Self Care

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Don't let anyone tell you how you feel! Don't let anyone say they know how you feel!
Feelings are your algorithms and their make-up are like no one else's in the world.
They are one of the many things that make you so unique. - Gordon Clay


Self-Care Quiz: Where do you need the most help right now?

Six Simple Self-Care Tips to Help You Take Better Care of Yourself Right Now (13 page PDF)

Taking Care of Yourself
How to Recognize if Your Colleague is Struggling
Medical Self-Care: The Seven Rules for Better Health
 A totally doable, not so intimidating self-care survival guide to 2018
What is Secondary Traumatic Stress?
In an emergency
Self-Care During the Holidays
Behavioral Health Treatment Services
Resources for Providers

Taking Care of Yourself

To be able to care for the people you love, you must first take care of yourself. It’s like the advice we’re given on airplanes: put on your own oxygen mask before trying to help someone else with theirs. Taking care of yourself is a valid goal on its own, and it helps you support the people you love.

Caregivers who pay attention to their own physical and emotional health are better able to handle the challenges of supporting someone with mental illness. They adapt to changes, build strong relationships and recover from setbacks. The ups and downs in your family member’s illness can have a huge impact on you. Improving your relationship with yourself by maintaining your physical and mental health makes you more resilient, helping you weather hard times and enjoy good ones. Here are some suggestions for personalizing your self-care strategy.

Understand How Stress Affects You

Stress affects your entire body, physically as well as mentally. Some common physical signs of stress include:

  • Headaches
  • Low energy
  • Upset stomach, including diarrhea, constipation and nausea
  • Aches, pains, and tense muscles
  • Insomnia

Begin by identifying how stress feels to you. Then identify what events or situations cause you to feel that way. You may feel stressed by grocery shopping with your spouse when they’re symptomatic, or going to school events with other parents who don’t know your child’s medical history. Once you know which situations cause you stress, you’ll be prepared to avoid it and to cope with it when it happens.

Protect Your Physical Health

Improving your physical wellbeing is one of the most comprehensive ways you can support your mental health. You’ll have an easier time maintaining good mental habits when your body is a strong, resilient foundation.

Exercise daily. Exercise can take many forms, such as taking the stairs whenever possible, walking up escalators, and running and biking rather than driving. Joining a class may help you commit to a schedule, if that works best for you. Daily exercise naturally produces stress-relieving hormones in your body and improves your overall health.

Eat well. Eating mainly unprocessed foods like whole grains, vegetables and fresh fruit is key to a healthy body. Eating this way can help lower your risk for chronic diseases, and help stabilize your energy levels and mood.

Get enough sleep. Adults generally need between seven and nine hours of sleep. A brief nap—up to 30 minutes—can help you feel alert again during the day. Even 15 minutes of daytime sleep is helpful. To make your nighttime sleep count more, practice good “sleep hygiene,” like avoiding using computers, TV and smartphones before bed.

Avoid alcohol and drugs. They don’t actually reduce stress and often worsen it.

Practice relaxation exercises. Deep breathing, meditation and progressive muscle relaxation are easy, quick ways to reduce stress. When conflicts come up between you and your family member, these tools can help you feel less controlled by turbulent feelings and give you the space you need to think clearly about what to do next.

Recharge Yourself

When you’re a caregiver of someone with a condition like mental illness, it can be incredibly hard to find time for yourself, and even when you do, you may feel distracted by thinking about what you “should” be doing instead. But learning to make time for yourself without feeling you’re neglecting others—the person with the illness as well as the rest of your family—is critical.

Any amount of time you take for yourself is important. Being out of “caregiver mode” for as little as five minutes in the middle of a day packed with obligations can be a meaningful reminder of who you are in a larger sense. It can help keep you from becoming consumed by your responsibilities. Start small: think about activities you enjoyed before becoming a caregiver and try to work them back into your life. If you used to enjoy days out with friends, try to schedule a standing monthly lunch with them. It becomes part of your routine and no one has to work extra to make it happen each month.

