As I have mentioned self care in previous articles, I thought it might be a good idea to give a little more information on the topic. You should not be made to feel guilty for taking care of yourself by anyone — including yourself. Yes, there might be more “serious” problems. Honestly, who cares? Does the fact that someone, somewhere has a terminal illness mean that you don’t deserve to rest when you have strep throat, or to prevent catching the flu? The importance rests in the existence rather than the arbitrary severity. Problems, characteristics and habits vary person to person and cannot be over simplified. Don’t remove the context, and don’t forget that there is no true way for a person to exist and develop in complete isolation.
This means that you can’t completely blame yourself or any one factor for problems. When it comes to your own wellbeing, there is no need for sell yourself short in order to appear “strong.” Part of self care is trying to differentiate the situations in which you should let go from those in which you should push yourself. That is a very fine line, and a lot of thought may be involved, though do not underestimate your instincts, as you know yourself best.
Understanding the nuances of your mind is not simple and cannot be done without a lot of reflection. Other people you trust are very helpful in this process. This kind of deep thought can certainly be overwhelming, especially at first, so it is important to pace yourself and seek support when needed. Again, self awareness is not easy; delving into possibly distressing topics can be exhausting for anyone. Also, it might not be helpful if this leads to circular thoughts — outside information is indispensable. I am not just saying that reading up on various mental illnesses is a solution; rather, a variety of sources can be very helpful. There are so many places, events and websites at which one may find ways to discuss these issues and to hear about others’ stories and discuss. Often, other people can use their similar experiences to help you put words to your thoughts. In my experience, this is a very real and unmatched kind of affirmation. Even just by sharing your story, listening or offering support, you can profoundly affect someone. This is another reason that it is important to keep this discussion alive and why I write this column.
I can’t tell you how to take care of yourself, but there are some changes that are generally seen as positive across the board. Lifestyle changes may be beneficial, if not necessary. As seen in the last article with burnout, aspects that don’t seem related often have large effects on mental wellbeing. In addition to the usual nutrition, exercise, sleep, etc., regulating your schedule, social life, and stress can help you greatly if they are balanced.
As the days grow shorter, getting enough sunlight is actually very important as well. These are not usually total or immediate solutions. Often, regulating these factors a bit will make some other strategies more effective than they would be on their own. Trying out different approaches is another great idea. Breaking out of a routine can be a breath of fresh air. There are some interesting ideas to try suggested by NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) at i.http://www.nami.org/Content/NavigationMenu/Find_Support/NAMI_on_Campus1/Tips_and_Tricks_for_Dealing_with_Mental_Health_Issues.htm.
Taking care of yourself might also mean not being everything to everyone all the time. While it feels like this may strain relationships, that is not always the case. Personal stability is significant in relationships, and people should understand. Of course, pushing them away is not the way to go about this—you can hardly go wrong with honest communication. After all, people may surprise you when you open up to them.
In the rare case that someone does not understand or reacts badly, do not be discouraged. This is not a reflection on you. And just because something falls through once doesn’t mean it will every time. When it comes to being healthy, the benefit greatly outweighs this risk.
People often say to remain positive. As this is coming from someone who still sometimes thinks positive thinking is a heaping pile of bovine excrement, please take me seriously when I say that while it is hard, it is worth the effort. Note that this is also not an automatic fix. Also, you are allowed to have bad days. You are entitled to have bad days. Putting on a mask is an extra effort that doesn’t always help. But sometimes, acting okay will make you feel okay, and that makes this is a worthy practice. Once again: don’t do it if it feels wrong.
Self-care is also necessarily not about fighting. We would like to say that people fight their demons, if you will. Why not work with them and save energy in the meantime, so that you can decisively banish them when you are ready? Blocking them out entirely will not help you understand.
I want to be clear in saying that if things are rough, they might not seem like they can or will improve, but they will. Self-care is not only needed in tough times. It should be at least somewhat consistent. Yes, it will take a lot of time first. No, you might not see progress right away. Do not worry about how much time it takes—do not worry about later. Focus on yourself and “the now.”
Lastly, do not think of self-care as something you “must do,” or something that might not apply to you. You are worth it.