If you google self care and how to create a self-care plan, you will find a lot of different perspectives on how to practice self care. What I found was a lot of mish-mash of activities and suggestions, but none categorized or organized in such a way that helps you learn to practice self care in balanced way. Like I learned from my psychologist and wrote about in Part 1 of this self-care series, What the Heck is Self-Care and Why is It Important For Your Mental Health, self care is a made up of three equally important parts-physical self care, mental self care, and emotional self care.
So when you create a self-care plan, you need to use different self-care strategies and activities that fit into all three of the categories of physical, mental, and emotional. I am going to teach you a 5 step process on creating a self-care plan, but you will use it for each of the three different aspects of self-care.
I have created for you a list of self-care strategies and activities that are broken down into those three areas. This will help you when you create your self-care plan.
I want to note that we are focusing on a "maintenance" self-care plan, but you should consider creating an "emergency" version as well. The difference between the two is simply that during a rough/difficult/recovery from an acute event you will need to practice more intensive self-care to get you back to your baseline. For instance, when I left the hospital from my major manic episode, my sole focus was self-care to continue on the road to recovery. I wasn't living day to day as usual, I was actively trying to quiet my mind and body to continue "coming down" from the episode.
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How to create a self-care plan using self-care strategies and activities.
7 steps to create a self-care plan and implement balanced and positive self-care strategies and activities.
1. What do you value?
You might be surprised that this is where you should start, but it is the foundation of creating your self-care plan. What you value drives your decisions and your habits. Sometimes when fighting a chronic or mental illness, we get a bit out of sync and our actions and habits no longer match our values.
So take a minute and step back to consider what do you value most in life.
2. Assess your current Self-Care Activities
Think about the things you value but are not actively engaging in or seeking. You want to make sure that as you are developing your self-care plan, you are making changes in the areas you have kind of "lost your way" in practicing or nurturing.
There may be some things you value, but are not in a point with your health that you can focus your energies on right now. That is okay because "the now" is just one of many seasons of your life. Don't put yourself in a box and lose hope that your situation will never get better or improve in such a way that you can pursue things that are out of reach in this moment.
3. Create a list of all of the positive self-care strategies and activities you are currently doing.
Get a piece of paper out and make three columns-one for Physical Self Care, one for Mental Self-Care, and one for Emotional Self Care. Write in each column what good habits and activities are you currently doing in each category. If your list is short, don't worry because it is a start in the right direction. When I first started focusing on self care, my list was literally 2 or 3 things;)
4. What good habits, strategies, or activities should you add to that list?
Take out a new sheet of paper and brainstorm all of the self-care strategies and activities you can think of in each category that would have a positive impact in your life. Right down even the activities that are hard for you to do right now, but that you know are best for your overall health and well-being. This won't be a list full of bubble baths, bon-bons, and pedicures. (Are bon-bons still a thing?)
5. Refine your focus.
Now, go back to your first list of things you currently do that are good self-care activities and practices. Take 2 or 3 ideas (in each category) from your brainstorm and add them to that list.
It's important to take things slow and start with simple habits or routines you can implement now. It takes time to develop new habits (or replace bad ones) and you definitely don't want to overwhelm yourself. Taking on too much at a time is NOT a good self-care strategy.
6. Create a plan and set goals for implementing new self-care strategies and activities.
Start with the a few new strategies you listed in the previous step. I suggest giving yourself a few weeks to a month to establish those new self-care strategies and build them into your routine. Then, add a few more and go through the same process of keeping it simple but consistent.
That's why it's important to create a self-care plan for the future and set goals. Take a few new activities and set goals and a date for when you want to tackle them. Just focus on a few at the time. When tackling big self-care strategies and activities like starting to eat healthy, make them a singular focus for a given amount of time.
For me, I am at the point of tackling healthy eating. That takes a lot of my time and energy I know I have to start with simple changes and build from there.
7. Commit to your goals and keep track of your progress.
You can use journaling to keep track of how you are doing practicing these new self-care activities. Bullet journaling is really popular now and probably a good place to start. You can also use an app, like Productive Habit Tracker. I used it for a while and it allows you set goals and create a daily/weekly/monthly to-do lists and set alarms to remind you to complete the tasks. You can also read another post I wrote, 20 Mental Health Apps for Managing Your Mental Health. Checklists are another great way to keep up with tracking your progress.
congratulations! that is how you Create a self-care plan. Now it is time to take action.
You have your new self-care strategies and activities you lined out, and it is time for the hard part. Start doing them. Self care is not easy. It is an "adulting" task and you will have to push yourself at times to keep moving towards your goal. But, research shows that a balanced self-care plan will optimize your mental health and overall well-being.
*Note about "emergency" self-care plans.
You might experience setbacks at times. That is where "emergency" self-care plans come in to play. Our mental and chronic illnesses can ramp up at times and cause unexpected bumps in the road. At these times, you may need to scale back on certain self-care activities so that you can more heavily focus on other ones. Ones that are more basic and pivotal for your mental health. That's okay and you don't have to feel that you will be starting over. Because you have developed new positive self-care habits and strategies, you will more easily be able to get back them when the immediate crisis is over.
For instance, my Bipolar 1 Disorder is currently "managed" and my mood is stable. I am able to "blog till my heart's content." But at any given time, there could come a stressor in my life (like a time of loss or hardship) that will trigger a manic or depressive episode. So yes, the "pursuing my dreams in blogging" will have to take a back seat or even cease completely for a while, but I will get through the challenge of my mental illness and get back to what I love. (That's actually a huge reason Why Blogging Is a Great Way to Make Money for People with a Chronic Illness.) It's happened before. And I will do it again. That's because the mental health struggles and physical challenges of my chronic illness have made me a warrior.