Learning How to Incorporate Self Care in Your Life
Everyone is talking about self care, but what is it really? Well as mental health has become a less taboo topic in many communities, so has the idea that taking care of yourself can be your number one priority.
You’re probably thinking, “What?? I’m allowed to put myself first?!?” YES!
Self care is not equivalent to being selfish. I repeat, self care is NOT selfish. It is simply the term used to describe the fact that if you are in a healthy state both physically, mentally, and spiritually, then you are better able to show up in the many roles you may play in your life. Whether you are a student, employee, entrepreneur, mother, wife, caregiver, etc., prioritizing taking care of YOU means you are putting your best foot forward in all these areas. Ultimately you are serving those relationships better.
“So how do I do this ‘self care’ you speak of??”
Well let me tell you, it is simpler than you think. Self care lives on a spectrum from merely meeting your basic needs to full on pampering yourself. It can be free or very expensive, but that is up to you. It is all about partaking in activities and being intentional about doing things that make you feel good.
“Where do I sign up!?”
Hold on. Before you start booking massage appointments and buying face masks, you need to identify what is it you really need. Pause and get in tune with your body. What are the things that would make your soul smile? Taking the time to really get a grip on your needs allows you to be more intentional about your self care.
Maybe you have been feeling really low, and been having a hard time even getting out of bed. Maybe your self care is just opening a window or taking a long shower. Maybe you have been pulling non-stop overtime at your job and what you really need is a vacation day or two. Maybe you are a new mom who hasn’t gotten a good nights sleep in ages and calling a family member over to watch the little one while you nap is what you really need. This is ALL self care!
“Wow. I didn’t even realize it was that deep.”
Yeah. Taking the time to prioritize yourself and shift your mindset can almost be more work than actually doing the things that make you feel your best, but once you figure this all out the relief it brings is so worth it. Consider getting some help along this process by finding a therapist that fits your needs and can collaborate with you on creating a unique plan for taking care of yourself. Having someone to talk to in and of itself can be just the self care you needed.
Has nervousness and anxiety crept up on you after a recent engagement? Whether you were recently proposed to or hoping to take your relationship to the next level, here’s some ways to manage the anxiety that often follows…
There are a lot of big moments in your life, and getting proposed to is arguably in the top 5. The society we live in has created a billion dollar business off of couples committing themselves to one another. You may be knees deep in bridal magazines, color swatches, Instagram feeds of brides and grooms and venues…oh my! And although everyone may ask you, “How did they propose??”, very few may ask, “How are you feeling about getting married?”
Cue the engagement anxiety.
Everyone expects you to be smiling from ear to ear for the next year or two as you plan the “biggest day of your life”, but you may feel as if nothing but stress and worry and doubt are flooding over you. Some brides-to-be (or Grooms-to-be) may start finding small things to nit-pick about their partner…”His teeth aren’t white enough.”, “Her toes are strange”, “They don’t understand me!” Things you didn’t even notice before become these huge question marks looming over your relationship.
Where does this anxiety come from? Is it normal? And what do you do about it?? Here’s 5 steps to resolving your engagement anxiety…
1. Be Aware That You Are Not Alone
Engaged women all over the world are panicking at this very moment about whether they should get married or not…they just aren’t telling anyone (other than their therapist). So you are not alone. You are allowed to have some anxiety about a new life transition and how your role in your relationship might change as a fiancé or spouse. There is no other time in life when you make a commitment to stay with one thing/person, literally forever…even kids leave the nest after 18 years. If there was a list of “legitimate reasons to be anxious”, this would definitely be on that list.
2. Recognize What Role Anxiety has Played in Your Life
Step 2 is to realize that anxiousness is present for different people at different times. Some people have dealt with crippling anxiety their entire lives, and are not surprised when this anxiety shows up in the middle of the proposal. Others have never felt anxious at all, so anxiety about their engagement feels extremely scary and completely new. Recognizing other times you have felt anxious allows you to recognize what skills you used to calm yourself down, and also allows you to recognize what may have been a trigger for this bout of anxiety. These questions you ask yourself may very likely be questions you also hear in a therapy session with your counselor.
3. Do Some #SimpleSelfCare
When people hear “Self Care” they often think of a day at the spa or a vacation, but the key to good self care is consistency and small doses. Doing something as simple as buying your favorite coffee creamer to put in your instant coffee in the morning, or setting your alarm 10 minutes early so you can cuddle with your partner in the morning before you start your busy days. Those are the most effective ways to take care of yourself…what I call #SimpleSelfCare. Doing these little things will help reduce your level of anxiety and remind you that you are in control of how you feel. Being mindful of your breathing is another small adjustment that can have a big impact.
