. Find out more about nutrition and make positive dietary changes
15. Don’t overbook: take a look at your schedule. What can you eliminate?
16. Take a bath
17. Find solitude
18. Find silence
19. Slow down
20. Find ways to feel close to your loved ones memory
For more suggestions, check out the following articles:
- 64 Self-Care Ideas for People Who Are Grieving
- Balancing Selflessness and Self-Care in Grief
- Self-Care in Grief: The Myth of Keeping Busy
We invite you to share your experiences, questions, and resource suggestions with the WYG community in the discussion section below.
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After writing online articles for What’s Your Grief
for over a decade, we finally wrote a tangible,
What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss is for people experiencing any type of loss. This book discusses some of the most common grief experiences and breaks down psychological concepts to help you understand your thoughts and emotions. It also shares useful coping tools, and helps the reader reflect on their unique relationship with grief and loss.
You can find What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss wherever you buy books: