By Anthony Naguiat, LMHC
Part 1 of this two-part blog series on self-care identified some basic ideas of what self-care is, and the importance of taking care of ourselves. Being in a healthy place physically, mentally, and emotionally in our own lives helps us to do things to the best of our abilities and avoid burnout. Also, consistent and appropriate self-care helps prepare us better to be available to others when needed. In this blog, I’ll identify some of the barriers to self-care, discuss some ways to overcome these barriers, then explore various ways to incorporate self-care. The examples below are not all-inclusive, and I’m sure you all have great ideas when it comes to self care as well (feel free to leave comments with your ideas!).
What are some barriers to self-care?
Many times our greatest barrier is ourselves, and the language that we employ. I’m not trying to ignore the fact that many of us lead very busy lives, or saying that it is always possible to take care of ourselves as we would like.
There are other very real barriers to self-care, such as financial, physical (illness/disability), lack of supports/resources, etc.
However, when I mentioned that language we use can be a barrier, think about this. There have been moments where we definitely have the time, or can make the time, yet find ourselves saying or thinking something like:
- I would, but I just don’t ever have the time!
- I’ll get to it… (later, tomorrow, next week, after the holidays, when things slow down, etc.).
- School/Work/Household responsibilities just keep me too busy!
- It would be selfish of me to take time for myself when I have… (family, a spouse, children, work tasks, favors to others, etc.) to take care of!
- Having to take time for myself will make others think that I… (don’t have things together, am weak, am incapable of handling pressure, etc.).
Again, I realize there may be many times when these can be true, but it’s good to be aware of when we are being realistic, or when we may be making excuses.
How can I overcome some of these barriers?
Set reasonable expectations for yourself: Make sure that you are realistic with the amount of activities you have planned. Also, be mindful that you are not cramming your self-care time between other tasks or responsibilities just to “make it fit” if you can avoid doing so. Self-care time is time best set aside just for you, and is not meant to add to your daily stress. Make sure it is something you enjoy as well. Trying to force yourself to do something you dislike, or have little interest in, can derail a self-care routine rather quickly.
Remind yourself of the positive benefits of self-care: Much like anything that is good for us, some days are better than others in terms of being consistent. You may have some days when it seems you are on top of your game, not letting anything get in the way of “you time.” Other days, much like going to work or school, it is not so easy. Remind yourself of how good it feels after you complete your favorite activities. Notice any of the positive changes you have noticed emotionally, mentally, or perhaps even physically.
Stay consistent as much as possible: Sure, emergencies come up in our lives, we become busy with other responsibilities, or fall ill. Whenever possible, set aside regular times within your week for your activities. This way you know what to expect, and have something to look forward to. If this is not possible, maybe due to varying work or school schedules, aim for a reasonable number of times during the week to engage in your activities.
What can I do for self-care?
Physical Self-Care: There are many ways to take care of yourself physically. Eating a healthy and balanced diet is a great way to improve physical health on a daily basis. Getting enough sleep is another thing that can help daily.
- In regards to activities, consider exercise as an important tool in physical self-care. Start small, and avoid pushing yourself too far past your physical limits.
- Try to make it an activity you enjoy, or have interest in. What do you like? Maybe you like walking, jogging, running, swimming, biking, dancing, or something similar. Perhaps you enjoy martial arts. Many people love going to the gym and taking classes like spinning, yoga, Zumba, etc. Others do things like gardening.
Whatever gets you moving, give it a shot!
Emotional/Mental Self-Care: What do you think sabotages our ability to be emotionally and mentally healthy? One huge factor is negativity, in our thinking, in our environments, etc. Often this can lead to depression, anger, anxiety, and stress, among other concerns. Therefore, let’s discuss a few ways we can try to combat the influence of these negative factors.
- Be kind to yourself. Think about how often we pay others compliments or say kind things to them, yet beat ourselves up relentlessly with our thoughts and words. You know, those times where we say things like “I’m not good enough,” “I can’t believe I did that…I’m so stupid,” or “I’m a horrible person.” The saying “We are our own worst enemies” certainly rings true at times. Surely we make mistakes, or don’t always reach what we aspire to be, or do. That does automatically make us incompetent, “a horrible person,” or the “worst” anything. It makes us human. So give yourself credit when it is due and be mindful when you may be putting yourself down.
- Recognize the positives in your life and day. We all have bad days. There can be legitimate reasons for this, such as getting into an argument with a loved one, getting into a car accident, losing your job, chronic illness, etc. But every day is not filled with crisis or tragedy. It may feel like it some days, but usually it is because we are focused on the negative side of things. Try starting your day by noticing something positive…maybe it’s that you woke up to begin with. Verbalizing something like “It’s gonna be a great day” might also help. Recognize things throughout the day that went well, or better than expected, as small as they may seem. Even when things do not go as planned, if you recognize things that had gone well, it’s hard to say that the day was completely bad. Sometimes thinking about these successes and positive events can improve our outlook for the rest of the day, even if it really had started out badly.
- Learn when to say “No.” When I say this, I mean recognizing the importance of being able to assert yourself when it benefits your well-being. How many times have you personally agreed to do something, even when time, finances, or your own personal energy levels do not realistically allow for this? How did you feel afterward? I’d venture a guess and say you may not have been happy, felt “taken advantage of,” or felt even more stressed? Saying no, or standing up for something, when it negatively impacts you, is not being selfish. Of course, there are ways to do this appropriately without being “aggressive.” Consider speaking to a Mental Health professional who can provide guidance on assertiveness communication skills.
- Seek support from others. An important part of improving emotional and mental well-being can revolve around speaking to others. Sure, some are not comfortable with opening up to others, whether it is a natural trait of keeping to themselves, lacking natural support systems, or possibly due to bad experiences when seeking support from others in the past. It can be difficult to want to share with others when we are stressed, anxious, depressed, upset, or suffering. However, internalizing everything can magnify those feelings even greater. Even the most resilient of people need a release, or another perspective. Think about the people you consider to be caring, good listeners, trustworthy, and objective that you may be able to seek out when you need support. You may also consider seeking professional help from a Mental Health professionals who have training in various areas and specialties.
I hope that this post, as well as the previous blog post, have given you some insight into what self-care is, and how to begin increasing its positive impact in your life. All the best as you start to determine the best ways that you can begin taking care of yourself and your needs.
Anthony Naguiat, LMHC
**Blog postings are not intended to be a substitute for professional counseling services. If you felt that the information in this post is something you would like to explore further in-person in a therapeutic setting, please use the contact me link for a free consultation to discuss your needs, or to set up a future session**