We are responsible for taking care of ourselves and making time to do it.
"I'm too busy to practice self-care"
Feeling overworked, overwhelmed, and stressed out are common and expected experiences in life. However, this doesn’t mean that we have to live in this state permanently or that we are helpless against it. The concept of self-care or simply taking care of yourself before anyone else is often mentioned, but it can be difficult to commit yourself to practicing self-care. Self-care can fall under many names whether it be taking a mental health day or saying that you’re going to have some “me time”, and every person can benefit from it. Whether you work five days a week, are a stay at home parent, or a full-time student, thinking that you are too busy to practice self-care can be detrimental to both your mental and physical health.
We wear many hats in life. You can be a spouse, a counselor, a daughter, parent, friend, and a student all at once. Each of these roles comes with its own set of responsibilities and expectations. Finding a balance between work, family, and self-care is the major reason that many people feel that it is impossible to accomplish. Self-care and balance can be elusive to master, especially in our society where we often feel pressures to take care of others and live up to everyone else’s expectations without taking into account how it will negatively affect ourselves.
For a student, the pressure to get grades that both please ourselves and our family can be overwhelming. For an employee, balancing work relationships and a harsh workload can be difficult. People who work in fields relating to peer support can feel emotionally distressed due to the amount of themselves that they give to others. Parents especially feel the weight of a lack of self-care as the instinct to put your child before yourself can be extremely difficult to overcome. Within this web of responsibility, we often lose sight of what is most important—ourselves. The cliché example of self-care is the story that we all hear of how you have to fasten your own airplane mask before you help someone else.
“The simple and implicit message of that statement is you cannot care for anyone else before you ensure your own safety; and to take care of oneself is not selfishness, but a genuine skill that is learned over time.” (Miller, 2016)
If we aren’t forgetting to help ourselves, we aren’t doing it because of immense feelings of guilt. The stigma surrounding self-care is that people who put themselves first are egotistical and care only about themselves. The truth is, in order to live our best lives, we must make a conscious effort to take care of ourselves. We can accomplish this by taking a step back and making a note of what necessary changes to make in order to take better care of ourselves. There are layers to self-care that involve identifying what structures we adhere to that inhibit good self-care and then modifying our behavior where possible in order to improve our overall health. The most imperative piece of this is to make the commitment to continue self-care. It is a lifelong process that can only benefit you overtime.
Self-care is multi-faceted and includes awareness of personal signs of distress and a willingness to seek out social support, mental, or other health services when needed. The downward spiral of distress that accompanies an absence of effective coping can be avoided if self-care becomes normalized in your life.
Some simple coping skills that can be added to your daily life to help with keeping a balance of self-care can be maintaining your sense of humor and spending time with family and friends. If you live an especially hectic life, maybe your self-care looks like carving out time to just be alone.
Eating well-balanced meals can make a person feel whole, energized, and happier each day. Eating properly can fuel your body and allow you to complete the tasks that bring you happiness and a sense of purpose.
In an age where social media is ever-present and seemingly unavoidable, self-care can come to play in this setting too. Sometimes, the constant flow of information, news, opinions, and online bickering can be inadvertently harming your mental health. It is important to make time to take a break from social media apps and websites. An easy way to do this is by deleting the apps from your phone or scheduling a certain time to be away from your devices. A short break can be all you need in order to recharge and return.
“Research and anecdotal evidence show that when parents are fulfilled and balanced, that contentment permeates their lives, including their interactions with their families.” (Dorociak et al., 2017)
In order to start a journey into practicing more self-care, you can begin by making a list of five or ten things that you once considered fun or meaningful. This list can remind you of what you find interesting and what you may want to revisit in your life. It can even serve as a reminder of self-identity, which tends to get lost in the stress of focusing so much of yourself on others.
It can be positive for children to see their parents on “play dates”. Displaying positive behaviors to your children allows for them to emulate these positive behaviors for themselves. A parent seeking feasible self-care practices can try things such as taking the time to check in on friends, finding an exercise buddy, or even trade babysitting with a friend or family member so both parties are able to have time for themselves. Of course, self-care as a parent must be reassessed as a child goes through different phases of life, but it is always important to show children a positive way of managing new situations that displays grace, maturity, and responsibility (Dorociak et al., 2017).
