“The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself.” – Michel de Montaigne.
Dedicating time to your self-care is not selfish; it is self-protective. It is a vital investment in your health and well-being. It enables you to better cope with life’s challenges, maintain physical and mental health, and lead a more fulfilling and balanced life. Prioritizing self-care is an act of self-respect and self-preservation that can have far-reaching positive effects on every aspect of your life.
In caring professions, the culture often emphasizes kindness and care to others rather than ourselves. The mental health pandemic has required so much from clinicians, educators, and health professionals. Taking care of yourself during this unprecedented time of need is critical. Solution-focused tools and techniques can help (Mache et al. 2016). Self-care involves intentionally doing things to improve and sustain your mental, physical, and emotional health. It may include taking time for regular exercise, engaging in meditation and breathing exercises, planning nutritious meals, scheduling regular health check-ups, prioritizing spending time with loved ones, setting boundaries, and being empathic toward yourself. Intentionally making decisions and taking action to achieve your goals is a form of self-care. Self-care can include advocating for your needs, including the need to set boundaries to protect your well-being, advocating for your rights in the workplace, prioritizing your needs, including sleep, balancing your own needs with the needs of others in relationships, and communicating these directly.
Cultivating Self-Care: Blossoming Into A Self-Determined Life
Imagine engaging in a conversation with yourself. Complete the following worksheet to better appreciate who you are and how to nurture your well-being and advocate for your needs in a self-respective and self-protective way in various aspects of your life.
- What do I most appreciate about myself? What else?
- What am I most proud of accomplishing in my efforts to care for my own needs? What else?
- What have I done this past year, month, week, and today that maintained or improved my well-being physically, mentally, and emotionally? What else have I done?
- What do I know have been the most helpful ways I have taken care of myself? What else do I know?
- Who would notice that I am taking care of myself? Who else would notice?
- What would they appreciate about me taking care of myself? What else?
- Is it different how well I cared for myself, or is this something I have always been able to do?
- Was it helpful for me when I took care of myself?
- How was it helpful for me? How else was it helpful for me?
- How did I decide to take action to care for myself? How else did I choose to take care of my own needs?
- Consider the following domains and scale how well you have been doing from 1-10 (10 being the best and one the opposite):
- How well have I nurtured myself with kind words, healthy activities, and meaningful relationships?
- How well have I been taking care of my physical health, including regular medical appointments, exercise I enjoy, and prioritizing rest and sleep?
- How satisfied am I with the boundaries I am setting for myself?
- How satisfied am I with the quality of my relationships?
- How satisfied am I with giving myself space for creative outlets that are generative for me?
- Suppose I asked people who I know care about me; how well would they say I can take care of myself from 1-10?
- Is their number higher, lower, or the same? What accounts for their number?
Ask yourself each of the above questions: Working the Scale
- What is a “good enough number”?
- What keeps the number from being lower? What else?
- What is one thing I could do to raise my number by one point?
- How confident am I from 1-10 that I will take one small step to increase my number by one point?
- What keeps my number from being lower? What else?
- Is it a good enough number in terms of confidence?
Self-compassion involves treating yourself with the same kindness, concern, and support you would show to a good friend. It is the desire to alleviate suffering within yourself with gentleness, care, and empathy. In caring professions, the culture often emphasizes kindness to others rather than ourselves. By embracing yourself with compassion and empathy, you surround yourself with acceptance instead of criticalness. Instead of comparing yourself with others, self-compassion allows you to simply care.
Greater self-compassion has been linked to less anxiety and depression, improved mental health, enhanced relationships with others, positive coping, the capacity to frame your situation within the larger human perspective, the ability to seek and accept social support, and improved overall well-being (MacBeth & Gumley, 2012; Neff & Dahm, 2015). How can you nurture self-compassion? How can you approach uncomfortable and painful feelings with kindness and a sense of shared humanity? How can you learn to affirm your emotions, appreciate what you have already done to cope, and harness the passion of your feelings, whether comfortable or uncomfortable, to empower you to thrive?
Practice Exercise: Solution-Focused Reflections on the Three Components of Self-Compassion
Drawing on the writings of Buddhist teachers, Neff (2003) has described self-compassion as consisting of three main elements: Kindness, Common Humanity, and Mindfulness.
- What does self-kindness mean to you? What have you done and said to yourself that is kind and nurturing? Who would notice when you are being kind to yourself? What would they notice you doing? What else would they notice you doing? Supposing you were writing a letter to a close friend in distress, what do you know would be kind actions and words to appreciate how they are doing the best they can given their situation?
- What does a common humanity mean to you? What do you most appreciate about our shared human experiences? What have you noticed you do when you recognize your common shared humanity with others? What else have you done? Consider how we are all imperfect and experience setbacks, mistakes, pain, grief, fear, love, loneliness, connection, and joy. What are common human experiences that you share with others? What else?
- What does mindfulness mean to you? What do you know has helped you remain open to the present moment without judgment? How have you been able to approach uncomfortable thoughts and emotions with acceptance and self-compassion? How else?
Solution-Focused 10-Minute Time
Reflect on a time when you experienced a situation that felt like it was barely tolerable for you. It can be helpful to remind yourself that emotions are temporary and that change is the only constant in life. Shrinking the time increments of coping strategies to brief moments can help make things more bearable for you. Sometimes, tolerable or bearable is good enough. For many people, 10 minutes is a tolerable time frame. For others, it may be 30 minutes or 5 minutes.
What do you know is a time frame that is tolerable for you when reflecting on difficult and uncomfortable situations that you have experienced? Ask yourself the following questions.
PAST 10-minute time:
“For Me” statements are a way to provide empathy for yourself. They are not selfish; rather, they are much-needed ways to be compassionate with yourself. Start by writing down some “for me” statements when considering your challenging situation. For example, it was very stressful and worrying for me to see my partner struggle with his health condition. It was scary for me not to know what would happen after getting an abnormal mammogram. It was frustrating for me to work so hard and not get the help I needed from my family.
PAST 10-minute time:
- What do you know helped make things even a little more tolerable or bearable for you in the past 10 minutes? What else?
- What were you doing that helped make things a little more bearable for you? What else were you doing?
- Who would notice when things are more bearable for you?
- What would they notice you doing when things are even more tolerable for you? What else would they notice you doing?
FUTURE 10-minute time:
- What do you know you need to make things even a little bit more tolerable or bearable for you in the next 10 minutes? What else?
- What would you be doing in the next 10 minutes that would make things even a little bit more tolerable for you? What else would you be doing?
- Who would notice when things are more bearable for you?
- What would they notice you doing when things are slightly more tolerable for you? What else would they notice you doing?
SCALING your confidence
- Supposing ten is you are very confident that you can do something to address your needs that would make things even a little bit more tolerable, and one is the opposite; where would you say you are now?
- What would be a good enough number?
- What have you been doing that keeps the number from being lower? What else?
- What would you be doing when the number goes up by one point? What else would you be doing?
Neff, K. D., & Dahm, K. A. (2015). Self-compassion: What it is, what it does, and how it relates to mindfulness. Handbook of mindfulness and self-regulation, 121-137.
Neff, K. (2003). Self-compassion: An alternative conceptualization of a healthy attitude toward oneself. Self and identity, 2(2), 85-101.
Mache, S., Bernburg, M., Baresi, L., & Groneberg, D. A. (2016). Evaluation of self-care skills training and solution-focused counseling for health professionals in psychiatric medicine: a pilot study. International Journal of Psychiatry in Clinical Practice, 20(4), 239-244.