#Self-Care In Uncertain Times
Written By: Kacey Wehr, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, and Mental Health & Wellness Specialist
What Self-Care Is:
We are living in uncertain and unsettling times. With daily presidential updates on all things pandemic, constant news reports, and an ever lengthening list of things we can’t do state-by-state and city-by-city, we are bombarded by constant reminders all around us of how vulnerable we all are and how our lives will likely be changed forever. Self-care is more important now, than ever before. What started as a therapeutic tool, later became the catchphrase of self-help gurus, bloggers, and stylized ‘wellness experts’ touting “self-care” as a reason to drink too much booze, shop for things no one needs, and make bad decisions that would later, likely be added to a list of regrets. As the term and concept of “self-care” gained popularity it was easy to just tune it out or stop considering what it truly meant, so today I am going to reintroduce you.
Self-care is about nurturing yourself; meeting your own needs; acknowledging your limits; and finding healthy ways to fill yourself back up when life, relationships, expectations, and responsibilities deplete you. Self-care is about helping to restore balance and connect you to the things, people and activities that bring you joy, that help you maintain your health and physical/emotional well-being, and that help you process and deal with strong emotions that inevitably come up during any given day, but especially when life has turned upside down. If you really want to break it down, self-care is very much like teaching a baby or small child how to self-sooth.
There is no ‘right way’ to experience self-care, nor any guidelines about how much self-care you need to be well because this can differ significantly from person to person or based on the level of stress a person is experiencing, or how much support they may have or not have. There are a dizzying amount of websites, magazine articles, blogs, posts, friends, family, etc that have suggestions for what you can do for self-care but ultimately you have to decide for yourself what you need or want at any given day or moment. You may already be doing daily self-care and not even realize it- getting a good night’s sleep, eating three meals a day, getting some exercise and/or physical activity, maintaining healthy relationships, going to see a therapist/mentor/spiritual advisor, and yes, even when you put your favorite song on and sing it at the top of your lungs after a long and stressful day of mommying- all of these are examples of self-care.
The key is to recognize when you are feeling depleted or emotionally imbalanced and choose what you want to do to fill yourself back up. The next step is to do it with awareness (also known as ‘mindfulness’)- knowing that you are doing it because you want to take care of yourself and your needs, and because it makes you feel good, then doing it with intention. You know you have done ‘self-care’ when you are left feeling better than when you started: less overwhelmed, less stressed/anxious, more happy and optimistic, more balanced, feeling better able to help and care for others, more capable of taking on your responsibilities, and/or ready to face the news and oncoming obstacles. If you are not feeling at least some of these things, you may need to increase your self-care and/or reduce the demands on your time and energy while you ‘recharge’. The consequences of continuing to spread yourself too thin without taking care of your own needs and recharging is burn-out which forces you to stop, slow down, and focus on yourself (via getting sick, injured, or just mentally and emotionally ‘shutting down’). Other signs of burn-out are: irritability, fatigue, over or under eating, digestive issues, headaches, muscle tension, and over-sensitivity. Part of maintaining a healthy body and mind during a difficult time is learning how to create balance in your daily life so you don’t have to run yourself ragged and only take time for yourself when you burn out and have to. This is not healthy and not sustainable. This is very much a real life “put your own oxygen mask on before helping others” situation and you have to make yourself a priority because no one else will.
What Self-Care Isn’t:
Although there are a lot of mixed messages about self-care in the media, self-care is NOT about splurging on yourself, over-indulgence or throwing all caution and rules to the wind (despite what popular culture and the media would have you believe). If it negatively impacts you, your health, your relationships, or your financial security then it is NOT self-care. Eating a sweet treat at the end of a long day is one thing but bingeing on an entire container of ice cream is another. Having a glass of wine at the end of the day can be nice and can be a form of self-care but getting wasted because “things are super stressful right now”, is not. Spending a week’s worth of grocery money on an online shopping spree, altering your mental and emotional state with substances, or using food to fill an emotional void are not self-care.
