What is self-care?


By David Joel Miller.

Do you take care of yourself?

In recovery and resilience literature we talk a lot about self-care, how you do it, what you do and most importantly why it is important. In a previous blog post, we talked about the connection between PTSD and sleep. There is a lot more to self-care than just lying in bed enough hours or eating the right food. Let’s look at some of the areas of self-care that are important for mental and emotional health.

For people in recovery from substance abuse or from mental illness, sometimes from both, self-care is of vital importance. We talk about it but rarely get specific about just what that means. Recovering people often make excuses for a lack of self-care. Good self-care does not have to be expensive. I wrote in a previous post about ways to find help and counseling if you have little income and no health insurance. But let’s be honest here. I see people who have money for their addiction, money for their hobbies or entertainment but say they have no money for self-care. Make self-care a priority. It is extremely important for your recovery.

Keeping your life in balance is the first rule of self-care. An excess of emphasis in any one area is likely to throw your emotional balance and your recovery off. Too much nicotine is a problem. Emotional problems can result in a sharp increase in smoking. I think any smoking is too much, but if you have not yet reached the point of quitting, monitor your consumption and keep it to a minimum.

Physical health.

Your insides are important. Make time to see a doctor and address your physical health concerns.  Sometimes things we worry about turn out to be unimportant. I have never seen a serious illness that got better without treatment. Putting off finding out if you have a disease or condition does not prevent it. Not treating an illness allows it to become more serious.

Physical health is also about having your vision and hearing checked. Children who need glasses and don’t get them are at high risk to fall behind in school and not achieve their full potential. Adults who can’t see or hear don’t succeed as well at jobs or life.

Besides wearing glasses makes you look smarter and cooler!

Outward appearance.

One way recovering people can judge their progress is by their appearance. When you are depressed fixing yourself up does not matter. It may even require more effort than you can muster. A lack of attention to your appearance is an indicator of your low mental state; it can also affect that state. Spending more time on grooming and shopping for new clothes can also make you feel better about yourself.

Nutrition.

Poor nutrition can make your mental condition worse. There is lots of material out there on the internet and in books about diet. Spending some time reading about better health and working to improve that health can improve your outlook on life. Don’t neglect the most vital of all nutrients. Lack of adequate water can make you fuzzy headed. A large number of people think they are hungry when in fact they are thirsty. This leads to weight gain and poor mental health. Diet experts suggest drinking a glass of water and then waiting a few minutes to see if your hunger goes away on its own.

Exercise.

Taking care of your body is more than just maintaining your weight. As we age the percentage of the body that is fat increases and the muscle mass declines. Even if you diet and don’t gain weight, you are becoming less fit. Make sure you get enough physical exercise to keep your muscles working. Feeling healthy will improve your mood.

If you are in early recovery, don’t overdo the exercise either, you can’t undo a long period of neglect by running a marathon on the first day. The key with exercise as with all other recovery activities is to keep your life in balance and build up to doing more gradually. Do a little each day and slowly increase the amount and intensity of exercise.

Improvements in mood and self-esteem come from the trying and appear long before any changes in the body become noticeable.

Time off –vacations and pleasure.

Make sure you plan for some enjoyable events in your life. People in early recovery often try to make up for lost time by working several jobs, going back to school and paying off old debts. If recovery becomes unpleasant it will be harder to sustain. Remember that your illness also has resulted in a deficit of fun and enjoyment. Recovery should be an adventure. Anything that is enjoyable is more likely to be maintained.

Reward yourself.

One way we humans show our affection to others is to give them gifts. Most of us forget to love ourselves as if taking good care of us is not important. Some people were taught that doing nice things for yourself was selfish. Good self-care is not selfish.

Taking good care of yourself is important. One way you can do that is to reward yourself with positive gifts. The key here is to keep your life in balance. A new piece of clothing is one thing a whole new wardrobe is something else. In disciplining children we find that all punishment means the level of punishment needs to keep increasing. All rewards result in ever more reward until it becomes bribery. Discipline yourself in the same way. Give yourself small rewards for things well done and small consequences for things that you could do better. Remember also that harsh parenting can result in abused children. Don’t abuse yourself.

Mental Health.

Recovery is about staying mentally healthy. Sort out your thoughts. Avoid unhealthy thoughts, ruminations, and self-doubt. Whatever you did to begin your recovery, counseling, self-help groups or religious practice, keep doing the things that started you on the recovery road.

Encouragement – self-affirmation.

Being told that you are worthwhile and that what you are doing is good and appreciated is important for self-esteem and self-efficacy. Some of us didn’t get much praise when we were young. If there is no one in your life who tells you they value you it is hard to feel good about yourself.

Give yourself the affirmation you deserve. If you don’t think you deserve it work on improving yourself and work with a professional on these issues.

Some people find it helpful to make up a list of the positive things about themselves. Get help on making this list if you can. Post the list in a prominent place and read it early each day.

Take time for yourself.

Make time for yourself. You are worth it. We all have responsibilities but self-care is also a responsibility. Family members come to me about how to help their loved one who is in some form of recovery. One of the first questions I ask them is what they are doing to care for themselves.

You can’t help others if you are neglecting yourself. Make self-care a priority not a second thought.

Avoiding excess of nicotine – food – soda and caffeine.

It is easy to trade one addiction for another. Problems often occupy a central place in our lives. What would you do if your problem were suddenly solved? Would you find another issue to take its place? Replace problems with positive activities, not new problems.

Finances and savings.

Getting your finances in order is a part of self-care.  How can you be happy if you are stressed by money problems? Get professional help here if you need to. Read about money management.

The difference between the richest half of all Americans and the poorest half is having even a few dollars in a savings account.

Make paying off credit cards and old bills a priority. Getting out of debt can take a lot of worries off your plate.

There is a lot of emotional pain around financial losses. Loosing a job or a home in foreclosure is often heartbreaking. Financial events may force drastic changes in your life. We all resist changes. Sometimes change is also an opportunity. Resolve to be happy with or without money but do your best to get your financial life in recovery also.

Quality relationships.

People who have good quality relationships with other people are more successful in recovery than those who don’t. Nurture the positive relationships. Spend time with family members who are positive. Make new friends. Get a sponsor in recovery.

Just be careful not to be so needy that you let unhealthy people back into your life. Part of self-care is avoiding people who are bad for your recovery and increasing contact with people who help build your recovery.

Make good self-care a priority.

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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books

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