Self-Care is a phrase thrown around quite a bit in the mental health field. As in, self-care is important for individuals dealing with grief in order to avoid nervous breakdown; or as in, it is important for mental health professionals to practice self-care in order to prevent burnout and continue to function in the normal 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 duper important”, while inside my head I’m thinking “Uh oh, they’re starting to talk about self-care…just walk away…no one will notice”.
For those of you who don’t even know what self-care is, you’re not alone. When I set out to write this post I asked a group of my family if they knew what it was and my brother responded, “Yeah, it’s like getting manicures and stuff.” I was the only one in the room who knew he was wrong.
When we talk about self-care, we are referring to efforts towards a healthy lifestyle and stress management. This is something I fully support. What irks me is that it’s often prescribed in such an un-relatable way that I can’t get behind it.
As a working mother of two, I reject the idea that in order to take care of myself I must give up bad habits like Lifetime Movie Marathons and adopt healthy lifestyle choices like organic diets, daily exercise, and yoga. Lifetime Movies help me to escape and, although I understand yoga and exercise are good, they require perseverance and hard work, resources which those most in need of self-care – the distressed, over-stressed, overworked, anxious, angry, and depressed – may not have in abundance.
If you fall into this category, please don’t give up on self-care. Not until you have a true understanding of what it requires and have considered how it might be realistic for YOU.
Here’s a word for you…BAR
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. 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 appropriate 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 stressful event like a death, I suggest looking introspectively at how you are coping every so often. This can be hard because it means having to be honest with yourself and possibly say, “I’m not doing that great”.
If you find yourself saying “I’ve let my drinking get out of control”, “I’ve spent too much time on the couch”, “My eating habits have become very unhealthy”, “I spend more time crying and feeling anxious than I think is normal” then it may be time to make lifestyle changes or get help.
It should be noted, 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 some of your more rational and trusted friends and family.
This one is simple. It means that it’s important to set realistic expectations for yourself; go easy on yourself and chose coping methods that are realistic for you. The things that enrich your life may be totally different than the things someone else might choose. Take some time to make a list of the things you enjoy, and strategies you might realistically utilize to reduce stress.
Here are a few examples. As you will see, self-care doesn’t have to be complicated and can include any variety of different 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
What are some ways that you take care of yourself? Share them with us and with our readers below.
As you can see, we discuss a variety of different ways to cope with grief here on What’s Your Grief. Subscribe to receive updated posts straight to your Inbox and stay involved with the continuing discussion.