The point is not what you do or how often you do it, but that you do take the time to care for yourself. It’s impossible to take good care of anyone else if you’re not taking care of yourself first.

Practice Good Mental Habits

Avoid Guilt

Try not to feel bad about experiencing negative emotions. You may resent having to remind your spouse to take his medication, then feel guilty. It’s natural to think things like “a better person wouldn’t be annoyed with their spouse,” but that kind of guilt is both untrue and unproductive. When you allow yourself to notice your feelings without judging them as good or bad, you dial down the stress and feel more in control. When you feel less stressed, you’re better able to thoughtfully choose how to act.

Notice The Positive

When you take the time to notice positive moments in your day, your experience of that day becomes better. Try writing down one thing each day or week that was good. Even if the positive thing is tiny (“It was a sunny day”), it’s real, it counts and it can start to change your experience of life.

Gather Strength From Others

NAMI support groups exist to reassure you that countless other people have faced similar challenges and understand your concerns. Talking about your experiences can help. The idea that you can, or should be able to, “solve” things by yourself is false. Often the people who seem like they know how to do everything are actually frequently asking for help; being willing to accept help is a great life skill. If you’re having trouble keeping track of your sister’s Medicaid documents and you’ve noticed your coworker is well-organized, ask them for tips about managing paperwork.

You may feel you don’t have the time to stay in touch with friends or start new friendships. Focus on the long-term. If you can meet up with a friend once a month, or go to a community event at your local library once every two months, it still helps keep you connected. It also gives you the chance to connect with people on multiple levels. Being a caregiver is an important part of your life, but it’s not the whole story.

How to Recognize if Your Colleague is Struggling

We spend one-third of our adult lives at work, and the extra stressors and challenges that often come with a job can negatively impact mental health. Left unchecked, they can even lead to feelings of depression and anxiety.

Recognizing when a colleague or employee is struggling can be vital to making sure they get the support they need in a timely manner. It’s also great for productivity — employees who feel respected and supported are more likely to thrive in their roles.

Use these tips from the Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) curriculum to recognize if your colleague is struggling:

Notice changes in behavior. Behaviors like irritability, fatigue and absenteeism can be signs that a colleague is facing a challenge. Changes in behavior might indicate that they are going through a tough time or that they may be experiencing a mental health or substance use challenge.

Have a conversation. If you notice that your coworker’s behavior change has changed, you can start the conversation with phrases like “How are you feeling?” “Are you doing OK?” “Can we talk about what’s going on?” and “How are things going today?” These questions open the door for you to support your colleague in the best way possible and offer resources when appropriate.

Listen effectively. When communicating with a colleague, it’s important to be an active listener and acknowledge the information they share with you.

Mental Health First Aid at Work teaches people the skills necessary to #BeTheDifference for colleagues in stressful times.

We are more than our job titles. Learn more about Mental Health First Aid at Work and how we can be better employees and coworkers by supporting, encouraging and empowering each other.

Medical Self-Care: The Seven Rules for Better Health

Medical Self-Care: Seven rules for better health, including access to health information, family as health resources, wellness-illness states, health and your belief system, and the human body and its healing powers.

The First Law: You are already your own doctor.

Research shows that people provide their own illness care between 80 and 98% of the time. (The difference in the figures cited simply reflects varying definitions of illness.) In one recent survey, people were asked to list all the health problems they'd experienced within the preceding two weeks. The average turned out to be 4.5—which works out to 117 health problems per person per year! But the average individual goes to a doctor only two to three times a year. And the percentage of preventive care that is self-provided probably runs close to 99%.

These figures make it clear that self-care is—and has always been—our predominant form of health care.

The Second Law: Lay people could do even more for themselves if they had better access to currently available health tools, skills, support, and information.

Most people go to the doctor only when they feel that they lack the resources they need to deal with a health problem themselves. But there are many ways to obtain help without going to a health professional.