Self-care gives children a chance to see their parents smiling and thriving and returning to them reinvigorated and restored.
Currently in the United States there are mixed views on mental health, but each day it becomes more apparent that we need to take conscious efforts to take care of ourselves beyond just our physical beings. If mental health days were to become accepted and even mandated in work and school settings, people can be provided with guilt-free encouragement to step away from the office or school to do things such as read, exercise, or get much needed sleep. Recharging your emotional battery is as important as getting rest when recovering from any physical ailment and it is important to remember this every day.
Some tips for carrying out self-care principles for professionals are:
- Refocusing on the rewards of your work
- Fostering creativity and growth
- Setting boundaries between work and family life
Many principles of self-care are based off a mix of mindfulness, spirituality, and positive psychology values which can all be practiced individually as a means of promoting self-care.
Some other ideas include:
- Seeking personal therapy
- Taking time for interpersonal relationships
- Creating variety in the work day
- Having extracurricular activities
- Engaging with organizations that meet your interests
Self-care for professionals seeks to help people to maintain their resilience despite a stressful environment as well as allow for personal growth in their professional fields.
No matter what level of schooling you are in, the demands of school can feel relentless and, at times, impossible to complete. Learning a balance between successful studying and self-care is an exercise in time management and learning what to put first and what to let go.
If you struggle to find time for yourself as a student, a good first step to take is utilizing a planner and figuring out exactly what time you need to complete assignments, study for exams, and where in that space you can fit time for yourself. Social support is a big part of self-care for students. At a young age, finding time to spend with your friends and being able to confide in them can drastically change your mood and outlook. Social support looks different for each person. It can be as simple as taking the time to make a phone call or confide via text or deciding to go to a party one time instead of staying home and being stuck in a rut of stressful thinking.
Healthy sleep patterns, as difficult as they might be to stick to, are essential for self-care as well. Being well-rested leads to feeling more energized and an overall ability to function at higher levels and accomplish more tasks.
One study of self-care in graduate students demonstrated how when students allowed themselves to experience events without self-judgment, they were able to regulate their emotions better through accepting what they were feeling rather than passing judgment over themselves. Through using acceptance-based strategies of emotion, graduate students often saw lower levels of stress in their lives. In simpler terms: it is important to let all emotions in--even the bad ones—to ride out the pain and work through your difficult emotions rather than suppressing them or pushing them away.
If you take away one key message about self-care it should be this: it is extremely important for every person and for each individual, personal self-care can look vastly different. All that matters is that you are taking care of yourself, and in turn, you will have more good parts of yourself to give to others, to your work, and to your education.
Miller, S. A. (2016). Easier Said Than Done: Practicing Self-Care and Health and Wellness in Higher Education and Student Affairs. Vermont Connection, 37 138-144.
Dorociak, K. E., Rupert, P. A., Bryant, F. B., & Zahniser, E. (2017). Development of the Professional Self-Care Scale. Journal Of Counseling Psychology, 64(3), 325-334. doi:10.1037/cou0000206
Blum, C. A. (2014). Practicing Self-Care for Nurses: A Nursing Program Initiative. Online Journal Of Issues In Nursing, 19(3), 3.
STACY HAWKINS ADAMS Special, c. (2017, January 15). Parental self-care: the gift that keeps giving. Richmond Times-Dispatch (VA)
Bamonti, P. M., Keelan, C. M., Larson, N., Mentrikoski, J. M., Randall, C. L., Sly, S. K., & ... McNeil, D. W. (2014). Promoting ethical behavior by cultivating a culture of self-care during graduate training: A call to action. Training And Education In Professional Psychology, 8(4), 253-260. doi:10.1037/tep0000056
(2014). AARP Pennsylvania Hosted Afternoon Tea for Caregivers to Share Experiences and Learn the Importance of Practicing Self-Care. PR Newswire.
Wohlert, B. A. (2014, January 1). Self-Care Practices of Female Peer Support Specialists with Co-Occurring Mood and Substance Use Disorders. ProQuest LLC.