Some practice…breathe in (hold it)…1…2…3…4…5…breathe out. *Repeat until anxiety has subsided*
4. Communicate with Your Fiancé
Let’s be honest all this engagement anxiety is your partner’s fault. They just had to divulge their undying love for you in the form of a proposal. But really, if your anxiety is truly wrapped up in the engagement it is very important to talk with your partner about how you are feeling. Chances are they may already have noticed a shift in your demeanor or behaviors due to the anxiety. Discuss with them what is triggering to your anxiety and give suggestions on how they can help make you feel more comfortable. Whether that means them rubbing your back if you have a small panic attack or them chiming in when another person asks, “Have you set a date??” (*Side Note* that is honestly the most annoying question). Cluing your partner in to how you are feeling is a skill that is important now, and will be important for the rest of your relationship, so might as well get in some practice.
5. Go to Premarital Counseling
Last, but definitely not least…go to premarital counseling! I know that I am biased because as a therapist I recommend therapy for any and all things, BUT this is one of the most ideal times in a relationship to go through couples therapy (it’s also one of therapists’ favorite stages to see a couple in). Premarital counseling is ideal because (hopefully) there aren’t any real problems in the relationship yet. This is the stage that you can really take a look at your partner and say I want to love this person unconditionally, and I’ll take whatever tools necessary to make that happen. When couples come into therapy 4, 7, or 10+ years into a marriage with a laundry list of reasons they want out, therapists often spend most of their time trying to get couples back to this place of wanting to try their hardest. Go now, so you can talk about all those little concerns and start building your tool box of skills that help you communicate with and love on your partner in all the best ways!
Worried Wells to Severe Mental Illness. What is “mental health”? What does it look like? Is it a permanent diagnosis or is it an ever changing state of mind?
The answer is…it depends. I will admit this answer was something I heard a lot as I studied for years to become a therapist. That is the nature of the work however. Mental health is just as important as physical health, but it is not treatable in the same ways. “Mental health” is on a spectrum. Some individuals go to therapy to discuss small issues that come up on a day-to-day basis. While others go to therapy to manage chronic on-going mental illness. Mental illness is a diagnosable, physiological illness that manifests itself in psychological ways, such as clinical depression, bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, autism spectrum disorders, and many other diagnosis that are manageable with the correct assistance from a professional.
Example time. If you have a common cold, you will most likely be taking the same medicine as someone else who has a cold. And you both will most likely get better in approximately the same amount of time. Now if you are depressed, you may not be utilizing the same treatment as someone else who is depressed. Because each person’s mind thinks differently, handles stress differently, and responds differently to external stimuli. Therapists have the unique job of taking the time to figure out the right treatment for your mind specifically. Therapy is completely individualized.
There are various ways to approach mental health issues including : self care, talk therapy in an outpatient environment, medication management with a psychiatrist or primary care physician, inpatient care at a rehabilitation center or hospital setting, as well as multiple holistic approaches to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Self care can be a simple solution to managing stress and minor mental health concerns on a day-to-day basis. This often emphasizes the holistic approach to maintaining a healthy mental state. A change to your diet, regular exercise, incorporating self care activities, and socializing with trusted family/friends can all help maintain a lifestyle that encourages a healthy mental state. However, for many managing all these aspects of your life can become overwhelming or maybe you have never felt quite balanced in all of these areas of your life.
Seeing a mental health professional in an outpatient environment (such as a private practice setting or local mental health clinic) can help assist you in getting on the right track in all these areas. Mental health professionals include Marriage & Family Therapists, Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors, and Clinical Psychologists. Seeking out one of these professionals allows you to dedicate an allotted amount of time to talking through the aspects of life that are causing stress, anxiety, sadness, anger, and a plethora of other emotions. Exploring with a therapist where these emotions stem from, how they are affecting you, and solutions to managing these feelings better can greatly improve your mental health. You may see a therapist for a few months or a few years, but the ultimate goal is to get you to a place where you can manage on your own with self care techniques and greater knowledge of your emotions. A mental health professional can also help you discover if a mental illness is what is encroaching on your ability to cope with your life.
When managing a true mental illness, you want to seek out a Psychiatrist, Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, or your Primary Care Physician to consult with your therapist about the possible inclusion of medication in your mental health treatment. These individuals play a vital role in order to coordinate with your team of mental health professionals. This team works with you to find out what methods of treatment will work best for you as an individual. No two mental illnesses look the same or are managed the same way. Whether it is various dosage levels of medication or frequency of therapy appointments, each individual managing a mental illness will have a unique treatment plan. This team will most likely assist you over an extended period of time and teach you how to reach out for additional help when needed, as a mental illness is often chronic and needs to be managed over your life. Remember though that you are the coach of this team, informing your providers of what feels right, what works best, and describing the experience you are having with all aspects of the treatment.
