What is self-care? Self-care is any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health.Raphailia Michael
On a cold winter’s day, we bundle up. We put on our winter coat and boots, a scarf, toque, and gloves. Our child may be bundled up in a snowsuit or in snow pants alongside the scarf, toque, and gloves. We do this to protect ourselves and our children from the elements and because it’s good self-care.
Similarly, when we’re ill, we’ll go to our doctor to determine the cause. We’ll listen to our doctor’s advice and follow it. If that advice includes the prescribing of medication, we’ll take that medication in the expectation that it’ll make us feel better. That’s good self-care.
Self-care for mental health, however, seems to operate under different rules. On social media sites, it’s not uncommon for people to be shamed for taking medication for their mental health. Often, medication is the difference between life and death. I’ve never understood why anyone would object to a medication being used to keep oneself alive.
Nonetheless, self-care is a critical component of better mental health which may include the taking of prescribed medications, or it may not. That is a decision best left to the individual and his or her treating physician.
Self-Care and Mental Health
The concept of self-care, though, is itself questioned often being equated with selfishness and laziness. Recently, I received an email from a friend that read in part:
“We have discussed before how mental health is “all about me”, not me specifically but about attention to self. Although this is good it also leads to self-absorption.anonymous
Let me say that I agree that caring for one’s mental health involves “attention to self”. An awareness of your triggers, of your mood patterns, and more can help you to better manage your illness. And mental illness is just that, an illness.
But I disagree with the assertion that it’s “all about me”. I can’t explain why, but this phrase seems off to me. It contains within it the stigma that self-care is selfish and this I don’t accept.
Many illnesses require bed rest to promote recovery. They may include regulated exercises. They typically include admonishments not to overdo things. For most illnesses, this is acceptable. But when it comes to mental illness, the words selfish and lazy grow in volume.
I also disagree with the assertion that self-care leads to “self-absorption”. I refer you back to the quote that opens this article. The words “in order to take care of” are the key. To me, these words invoke a scheme of self-betterment, of recovery. Looked at this way, self-care is thus self-limiting, only involving activities that promote the “taking care of” your illness.
How Do I Better my Mental Health?
My Self-Care Plan
My Self-Care Plan is my version of a crisis plan. I don’t call mine a crisis plan because I think a self-care plan should be thought of as usable year-round, not just in a time of crisis. By using it regularly, you turn self-care into a habit.
My Plan begins with simple tasks like relaxing and breathing and escalates to a trip to the hospital. It does this through a series of steps designed to reflect and manage the severity of a worsening mood.
It doesn’t, and can’t, prevent elements of a mental illness from happening. For me, this means I still experience the cycles of Bipolar II Disorder, depressive episodes and hypomanic cycles. Nonetheless, I do know this: my Self-Care Plan works alongside my medications to help me manage and cope with my changing moods.
Within my Self-Care Plan is a step that tells me to turn to my CALMtainer. What is a CALMtainer? Essentially, it’s my version of a wellness toolbox, a container within which you place objects that elicit calm. It does this by using distractions that engage with as many of the senses as possible.
My CALMtainer includes photographs of my son as a baby. It includes my discharge papers after my suicide attempt. All this and so much more.
When I look at the photographs of my son, my senses of touch and sight are engaged. My mind shifts to his childhood, the privilege it was to watch him grow. My discharge papers cause my mind to shift to September 2014. I remember where I was that fateful month and my desire not to return there fuels my recovery.
Both elicit calm in very different ways. The same holds true of the rest of the objects in the CALMtainer. You get the idea.
A more detailed explanation of my CALMtainer will follow in a separate post.
My Portable CALMtainer
There is one element of my CALMtainer that is an issue: it isn’t readily portable. It’s not something you can always have with you. For this reason, I transformed my smartphone into a Portable CALMtainer.
My smartphone is always with me, and there are thousands of wellness apps, some more capable than others, some more expensive than others. On my phone, I’ve added a home screen devoted solely to the wellness apps I use, the mental health apps that appeal to me. They include a variety of meditation apps, mood trackers, journaling apps, suicide prevention apps and more.
So, when I’m on the road and I feel the need to distract and calm myself, I have these virtual tools to turn to.
A more comprehensive post about my Portable CALMtainer will be published subsequently.
Self-care is a necessary part of everyone’s mental health regime. I’ll go beyond that, it’s a necessary part of everyone’s whole health regime. In my case, I’ve created tools that I use to promote my continued good health. They’re not perfect, but they work for me.
Self-care isn’t selfish, it isn’t being lazy and it isn’t about self-absorption. It’s recognizing that in order to heal, you must actively take steps to further that goal. In some cases, this self-care may necessitate medications. It does for me.
But it can also include other tools, tools like a Self-Care Plan, a CALMtainer or a Portable CALMtainer. What matters is that you recognize that your health matters and that you take action to better it.
Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay