Self-care has become somewhat of a buzz-phrase that we hear all the time, and professionals and friends say we should do it because it reduces the effects of stress. Yet, it can cause stress trying to figure out what and how and when to implement it. Self-care is deliberate action in the interest of caring for our own mental, emotional and physical well-being. No one can totally avoid stress, so it is important for everyone to engage in self-care to help prevent severe symptoms of stress and improve resilience to stress. Do not wait until you are feeling stressed out to start implementing self-care! Finding the deliberate action that work best for our own self-care can take some time, energy, trial and error. Self-care is a routine that we often establish during a low-stress time and then purposefully maximize during times of stress. Read on for more information on what self-care can look like and how to introduce it into your days.
- Personalize it
We’ve all probably heard suggestions such as ‘go to the gym,’ ‘get a massage,’ ‘see a counselor,’ ‘spend time outside,’ and so on as possibilities for self-care. However, these suggestions may not fit into your lifestyle, or you may not be interested in any of these. Generalized suggestions such as these sometimes lead to over thinking or forcing ourselves to participate in an unpleasant activity and then calling it self-care. A specific measurable goal that we can hold ourselves accountable to can be helpful for maintenance of the routine. For starters, it can be helpful to get back to the basics and let the brainstorming waves flow. Some self-care basics to consider and personalize for yourself include:
- Facilitate confidence – positive self-talk
- Social interaction
- Move your body
- Believe in your dreams, accept change
2. If it weighs you down, then it’s probably not self-care
Activities such as volunteering, care giving, philanthropy (charitable giving) and responsibility have all been researched and endorsed by professionals as activities that build happiness. Self-care to reduce stress and giving of ourselves to build happiness sound similar right? The key difference is that self-care specifically focuses on me, myself and I. Now, refueling myself means I have more fuel to share with others. So really, self-care is necessary before offering my resources to others. Some things to remember:
- Self-care is NOT selfish.
- Overexerting myself for someone else’s benefit is NOT self-care.
- Forcing myself to give my time, ener
gy or resources for the sake of normal – because someone else or society told me to – is NOT self-care.
Additional examples of resource spending disguised as self-care are shared in a Psychology Today article titled “Self-Care or Self-Sabotage? When Self-Care … Isn’t.”
Boundaries are limits and rules that we use to tailor our immediate personal environment to the best of our ability. Boundaries are required to initiate, establish and maintain self-care. Maintaining healthy boundaries can even be considered a method of self-care. Remember that your openness and accessibility to others is something that you control, not them. Enforcing the limit may involve saying ‘no’ to others. Three common boundary types are physical, emotional and time boundaries. Some strategies to support these boundaries include:
- Having a safe space that is defined to others or that is naturally your own.
- Putting a sign on the door that indicates 5-10 minutes of do-not-disturb are needed.
- Only share information about yourself that you are comfortable with and minimize/omit time spent in situations that challenge your comfort.
- Regularly assess your own boundaries for strength and health. Boundaries are often times healthy, but they can also become too strict or too vague to benefit. For example, if I avoid a job interview because it makes me uncomfortable, then I need to adjust the limits or specifications of that emotional boundary. If my hugging everyone I meet and hang out with scares them away, then I need to adjust my limits considering the people or the situation. You can find worksheets to learn more and assess personal boundaries from com.
- Biochemical components to stress and self-care
Bottom line, put simply, we experience emotions based on different chemicals registered in our brain. Stress chemicals (often considered a combination of adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine) have been associated with much more than feeling the emotion of stress. There are physical and neurological effects of experiencing an overabundance of these chemicals. On the other hand, eating certain foods, exercise and having fun all increase happy and/or relaxed chemicals (and therefore feelings) in the body. If you are interested in a lengthier and scientifically specific reading, see Psychology Today’s “Stress: It’s Worse Than You Think” article. Two strategies for balancing chemical levels in the body are listed below.
- Physical activity and progressive body relaxation. Stretching and tensing our muscles for short periods are two of the most effective ways to relax. Moving and working the muscles dislodges stress chemicals that build up on them and allows our body to naturally expel some of them.
- Healthy eating. We are what we eat, well sort of. Good stuff going in generally translates to good stuff coming out, and that extends to chemicals affecting emotion. Vitamins and minimized artificial production are two goals to aim for when choosing foods. Take a look at WebMD’s “Foods to Uplift Your Mood” for food suggestions.
Start a self-care routine that works for you (instead of against you) this holiday season. Take advantage of all resources and supports that you can get. Reach out to the Center for Healthy Living (CHL) on Purdue’s West Lafayette campus and schedule an appointment with a health coach, dietitian or Employee Assistance Program (EAP) counselor. They can discuss different strategies more in-depth and help you make a plan that works best for you. No matter what type of self-care habit you want to start or are interested in learning more about, we are here to help you! Appointments are available Monday through Thursday from 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and Friday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call the CHL at 765-494-0111 or login to the patient portal to schedule
Remember, you are not alone. Not only is it okay to focus on yourself at times, it’s absolutely necessary!
Be Kind. Be Well. Boiler Up!
Author: Amanda Douglas, LLPC, NCC | EAP Counselor at the Center for Healthy Living