Inpatient care is what mental health professionals often refer to as “the highest level of care”. Some of the autonomy of the individual is lost at this level because it often dwindles down to the safety of the individual and those around them. The treatment is often decided for the individual by a team of professionals trying to diminish the client’s symptoms and protect them from any harm. For some clients this process begins with a threat of harm to themselves or another identifiable person. Police often become a partner in this treatment process, as they are often the first responders when someone calls for assistance during a suicidal or homicidal threat. They are also usually the ones who admit a client to a hospital for psychiatric treatment. Hospital staff at that point become that individual’s treatment team. This is considered a short term treatment option. The goal is to stabilize certain symptoms and identify a “lower level of care” that can help the individual learn how to cope with their symptoms regularly and prevent emergency situations.
This spectrum of mental health is what makes finding the right fit with a therapist so important. Depending on the challenges you face, your background, the level of care needed, and many other factors one mental health professional may be more helpful than another. You walk on a unique mental health path, and must choose the right team to walk alongside you. Where are you on your mental health journey, and how can therapy be of assistance to you?
If you are in a crisis or emergency situation please contact the Access & Crisis Line at 1-888-724-7240 or call 9-1-1.
I recently experienced what so many of my clients come into session concerned about…physical aches and pains.
I woke up one morning with an aching pain in my jaw. It was like having a migraine in my mouth all day long. I tried to think back over the last few days…what had I been doing differently that could have caused this? After some self reflection and figuring out what the pain exactly was, I realized stress was the culprit. I had gotten to a place of extreme stress from working two jobs, being a mom, and managing all the calendars my household had to keep track of. I had begun clenching my teeth while I slept, which caused me to wake up in pain.
The solution to this pain? Physical therapy, mouth guards at night, and pain medication. Um…I don’t know about you, but none of that sounded like a solution or appealing in any way. They sounded more like management, than a cure.
So many of my clients come into session expressing symptoms of depression or anxiety or general stress, then will make a passing comment about chronic back pain, or chest tightness, or other physical ailments that they have been getting evaluated at a physician. They never tie the experience of physical health to their mental health however.
Disclaimer: I am not a physician, and you should always seek out medical professionals to have any physical health symptomsevaluated. This is in no way a replacement for medical assistance/ advice.
Minority women especially, are more likely to experience mental health concerns as physical symptoms in the body. These aches and pains are almost always directly related to your level of stress. In my personal experience, consciously working on reducing my stress enabled me to reduce my jaw pain to zero.
Now this does not mean medical intervention isn’t helpful, but it can work hand in hand with mental health interventions. Utilizing various coping strategies to reduce stress can assist in a speedy recovery.
Here are my top 5 coping strategies for managing stress:
1. Mindfulness Breathing
Mindfulness breathing is a tool that can be utilized at any moment in your day and requires nothing more than the ability to breathe. Pausing in a moment of stress to take a deep inhale and slow exhale allows for your body to experience a sense of calm. It slows down your heart rate and reduces the idea that your body needs to go into “fight or flight” mode. If you want some assistance in practicing this technique try searching for “Guided Mindfulness Breathing” on YouTube, or download the “Calm” app on your mobile device.
Journaling can be a great way to get thoughts out of your head and practice letting go of stress. Writing about your emotions whether it be grief, anger, joy, or a plethora of other emotions allows you to release these thoughts and reflect on how they are affecting you. An important aspect of journaling however is practicing to write about gratitude. Expressing gratitude for various aspects of your life provides balance to the challenges and emotions that occur on a daily basis. Nobody wants a book of sorrow, so incorporate both the good and bad.
3. Skincare Routine
This may seem frivalous, but hear me out. A regular skincare routine not only benefits your skin, but it gives you time to yourself. Depending on the type of skincare routine you implement (it could be as simple as rubbing some lotion on or as complex as a multi-step regimen) you can give yourself 2-30 minutes of “me time”. Being intentional about this time each day guarantees that you take a break and attend to your own needs even if only for a few minutes.
4. Low-Impact Exercises
Depending on your physical symptoms and with approval from your physician, try low- impact exercises such as walking or yoga. Walking is such an underrated exercise regimen. Taking time on your lunch break or before/after work to take a walk outside allows for more time in the sun, increased blood flow, and an overall mood boost. This physical activity kills two birds with one stone as it benefits your physical and mental health at the same time.
5. Sleep Hygiene
Last, but certainly not least, ensure you are getting enough sleep. How you feel when you wake up determines how well you’ll manage your stress throughout your day. The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults get 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Take a look at your daily schedule. Where is time wasted? And what could be moved around to create room for a decent bedtime? Also, take a look into what you are sleeping on. Maybe that futon from college isn’t cutting it anymore, or your mattress could use a new topper for support. Nobody has ever applauded themselves for having a late night and waking up groggy in the morning. Elevate this basic need to ensure a brighter day ahead.
