Self-Care. A loaded phrase for those in service professions. We hear about it all the time. But what does it really mean? And how do we achieve this seemingly elusive idea in a busier-than-ever-post-pandemic-mental-health-field? Stop for a moment and think about what comes to mind when you hear the words “Self-Care”. A spa day? A massage? A game of pick-up basketball? A good night’s sleep? Binging your favorite series? Sure, all of those will count, but they are fleeting moments. True self-care is not just outwardly taking care of yourself. It is all encompassing care for oneself. There are five equally important types of self-care: physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual, and professional.
Physical self-care can include those activities mentioned above, but true physical self-care should include activities that contribute to your physical well-being. Regular exercise, healthy eating, wearing clothes you feel good in – all of these contribute to improving overall mental health which will help reduce stress levels.
Emotional self-care requires a deeper dive. We constantly ask our clients about their feelings, but how often do we allow ourselves to feel our emotions for what they are, without judgment? Acknowledge the feelings you are having when you truly compliment yourself, cry when you feel sad, find things that make you laugh, re-read your favorite book, and label those emotions. Be curious about them and allow yourself to really feel them. It takes practice, but if your clients can do it, so can you!
Psychological self-care is trickier, and probably one of the most neglected areas of self-care. I frequently take on more than I should (like writing this article), neglecting my own psychological self-care. Psychological self-care is about knowing our limits. When we exceed our limits, we are no longer helpers – we’ve drained ourselves and are no longer providing service to others. Burn out leads to bad decisions, which can lead to harmful behavior. So, knowing when to say no or changing plans to stimulate intelligence (for example, swap that action movie for a day at the history museum), allow yourself to receive complements from others (again, no judgment!), making time for self-reflection, and paying attention to your inner experience are all ways you can practice psychological self-care.
Spiritual self-care doesn’t refer to religion or believing in a higher being, although it can if that helps you. Spiritual self-care is for everyone – from Christians to Buddhists, to Agnostics and Atheists. Spiritual self-care is the act of getting in touch with your inner human spirit and soul and doing things that you care about. This could be going for a hike, volunteering at the food bank, meditating, reading something that inspires you, or attending a worship service. Whatever form makes you feel best, engage in it, and feed your spirit and your soul.
Lastly, there is professional self-care, which is essential for a healthy relationship with your work. Basic examples include connecting with coworkers and peers, decorating your workspace to your liking, balancing workload, and taking breaks throughout the day. Having a balanced professional life will lead to lower stress and free energy for other areas of life. It’s easy for everyday events to become overly stressful and unmanageable. If we schedule time for professional self-care, we can incorporate new habits to help improve our professional life balance.
As you strive to increase your self-care, incorporate some of these ideas into your life, one at a time, at your own pace. They say it takes 21 days to form a habit, so begin slowly and see what changes work best for you, which activities make you feel good, nourished, emotionally engaged, spiritually fulfilled, and less stressed.