Often, the information and support a person needs can more appropriately be provided by a friend, neighbor, or self-help group. And a large number of the day-to-day skills of doctoring—from examining an eardrum to testing one's urine—can now be easily learned and safely done at home. Many individuals, for example, go to the doctor regularly to have their blood pressure checked—yet, with today's electronic cuffs, it's a simple matter to take your own blood pressure at home.

Some of the most promising opportunities for improving our health care system involve finding ways to make health tools, information, skills, and support available through lay channels.

The Third Law: Our most powerful health resources are our spouses, families, friends, social networks, and communities.

An overwhelming body of research suggests that, for most of us, the number one health-determining factor in our lives is not how we eat or exercise, or whether we smoke or wear seat belts—rather, it is our social support system. One study of residents in a neighborhood found that people with few friends, relatives, and social links were 2.5 times more likely to die early than those who had a wealth of friends and many close social ties.

The Fourth Law: Health is not the absence of disease.

There is a continuum of wellness-illness states. Prevention means focusing on health concerns and behaviors while you are still on the wellness side of the spectrum, rather than waiting to act only when disease or disability occurs.

The Fifth Law: What's best for your health depends —at least in part—on your belief system.

Health is a part of culture, and different people are products of different cultures. It has been well established that the remedies people believe in are much more effective for them. A self-care-oriented health care system, therefore, must be a diverse system—a health care smorgasbord offering "different strokes for different folks."

The Sixth Law: The principal goal of a health care system should be to help people take care of themselves.

Those of us who reached adulthood during the last few decades were brought up to overestimate the effectiveness and safety of professional medical care, and to seriously underestimate our own potential for keeping ourselves healthy, for managing our illnesses, and for taking an active role when working with doctors and other health practitioners. We need to seek out and support those health workers and consumer groups whose number one priority is to encourage our self-care efforts and increase our level of health responsibility and competence.

The Seventh Law: Health is a regenerative function.

We have been taught to think of health problems as inevitable breakdowns that can be repaired by professionals—like a car that needs new tires or a rebuilt carburetor. As a result, we ignore our health until a problem becomes an emergency. Then we attempt heroic solutions: the coronary care unit, bypass surgery, a heart transplant.

The human body has almost unbelievable healing powers. But to operate at their optimal levels, these powers require constant nourishment and care: a healthful diet and environment, regular exercise, the support of others, a meaningful life, and a good measure of self understanding. The body has its own wisdom, but it must be listened to, understood, and trusted.

Your body is like the soil: If properly cared for over a long period of time, it can replenish itself and provide a bounty beyond imagining. By following these seven rules for better health you will ensure less health problems. But if ignored, depleted, and exploited, your body will soon lose its ability to sustain life.

A totally doable, not so intimidating self-care survival guide to 2018

After an October week from hell — when allegations against Harvey Weinstein first began to unravel, Donald Trump threatened to take aid away from Puerto Rico, women boycotted Twitter, and historic wildfires destroyed California — I splurged on a large Blue Raspberry Icee and sat alone in a 12:15 p.m. Saturday showing of Marshall. I turned my phone all the way off, and over the course of the next two hours I ugly cried in the dark.

Afterwards, I drove to a bookstore and spent $82.47. I went home, applied a face mask and collapsed onto my bed, escaping into the pages of one of my new books for hours. I met my friend for dinner, cherished every single bite of a cheeseburger, rushed back to my pillow, and fell asleep watching re-runs of The Mindy Project.

This was my own personal form of self-care.

For so many, self-care has been the unsung savior of 2017. You've probably heard the term thrown around daily, but learning exactly what it means and why it's so essential will help to better practice it in the new year.

Am I doing this thing right?

Self-care methods — personalized rituals that allow people to take a step back from this messy world to prioritize their well-being and preserve their mental health — differ for each individual and in each scenario, so there's really no right or wrong.

For Hillary Clinton self-care could mean anything from frantic closet cleaning, long walks in the woods, and playing with her dogs, to yoga or sitting down to enjoy a glass of wine. For Michael Phelps, who's conquered the pressures of Olympic competition but has struggled with depression and anxiety over the years, it's working out or heading to the golf course. The only constant is that methods of self-care must benefit and focus on you.

