Written by Eric C., MA., PhD Candidate
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“To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.” ~Oscar Wilde
In one way or another we are all caretakers. Care taking can be found in all aspects of life. Some of us are care takers in the professional sense and work in medical, mental health or other professions where the main responsibility is that of a caretaker. Others are caretakers in their everyday lives as parents or in other familial capacities. Taking care of loved ones in a non-professional capacity is one of the most rewarding and difficult roles a person can have.
In my work as a mental health professional I come across many caretakers who forget the golden rule of self-care, “Be as kind to yourself as you are to a friend.” As caretakers we all need to understand the importance of caring for ourselves. It is not a selfish indulgence, it is a necessity in order for us to recharge and be well. It is essential for all of us. We all need self care to fill our souls and minds with the necessary fuel in order to be strong enough to care for those around us and most importantly to care for ourselves. Self care is highly personal and will differ from person to person in relation to one’s life and duties, but there is one core element that must be present and this is self-love.
I would like to inspire you to get addicted to self-care. Make self-care a habit and part of your life. In a recent study from 2009, researchers found that on average it takes 66 days for a habit to become ingrained. Some habits may take a shorter amount of time and others may take much longer. The key to adopting new behaviors is to make them a routine and not go back to old behaviors. I want to challenge you to start a ritual of self care behaviors so that they become part of your everyday life. Remember, you are worth every single moment you spend on yourself!
Here are 3 steps to create a self care plan:
1. YOU are number one
The first thing you must realize is that you must be number one in your life. You must take care of yourself mentally and physically as well or better than you take care of anyone else. Imagine yourself in the driver’s seat of a very large car. In the car is everyone you care for in one capacity or another. In order to take care of everyone in that car it is imperative that you first take care of yourself. The journey of life is long and there will be many passengers on your journey. You cannot fall asleep at the steering wheel. You will need to be healthy and alert for whatever may appear on the road. Now take a moment and write down your needs. What are the habits you need to implement for you to perform at your optimum level?
2. Take an inventory of your physical health
Take a moment and have an honest conversation with yourself about your overall physical health. When was the last time you had a physical? A yearly physical check up is a must and a big part of your self-care. A doctors visit will assure you that everything is running correctly and that you are on the right path. Implement changes one at a time and if you happen to miss a day don’t give up! Remember it took a lifetime to create some of your behaviors so give yourself a break if you happen to stumble. Here are some ways to take care of your physical health. You may want to include some of your own.
a) Have a regular sleep routine
b) Eat a balanced diet as often as you can
c) Continue or start an exercise program
d) Take your lunch breaks
Leave your work station during you lunch break and take all your allotted time.
e) Use your sick and vacation days from work
Work will survive without you and I promise it will be there when you get back!
3. Mental health
A balanced mind and body are essential to good health. Many times we focus on our physical health and forget to check in on our minds. It is important for self care that we do not neglect how we are feeling. Some ways to do this are:
a) Be mindful of your stress-level
On a scale of one to ten how do you feel? Some of us have a higher tolerance than others. Respect how you feel and do not wait until you are at level 10 to take a step back. Decide ahead of time at what level it is time to take a break. Give yourself permission to disengage from what ever you are doing.
As a mental-health professional I am a huge believer in talk therapy. Whether you talk to a professional or a close friend it is important to talk. Talking is a great way to release any pent-up frustrations and get to the root of what is troubling you. Give your words and emotions flight. Don’t swallow your words to later choke on them.
c) Practice relaxation techniques
Whether its something as simple as a walk or something more complicated like playing an instrument. Do something that relaxes you.
d) Stay connected to family and friends
e) Have some quality time with yourself
It is imperative that you set aside time for yourself. You can decide realistically how much time you need for yourself and how often. Remember, if you do not replenish yourself you will not be able to take care of yourself much less anyone else.
I would love to know in what capacity are you a care taker and how do you take care of yourself?
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