If what you are doing makes you feel bad about yourself, have regrets or have negative consequences as a result of how you are trying to decompress, manage stress, feel good, or treat yourself, then it is likely not self-care, and may in fact be unhealthy forms of coping and signal that it may be helpful to speak with a therapist or mental health professional. So the next time you want to do something for yourself and you want to know if it is self-care or not, ask yourself, “Am I going to regret this later?”, “How am I going to feel about myself and this decision tomorrow?”, “What are the possible consequences of doing this?”, and “Is this good for my body, my mind, and/or my spirit?”. Let your answers be your guide in helping you decide. If all else fails, check out a list of some of my favorites for myself and clients I have worked with:
Quarantine Approved Self-Care Ideas:
- Give yourself a manicure or pedicure (for added fun, pick a funky color you wouldn’t normally wear!)
- Use a planner or a calendar to intentionally schedule “me time.”
- In the morning, listen to music that inspires and motivates you and gets you pumped for your day.
- Write a list of things you’re grateful to have in your life and post it somewhere you can see it often. (With so much going on right now it is easy to focus on the negative, so remind yourself of the good stuff.)
- Go through your closet and purge the clothes you haven’t worn in years. Donate them to a charitable organization.
- Call/Facetime/Skype someone you love and catch up (we need to maintain those important connections right now especially if social distancing continues)
- Take a relaxing bath with some aromatherapy oils, epsom salts, or bubble bath
- Go on a walk and listen to your favorite podcast, book on tape, or music
- Get creative/crafty and don’t care about the results- sew, scrapbook, sketch, paint, arrange some flowers, write, make some jewelry, do some adult coloring, sculpt, etc.
- Make yourself something healthy and super delicious to eat and/or share (I swear by “Black Bean Brownies”)
- Read a book for fun (even if you only read few pages or chapter at a time)
- Write some positive affirmations on post-its and put them up where you will see them daily (Pinterest has some great prompts for these if you need a little Pinsperation)
- Put on your favorite karaoke songs and sing your heart out
- Do some gentle yoga at home (there are a ton of awesome yoga video links right here on the website, so check them out!)
- Meditate, pray or just sit quietly observing your thoughts and focusing on doing some slow deep breathing
- Watch an episode or two of your favorite show/sitcom and get some good laughs
- Take a nap (perhaps when your little one is napping)
- Pick something you have always wanted to learn but have always put off and take steps to start learning (e.g. a new language, how to play an instrument, how to draw/paint/sew, how to play kickball)
- Make a list of goals you have for yourself that you ‘never have time for’ or keep putting off and pick one to work on (e.g. running a marathon, baking a pie, hosting a game night, working on digitizing old family photos, singing in public, taking a dance class, learning to drive stick shift etc)
- Start an inspirational Pinterest board or make an inspirational collage and hang it somewhere you will see it often
- Rearrange a room in your house to try out a new feng shui
- Put on some music and dance like a total fool (this can be extra fun to do with you little one)!
- Say “no” when you need to (practice good boundaries and set limits with others when you need to)
- Make some soothing tea and just sip it and relax
- Sleep in at least one day a week- the world can wait (delegate the morning routine to another qualified family member so you can get a break)!
During these very difficult times, if you do find it might be helpful to speak to a mental health professional here is a link to a list of therapists who provide Telehealth (telephone based therapy) and Videotherapy (online video based therapy) by state (you must select a therapist based in the state you live in). We may be separated during this difficult time, but you are not alone. Take care of yourself.
Kacey Wehr is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist with degrees in Child Development, Psychology, and Marriage & Family Therapy. She has six years experience providing therapy, psychoeducation, developing trainings and workshops, leading support groups, and has over seven years experience in Education having taught Early Education for preschoolers, High School, and Undergraduate Psychology. She has extensive training and experience in Trauma Informed Care, Crisis Intervention, Grief & Bereavement, Complex Trauma, Child Development, and is a Certified Crisis Counselor for victims of relationship abuse/violence and sexual exploitation. She has devoted the majority of her therapeutic experience to working with and empowering young adults, new parents, couples, and families with complex trauma history. She believes in integrating holistic health approaches in her work and attained a Certification as a Wellness Clinician which enables her to utilize aromatherapy in her mental health support. She also is trained in acupressure for labor and has assisted in the labors and births of several of her closest friends as they brought their littles ones into the world. In her free time she enjoys singing, all things crafty, watching movies with her daughter, nesting and home decorating, cooking and eating yummy foods, and traveling the world with her husband (so far they have been to 27 countries and over 40 cities around the globe!). She is here to help other mothers navigate the crazy journey that is parenthood, relationships, challenges with mental health, sex and intimacy, and walk this journey with you, sharing her experience and expertise.