"A lot of times people will say 'I spend time with my kids,' which is great and meaningful but that’s still taking care of somebody else," said Monnica Williams, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and associate professor at University of Connecticut's Department of Psychological Sciences. "When you self-care it’s really about you recharging."

Self-care isn't selfish

Some people abstain from self-care for fear that their behavior would come across as selfish. They simply can't resist the urge to put other people first.

According to a 2017 "Women's Wellness Report" from Everyday Health, which studied 3,000 women from ages 25 to 65 in the U.S., 76 percent of women said they were were more likely to put their own personal needs after someone else's. However, more than half of the participants said that taking time for themselves was the greatest factor in achieving wellness. (Disclosure: Mashable and Everyday Health are owned by the same company, Ziff Davis.)

"You can’t be the best you in any other
contexts if you’re not taking care of yourself."

"It’s essential for your mental health and your physical health," Williams said, noting that self-care is anything but selfish. "You can’t be the best you in any other contexts if you’re not taking care of yourself."

"I heard someone say that it's like putting on your own oxygen mask in an airplane emergency before putting one on a child," added Crystal Park, another professor at the University of Connecticut's Department of Psychological Sciences.

"The healthier and more resilient we are, the more effective we can be in our lives."

Heading into 2018 with some solid self-care guidelines will help you better manage your stress and survive whatever challenges are in store, so here are a few to keep in mind.

Don't be afraid to take a mental health day

Your mental health is important, but it's also extremely easy to ignore. When your job gets too overwhelming or events in your personal life prevent or distract you from doing your best work in the office it's time to take a step back.

For inspiration, look no further than one of 2017's viral personal tales: the story of Olark CEO Ben Congleton advocating for his employee after learning she'd taken time off for mental health reasons.

After Congleton's understanding email sparked discussion about mental health in the workplace, he wrote a post on Medium further emphasizing the need to normalize it.

When you are at work, take additional steps to make your environment a place of comfort. Personalize your desk with a plant, a framed photo of something that makes you smile, or set the mood with a tiny lamp.

And every so often, book a conference room for lunch with your coworkers to share pizza and a cake you buy for the sole reason of craving cake. Work will still be there when your lunch break ends, but taking time to clear your head is crucial.

Give social media and screens a rest

Social media usage often starts with the intention of getting caught up on current events and quickly spirals into a black hole of negativity.

"So many people are plugged in and instantly alerted to everything that is happening in the news in ways that weren’t possible 10 years ago," said Dr. Carolyn Mazure, director of Women’s Health Research at Yale.

While platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have been proven to take a toll on self-esteem and mental health, social media isn't all bad.

Here are a few ways to make online communities safer spaces for you:

  • Follow encouraging accounts like Janelle Silver's, who promotes her self-care-themed Etsy store.
  • Unfollow people on Facebook. (This helps you to remain friends with them but hides their posts from your timeline.)
  • Turn off push notifications.
  • Use Twitter's mute feature to shield yourself from triggering words.
  • Transform your cell phone into a self-care hub

While it's healthy to disconnect from technology every so often, when you do have your phone by your side these tips can help make the experience more enjoyable.

  • Make use of your Do Not Disturb function.
  • Free up some storage space by parting with old text messages you have no intention of ever revisiting, deleting unused apps and contacts, and loading all photos and videos onto your laptop so you're left with an empty album.
  • Download self-care apps related to deep breathing, meditation, list-making, and maybe even a relaxing game or two, like Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp.
  • Create empowering or soothing playlists so you can easily listen to mood-lifting music on-the-go.

Treat yourself, but treat others, too

No matter how small, make a daily attempt to treat yourself to an experience or a purchase that'll brighten your mood.

Get a pedicure or massage, take a hot bath, go for a walk around the block, go out with friends, or cancel plans to stay in on a Friday night to recharge and binge-watch mindless television, if that's what you need.