All these coping strategies can be used on a day-to-day basis to reduce the stress that is likely contributing to those physical ailments. Incorporating and practicing these stress-reducing skills will allow you to live a happier and healthier life. And if these things aren’t enough, try attending therapy!
So you are in a “committed” relationship (or so you thought), but you have a nagging feeling that something isn’t right. Something is wrong. You start to dig for clues as to what is possibly going on, and slowly (but surely) drive yourself crazy wondering, “are they cheating??” Well I bet there is another question you haven’t asked yourself…”have I been meeting my partner’s needs?” Yep. I bet you haven’t taken a second to think “why would my partner cheat?”
I wonder why you haven’t asked this question because there is only one reason why people cheat. Yes, one. Here’s the big, top secret reason…their needs are not being met.
That’s it. Every person needs certain things to be fulfilled. These things could be love, sex, passion, compassion, security, generosity, time, affection, and an assortment of other things. More often than not people wind up in a relationship where their partner cannot satisfy ALL of their needs. Now this is the point where you are probably thinking, “well if your needs aren’t being met, just break up with the person!” Relationships aren’t that simple. Imagine this…
If our emotional needs looked more like our physical needs such as food, water, & shelter, how would things pan out? Imagine you were in a relationship where your partner is providing 2 out of 3 (water & shelter), but they were starving you. No food. You have dropped hints that you are hungry, maybe even straight up asked for food, but were denied 90% of the time. Then you come across someone who is offering up a feast on a silver platter. What are you going to do?
A. Go home to your water & shelter and continue starving?
B. Leave your whole life behind with only a guarantee of food (none of the water or shelter)?
C. Or are you going to try and sneak enough food to meet your needs, then go home to a reliable source of water and shelter?
Let’s be honest with ourselves, the last choice makes the most sense. Now putting this back into the emotional sense…when you partner with someone because they meet most of your needs, there is a risk that the needs that aren’t being met will be met somewhere else. The other option is to learn to live without that additional need, but that is often easier said than done.
Now, you may be wondering “how do I prevent cheating from happening in my relationship?” Great question. Before I answer, I must remind you that relationships are SELFLESS acts. That means at any given point in a relationship you should be trying to meet the needs of your partner, while effectively communicating your needs as well.
The best way to prevent cheating is by utilizing the time you spend as a single person figuring out how you can meet your own needs. This allows you the time and energy when you enter a relationship to focus on how you can meet your partners needs. Because again, relationships are not about you! They are about having a mutual understanding that you will support one another. If you can figure out your own needs, then you will want to be with someone who has done the same, and neither of you will be looking for a partner to complete them. Because you are a WHOLE person. No one can “complete” you.
Here’s the trickier part. If you are already in a relationship and feel your needs aren’t being met, then you have to learn what it is you need, and teach yourself/partner how to meet that need. You cannot just say “I need your attention more.” You have to educate your partner on how they can give you more attention. Give them the who/what/when/where/why/how you learned in grade school. For example, if your need is sexual intimacy:
Who needs to be meeting this need? Obviously it takes two to tango, so your partner needs to be involved in meeting this need.
What is the need EXACTLY? Be clear. Is this need about actual sex, or is this need about general physical touch? Does foreplay meet this need? Would you like to kiss & hug more often? This is not just a single sentence answer. Go into detail.
When is the appropriate time to meet this need? Everyone has a preference, but also when is it feasible to meet this need? Maybe kids are in the house so babysitters have to be arranged. Or maybe this is a need that needs to be met more than just once a month. When would you ideally like to meet this need? Be open to some compromise in the process.
Where is the appropriate place to meet this need? The bedroom, a hotel, the shower? Hey, whatever floats your boat.
Why is this need important to you? This may be the most important question. This is where you help your partner and teach your partner the reason behind the need. Maybe you feel like there is a general lack of intimacy, or maybe you feel insecure about how you look and want to feel desired by your partner. Again, not a place for a one sentence answer. Be descriptive.
How can your partner support this need? Explain what role you would like them to play in supporting this need. If they can initiate sex more often or if they can provide compliments that make you feel sexy. Whatever it is, help your partner figure out how they can be supportive.
No matter what your need is, utilize these questions to effectively communicate to your partner how you two can work as a team to meet each others’ needs. A relationship is about support and giving. Taking preventative steps to care for your partner can help reduce the likelihood of having to take drastic measures to put a relationship back together. And at the end of the day if you are finding it difficult to have these conversations, make a therapy appointment! Therapy is a great place to learn how to communicate effectively and efficiently.