Until I was recovering from my first manic episode, I had never really paid attention to the concept of self care. I had heard the term thrown around and it definitely seemed like the newest buzzword for mental health, but I had no idea what self care really means and why it's important.
I was in an IOP (intensive outpatient program) during my recovery and we had an awesome therapist. Group therapy in this setting really helped me realize what self care is and why it was important for me especially to keep me from relapsing into another manic episode.
True self care is not all bubble baths and manicures. It is an approach to improve or sustain your mental health that has three parts--Physical Self Care, Mental Self Care, and Emotional Self Care. It's easy to grasp what the physical part of self care is, but the distinction between mental and emotional self-care is a little more blurry. Here is a visual of what a true self-care model looks like. All three parts of the self-care model are equally important. You have to create a self-care plan that includes all three elements.
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What Self Care Really Means
1. Physical self care
A lot of times we think we are taking care of ourselves, but if you have a mental illness or chronic illness you probably struggle to keep up with all aspects of physical care. I can tell you that I really had to learn new habits and make certain things "non-negotiable" when I first started my self-care plan. In group therapy, we would fill out a "Things to Do Today" list at each session. Our therapist would encourage us to write down things that were simple. So I started writing down simple things that I didn't even realize I was not keeping up with-like showering, going for a walk, and having a night time routine that would help me fall asleep easier, etc. When considering what falls under physical self-care, think of it using these categories:
2. Mental self-care plan
Even though medication is usually a big part of mental self care, there are still many other things you can proactively do to improve your mental health.
Try to avoid stressful situations that you don't have to put yourself in is very important. Sometimes that may mean scaling back on your social engagements, especially if you have any toxic relationships.
There are many things you can do to either improve your mood or keep your mood balanced. During my recovery, I did a lot of adult coloring and that really helped stabilize my mood. It forced me to focus on something simple like choosing what color to use next instead of the worrisome and frantic thoughts rolling around in my head. If you want to try adult coloring, you can get 30 Amazing Free Adult Coloring Page Printables (which includes 4 printables about bravery, courage, warrior, and hope from me).
And lastly, carefully choosing the commitments and demands you put on yourself is important to living a balanced life. I don't volunteer much anymore. My first and foremost concern is my health and that of my 4 kids and husband. Volunteering for committees at my children's schools is something I have let go of and I allow myself to say no to many more things.
So think of mental self care in the following categories: (this is not a complete list)
3. Emotional self care
When you are creating an emotional self-care plan, you have to be honest with yourself and those close to you about what you really need. Don't be ashamed to ask for help and definitely don't refuse help that is offered. You may feel ashamed of needing help with some very basic things, but you can't let that stand in your way. Your well-being and emotional health is the key to you getting the most out of life.
Here comes the bubble baths and manicures! Doing things you love to do (and that will look a lot different from person to person) is one way you care for yourself emotionally. This could be a simple activity like watching a movie or starting a hobby. It can also be about pursuing a dream.
For me, that is blogging. Once I got through the most tumultuous times of my recovery (I am diagnosed with Bipolar 1 so I have extreme fluctuations in mood, especially when I am "coming down" from a manic episode), I was so excited to get back to writing for my blog. I feel that sharing my experiences and how I cope with my chronic and mental illnesses gives me a sense of purpose and a way to use my challenges to help others learn to thrive, not just survive. Take a minute and hop over to How Blogging Made Me a Chronic Illness Warrior to find out more about how blogging has impacted my emotional health.
When considering how to practice emotional self care, use the following categories to get you started:
-Support system ask for help
-something you love to do
-Pursue a dream
Hopefully by now you are getting a clear idea of what self-care IS and what it IS NOT. Self-care is not easy, at all. You have to push yourself to do the things that you know will help you and improve your overall well-being. And sometimes that means going for a walk when all you want to do is stay curled up under your covers.
When you first create a self-care plan and commit to sticking to it, start with baby steps. Building new habits takes time and don't expect to start right out of the gate by making 15 different changes to your routine. Success will come to those who make a few changes, practice doing them, and moving on to the next few good habits to develop.