Practicing good self-care is beneficial for anyone. And it is critical for those of us who deal with mental health issues. I’d like to discuss the components that make up good self-care and provide some of my own illustrations on the matter. So, let’s jump right in!
Self-care is defined as the things we do for ourselves that helps take care of us and promotes wellness. We all have an idea about the people who matter in our lives yet we can often forget that our number one person to keep cared for and well is ourselves. If you don’t take care of you, it’s unlikely that anyone else will.
The first component of self-care I’d like to discuss is getting enough sleep. This is a huge one for me, as with anyone, lack of proper sleep can lead to decreases in concentration, impulse control and an increase in poor decision making. Also, falling asleep in class really isn’t the greatest past time. Each of us has different amounts of sleep that sit right with our mind and body. For me, on average I need about ten hours of sleep. Whenever I wind up heading to bed later than 9pm or not sleeping well through the night, I amount a small sleep debt that really knocks up the intensity of the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. And, trust me it’s no fun at all.
Going hand in hand with sleep, is eating well. This means three meals a day with snacks, again with some variation between individuals. Due to the fact that I’m on the thinner side, any time I’ve been hospitalized they’ve always pushed me to introduce Ensure into my diet, to go alongside the meals I was eating (and not in place of!). Recently I’ve gotten a taste for a variety of food such as raspberries, apple and oranges. Adding these to my meals has been a lovely new change.
Of course, if I start slipping with my eating habits and my sleeping habits in unison, I run into some pretty big problems for sure. This used to be a big issue for me during my low points and I can definitely say that my lack of sleep and lack of proper nutrition played a huge role in my impulsiveness of acting on my thoughts. Even to this day, if this cycle begins to occur I have to remind myself of my own self-care needs, regulate my emotions and just let the OCD play out in my head rather than in reality.
Aspect number three of self-care is getting in exercise. Some of you may be aware of the benefits of exercise including releasing endorphins, uplifting mood and even helping with chronic pain (I remember that last one from an essay I had to write). I’m not the greatest at keeping up with exercise (I do the majority of my walking around campus each day) and have yet to find forms of exercise I can do all year round rather than just in warm weather, but for what I do enjoy there is tennis, ping pong and swimming. Yoga is another alternative that I’m interested in taking up soon.
Keeping up with proper hygiene is also an aspect of self-care. My novice ways of time management mean I tend to slip up in this area. Good hygiene involves things like dental care and showering. With some mental health struggles a good balance of hygiene can be a genuine problem, and I sympathize with anyone out there having to deal with it.
Maintaining positive coping strategies is also a great way to keep up with good self-care. Coping strategies is a topic I will discuss in-depth in other articles, but simply put they are the strategies we use when we need to cope with our emotions or unwind from all the stress piling up on our desks. After having a tough week with exams, I like picking out a few days to incorporate artwork such as drawing, scrapbooking and coloring. This helps me not only get some creativity out but also refreshes me from any burnout I’ve endured from academic work. Coping strategies are also crucial for me when it comes to managing the OCD and keeping up with my recovery.
Keeping appointments is another important component of good self-care. Whether this means attending therapy, psychiatry or doctor’s appointments, getting in touch with your treatment team is highly important–especially if you find yourself only having time to cope or are struggling with your self-care. We all need a tune up from time to time!
Limit your drug and alcohol intake. I don’t have much experience with this portion of self-care aside from the basics. Limiting this type of intake will be beneficial for your practicing self-care and is especially important if you’re also dealing with mental health issues. Particularly, if you’re feeling suicidal it’s best for you to avoid these substances. I do know for many of the treatment programs I was involved in that many of them discourage substance use while a patient is also receiving psychological care.
Tea! There are many types of tea out in the world and some can be quite beneficial. Explore the options!
Meditation can be a great self-care tool–anything lasting from four minutes to an hour, the possibilities are endless. I personally enjoy the work of the YouTube channel TheHonestGuys if you’re interested in a starting point online.
Lastly, there’s structure. The pinnacle of all the things, keeping up with a well-disciplined and fun schedule is highly, highly important. If you’ve had treatment providers for your mental health or have past experiences to guide you, it won’t come as a surprise to you how forsaken unstructured time can be. I’ll set aside whatever it is I’d enjoy doing with my unstructured time to instead spend it with a tea party that the OCD hosts inside my head. A great time that becomes, oh geez. I’m not yet a master at time management yet I continue to work on creating weekly schedules and daily goals to keep myself on track.
Ultimately, self-care is all about taking good care of yourself, treating yourself well and choosing a healthier lifestyle for both your mind and your body. After all, you’re the only you you’ve got! If you don’t already know, there are some great resources on campus that help promote health and wellness, if you’re interested in learning more! And the Counseling Center is available if you’re in crisis and need someone to talk with. There are also a variety of hotlines you can either call or text if need be.
Let us all kick up some good self-care habits as the end of the semester comes upon us! Stay safe, everyone.
Article #4 – Mass Media. Written April 8th 2016