Wednesday, 17 June 2020

What is self-care?

Blog written by Frances Kinloch. Photo by Hassan OUAJBIR from Pexels
Self-care includes any intentional actions you take care of all aspects of your wellness. Wellness typically encompasses at least seven different dimensions, including academic, social/cultural, environmental, mental, physical, spiritual and financial.
I’ve also heard self-care described as “care provided ‘for you, by you’.

It’s about identifying your own needs and taking steps towards meeting them.

For example, you may find that going for a hike helps you stay physically and mentally well. Reaching out to a friend or family member could be an example of taking action to nurture your social wellness. While there is an infinite number of self-care strategies to help with each area of wellness, it’s always personal and subjective. A strategy that works for one person may not have the same impact on another person.

“True self-care is not salt baths and chocolate cake, it is making the choice to build a life you don’t need to regularly escape from. And that often takes doing the thing you least want to do.” -Brianna Wiest

Why is it important to practice self-care as a student?

For the past few weeks the Counselling Services workshops have been guiding everyone through ideas about coping and emotional processing of our situations during Covid-19.

Coping skills work in conjunction with emotional processing and self-care skills.

When we feel threats, stress, fear the executive part of brains can shut down and get stuck in the emotional part where we make rash decisions. Coping skills help us calm down to help us come back into our thinking brain in order to behave well and make good decisions.

Self-care skills can help you to nourish your wellbeing and manage stress before you are in the stressful moment and when you need those healthy coping skills.

When you fly on a plane, the flight attendant always cautions you to put the oxygen mask first on yourself before you worry about others in case of an emergency. Self-care works the same way in your academic life. By participating in self-care, you allow yourself to breathe and engage with the world in a more meaningful and healthy way.

Studies have shown that practicing self-care can increase the capacity for empathy, improve your immune function and lower levels of anxiety (Williams-Nickelson, 2006; Schure, Chistopher & Christopher, 2008). There is evidence even suggesting that by practicing self-care, you can enhance your self-esteem (Faunce, 1990). And specifically important for students, studies are showing less fatigue and burnout for students and professionals who practice good self-care routines (Jennings, 2009; Gold, Johnson, Leydon, Rohrbaugh, & Wilkins, 2015).

So how do I start? It’s so hard for me to find time for myself?

Guess what?! Congratulations! The very choice to read this post is an act of self care! You are choosing to find ways to improve your health and wellbeing. This a great start!

But don’t worry if you don’t know where to start - many of us do not know or fall out of touch with what nourishes us. Part of the process is to become more aware of your personal needs and how to schedule them into your week.

A great place to start is by examining our personal strengths and weaknesses and getting curious about our self.

●    What makes you feel nourished and re-energized?
●    What stresses you out?
●    When do you feel drained?
●    After doing what?
●    What makes you anxious?
●    What are you comfortable with?
●    What is something that YOU enjoy?

We’ve shared a link to a self-care assessment from Saakvitne & Pearlman (1996) along with a barriers scale that we have put together in a Self-Care discovery tool kit in this blog.

It is a subjective process that takes about 15mins and we invite you to take some time today to look into your strengths and weaknesses. Pay attention to the patterns of behaviour and bring awareness to areas that you feel would bring you the most wellness by getting in balance.

Self Care Wheel

This tool is an empowering, affirming aid to manage stress and increase wellness. I have a copy pinned above my desk and use it as a menu.

This is a helpful tool when I’m starting to feel low and can look up to get inspiration for an activity.  The most important part of making a self-care plan is to find out what is right and wrong for you. This is a very subjective process. What you like doing will not be a fit for others.

●    Make a list. What are some examples of activities you are already doing?

One aspect of self-care is doing the things that help us even though they are not our favourite activities.

●    Make another list. What are some examples of one or two things or areas in your life you could improve?

●    Do you have any routines or rituals you like to perform that help you feel centred?

It is great to have a few activities you can practice spontaneously but your self-care plan should also have a few more scheduled routines or rituals within it. Like Pavlov’s dog our brains like to see routine in order to trigger reflexes. A nighttime routine can help people who have trouble sleeping for instance.

Here is an example of a simple self-care plan:

●    Morning ritual (same tea, large glass of water, floss teeth, make bed, text a friend thoughtful gratitude, eat egg on toast)
●    Take the dog for a walk around lunch to get some fresh air, exercise and connect with my pet and get away from my screen for a chunk of time in the middle of the day.
●    Go to bed at the same time and get 8 hours sleep
●    Weekly online groceries shop and banking - time savers! This ensures weekly supplies are in the house for the morning ritual and sustenance breaks between studying.
●    Reply to emails within 24hrs so admin doesn’t get on top of me
●    Spend time in nature with a longer weekend walk or hike
●    Weekly: Connect with at least 1 friend or family member for some sharing and conversation
●    Ask peers or professor for clarification on assignments early

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