And while being good to oneself is key, Park noted "balance is important" in self-care, and making an effort to give back to others often helps people feel better. Consider volunteering, or clean out your closets and drawers to donate unwanted items to charity.

Put positivity on display

One form of self-care can be as simple as not being so hard on yourself all the time. It sounds simple, but it can be a serious challenge at times. Visual reminders can help.

When in doubt, turn to this handy self-care printable, titled "Everything is Awful and I'm Not Okay." The checklist presents 16 questions for you to answer and serves as a helpful reminder to stay hydrated, shower, participate in physical activity, and be kind to yourself.

Keep a copy of the printout in your bag for comfort or hang it somewhere you know you'll see it. (Mashable HQ has one on the wall of the women's restroom.)

Affirmations are another great way to be kind to yourself and can serve as help. Glancing at inspirational quotes, uplifting doodles, or a few words of positivity can lift your spirits. The Mashable women's restroom also has a few on display. (Very good restroom.)

Don't be afraid to ask for help

Though the term self-care sounds like an isolated practice, it doesn't have to be.

If you're someone who struggles to commit to individual self-care routines, or simply takes enjoyment from the company of others, spending time with and opening up to a friend, loved one, therapist, or even reaching out to the 741741 Crisis Text Line could be extremely beneficial.

Just know that you're not alone in your stress and professionals are out there to help.

"Certainly, if possible, try to see a stressful situation as an opportunity to grow, and consider the power of reorienting how you confront a stressful situation when it arrives," Mazure said.

"Instead of thinking, 'Oh no, not again,' perhaps a good self-care perspective might be, 'I’ve seen stress before. I've got this.'"

If you want to talk to someone or are experiencing suicidal thoughts, text SOS to the Crisis Text Line at 741741 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Here is a list of international resources.

What is Secondary Traumatic Stress?

Working with ill and injured children and families can be professionally meaningful and satisfying. But providers treating patients with challenging medical conditions can sometimes feel drained, upset, or frustrated. This may be especially true during times of increased workloads or heightened personal stress.

Sometimes these very human responses get in the way of being optimally effective at work – contributing to tension or conflicts with patients’ families, or to stresses within the health care team.

A study by the Association of Professors of Medicine (2004) estimated the prevalence of burnout among physicians in the US at 22%. As part of a larger study on burnout in physicians, Deckard and colleagues (1994) found that 58% of the 59 pediatricians studied scored high on emotional exhaustion measures.

In responding to the pain and distress of children and families, the research suggests that the ability to identify, understand and manage one’s emotional reactions is paramount to preventing and/or managing secondary traumatic stress.

When working with children and families with complex and challenging illnesses or injuries, it is recommended that health care providers routinely use the following self care tips to prevent secondary stress:

  • Be aware of their own emotional reactions and distress when confronting others’ traumatic experiences, and know what traumatic material may trigger them.
  • Connect with others by talking about their reactions with trusted colleagues or others who will listen.
  • Maintain a balance between their professional and personal lives, with a focus on self-care (e.g., relaxation, exercise, stress management, etc.) to prevent, and lessen the effects of, workplace stress.

Self Care Tips to Prevent Secondary Stress

The key is for individual nurses to be able to identify their unique triggers and build a wide range of coping strategies that they can apply to particular situations... Compassion, often the ultimate gift of nurse to patient, must be nourished to be sustained. - Maytum, 2004

Each provider may have a different way of coping with work-related stresses. Here are practical strategies for preventing and reducing the effects of stress reactions:

Preventing Secondary Traumatic Stress: In your daily routine:

  • Eat sensibly and regularly every day
  • Get adequate sleep each night
  • Exercise regularly
  • Be aware of your stress level; take precautions against exceeding your own limits
  • Acknowledge your reactions to stressful circumstances; allow yourself time to cope with these emotions

Preventing Secondary Traumatic Stress: At work:

  • Try to diversify tasks at work, or vary your caseload, to the extent that you can
  • Take breaks during your workday
  • Take vacation days
  • Use relaxation techniques (e.g., deep breathing) as needed
  • Talk with colleagues about how your work affects you
  • Seek out, or establish, a professional support group
  • Recognize your personal limitations; set limits with patients and colleagues

Preventing Secondary Traumatic Stress: Outside of work:

  • Spend time with family and friends
  • Stay connected with others through community events, religious groups, etc.
  • Engage in pleasurable activities unrelated to work, especially those that allow for creative expression (writing, art, music, sports, etc.)
  • Be mindful of your own thoughts (especially cynicism) and feelings; seek out the positives in difficult situations
  • Engage in rejuvenating activities such as meditation, prayer, or relaxation to renew your energy
  • Seek therapy if your work is negatively impacting your self-esteem, quality of life or relationships

Preventing Secondary Traumatic Stress: RED FLAGS

Be on the alert for these immediate stress responses and/or long-term effects:

Physical Reactions

  • Fatigue
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Changes in appetite
  • Headaches
  • Upset stomach
  • Chronic muscle tension
  • Sexual dysfunction

Emotional Reactions

  • Feeling overwhelmed/ emotionally spent
  • Feeling helpless
  • Feeling inadequate
  • Sense of vulnerability
  • Increased mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Crying more easily or frequently
  • Suicidal or violent thoughts or urges

Behavioral Reactions

  • Isolation, withdrawal
  • Restlessness
  • Changes in alcohol or drug consumption
  • Changes in relationships with others, personally & professionally

Cognitive Reactions

  • Disbelief, sense of numbing
  • Replaying events in one’s mind over & over
  • Decreased concentration
  • Confusion or Impaired memory
  • Difficulty making decisions or problem-solving
  • Distressing dreams or fantasies

Self-Care Resources for Preventing Secondary Traumatic Stress

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics offers online resources for physician health and wellness
  • The International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies has a webpage addressing indirect trauma
  • The Texas Medical Association's Committee on Physician Health and Rehabilitation offers online and home study courses relevant to self-care

Click here to download a resource list of reading materials on provider stress (1 page PDF)

Self-Care During the Holidays

The holiday season can be a difficult and stressful time for many. That's why it's so important to stop and listen to your own needs, too. Here are some self-care ideas for December and beyond. #SeasonOfSelfCare

  • Take a walk outside
  • Write a love letter to yourself
  • Write about something you are grateful for in your life (it can be a person, place, or thing)
  • Create a happy playlist and a coping playlist
  • Treat yourself to a favorite snack
  • Watch your favorite movie
  • Forgive someone
  • Forgive yourself
  • Say thank you to someone who has helped you recently
  • Create a DIY self-care kit of things that make you feel better
  • Take your medication on time
  • Take a new fitness class at the gym (yoga, Zumba, etc.)
  • Plan a lunch date with someone you haven’t seen in a while
  • Pamper yourself with an at-home spa day
  • Take a day off from social media and the Internet
  • Reach out to your support system
  • Cuddle with your pets or a friend’s pet
  • Take the time to stop, stand and stretch for 2 minutes
  • Wake up a little earlier and enjoy your a morning cup of tea or coffee before the morning rush
  • Take a hot shower or bath
  • Take yourself out to dinner
  • Volunteer
  • Start that one project you’ve been contemplating for a while
  • Sit with your emotions, and allow yourself to feel and accept them. It’s okay to laugh, cry, just feel whatever you’re feeling with no apologies!
  • Cook a favorite meal from scratch
  • Take a 5-minute break in your day
  • Compliment someone (and yourself, too!)
  • Give yourself permission to say no
  • De-clutter your mind: write down 5 things that are bothering you, and then literally throw them away
  • Donate 3 pieces of clothing that you no longer wear
  • Take the time to find 5 beautiful things during your daily routine
  • Take a mental health day from school, work, etc.
  • Take a nap
  • Reach out to the Lifeline