A self care plan might just be what’s needed to help calm the stress of everyday life. According to the American Psychological Association, people are dealing with historic levels of stressors in life. Additionally, anxiety, which is a reaction to the stress, affects an estimated 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older.1,2,3,4
Even without high levels of stress and anxiety, having a self care plan is still extremely beneficial for your health and wellbeing. Now may be as good a time as ever to consider developing a self care plan.
Why Practice Self-Care?
Developing your self care plan involves actions that you take to keep yourself healthy — physically, mentally, and spiritually. Although practicing self-care strategies might sound self-evident, this is often one of the first habits that falls by the wayside when life circumstances become challenging. Situations such as a change in health, loss of a job, a relationship that ends, a major financial crisis, and especially a pandemic, may preempt self-care activities.5
Developing a self care plan, and following through with it every day, may help lead to improved feelings of health and wellness.6
Self-Care Comes In Many Varieties
Taking care of your physical self-care needs is of paramount importance. Physical self care includes:
- Performing physical activity
- Following a healthy diet
- Adhering to a doctor-prescribed drug regimen
- Getting the appropriate, recommended health screenings7
Physical self care also encompasses being adequately hydrated, maintaining a healthy weight, and ensuring that you are sleeping at least 7 hours per night on a regular basis.8
Along with physical self care and emotional self care, mental self care is one of the most important types of self care.
Mental self care includes doing activities that may help ease your stress levels and declutter your mind. Activities may include reading a book after dinner, practicing a craft, cleaning your home, or going for a walk. Slotting in time for mental self care may be challenging with work, school, or family responsibilities. But it’s vital that you carve out some time each day to care for your mental health. The goal is to achieve a state of relaxation.9
Spiritual self care involves actions and rituals you can take to help strengthen your connection to your higher self. These may consist of:
- Meditating to calm your mind and create space for you to just “be”
- Practicing gratitude by focusing on the outcomes in life
- Taking walks in nature to disconnect from the noise of everyday life
- Attending a group prayer service to foster community and connect to a greater force than yourself.10
Among the many aspects of self care is emotional self care. Unlike physical self care, it focuses on how to attain emotional well being by getting in touch with your emotions. The first step along this path is making the intentional choice to acknowledge interruptions and disruptions in life, rather than suppressing or ignoring them.11
There are many ways to practice emotional self care. They include:
- Not being too hard on yourself
- Focusing on what you can control vs. what you cannot
- Keeping to a routine
- Expressing gratitude for what you have in your life
- Acknowledging your emotions (rather than suppressing them)
- Seeking help from a professional if you are struggling12
America is the most overworked developed nation in the world.13 Unfortunately, overworking precludes balanced self care, because you can’t live a balanced life if you’re always working.
Practicing social self care is about spending quality time with the people that you love. This encompasses date nights with your spouse, meeting a friend for coffee, or taking a walk along the beach with your children. It also includes talking through conflicts and being open to listening to the emotional needs of your loved ones.14
How To Construct A Self-Care Plan
Establish The Ground Rules For Yourself
There are no formalized rules with self care. But there are several concepts that may help you hit your self care goals. These include:
Monitoring self talk: How you speak to yourself has a big effect on your mood, how you process stressors, and how anxious you feel. For instance, speaking positively to yourself or challenging yourself to engage your strengths may go farther than comparing yourself negatively to someone else.15
Managing distractions: It’s healthy to blow off steam after a particularly stressful day at work. But binge-watching a TV show, reading a book, or attending a movie could easily become a serious distraction if you check out entirely to avoid dealing with your stressors. Being able to live a meaningful life means keeping your attention fixed on the end goal.16
Loving your body: Exercising, drinking enough water, and starting your day with a nutritious breakfast contribute to positive physical self-care.17
Saying no: In any given day, there will be moments from morning to evening where your attention is challenged by life circumstances. It’s your responsibility to say “no” when something makes you uncomfortable.18
Establishing a personal care strategy is only as good as your ability to follow through with it. Set some easily attainable baseline objectives that are simple, inexpensive, and quick. These may include: getting enough sleep, eating nutritious meals, and getting regular exercise each day.19
Intentionality and Flexibility: A Delicate Balance
Intentional self-care involves setting regular check-ins to monitor your physical, emotional, spiritual, and social well-being, to help ensure that you’re healthy and functioning at your absolute best. Although some stress is normal, it should not consume you. Intentional strategies for self care are meant to help you find a happy balance between the rigors that daily life demands and a comfort zone where you’re fully functioning during key moments of your day.20
Protect Your Boundaries and Acknowledge Your Barriers
Setting boundaries is a crucial part of making self-care a priority. As such, it is important to erect barriers between your professional life and your personal life.
You need to determine what behaviors you will and won’t tolerate from others. For instance, consider how you’ll deal with late night email requests, phone calls, texts, and social media chats. You may need to schedule time with friends and family so that they don’t become an intrusion into your well being time. Or you can just acknowledge your barriers by saying no.21
Plan To Take Breaks
Many workers are notorious for working through lunch breaks: in one survey, half of the workers admitted that they’re unable to take a full lunch break. But lunch breaks offer both physical and mental benefits. Taking a little time to enjoy yourself has been shown to help you to succeed by raising both your mood and your willpower to keep working.22 It also enables you to decompress, recharge, and reflect.23
Write A List For “You”
Self care isn’t something you do from time to time. In fact, it’s important to make time for leisure activities throughout the week. Your activity list may include:
- Taking yourself to the movies
- Listening to music
- Practicing meditation
- Doing exercise
- Spending time with friends
- Making time for relaxation24
Serve Your Emotional Needs
Self care isn’t just about transactional activities, like getting more sleep or avoiding distractions. It also involves being open to safely sharing your emotions and feelings with people, including your spouse and other supportive people in your life. It may also include taking on self-care buddies with whom you can all share how you’re coping with the demands of life and work.25
Setting and successfully achieving self care goals involves a healthy dose of consistency. Rather than changing all of your habits at once, taking small, incremental steps is more likely to transform an action into a habit. For instance, you could start by spending a few minutes a day on your self care goal and work toward a goal of 30 minutes a day.26
What To Ask Yourself During This Process
What Is The Time Commitment?
When done properly, self care shouldn’t take up an excess amount of time. For instance, you may set a 30-minute daily activity goal to be split between a 10-minute dance party, a 10-minute walk around the block, and time spent running up and down the stairs in your home.27
Similarly, if you have trouble getting enough sleep, commit to going to sleep 15 minutes earlier than usual for an entire week, then adding 15 more minutes to your sleep schedule each week until you hit your desired cadence.28
Don’t forget to take your lunch breaks, too. Even a 30-minute break spent eating, walking, or listening to an engaging story on a favorite podcast, may bring you joy and make you feel good.29 The time commitment is not that big.
How Do Finances Affect The Plan?
Managing your money is one of the more important but often-neglected aspects of an overall self-care assessment. A delicate financial situation can affect your sense of order and challenge a self care plan. To counteract this feeling, set aside at least 20 minutes each week to manage your finances, such as: review your personal financial accounts, look for ways to improve cash flow, research ways to pay down debt, and automate bill payments.30
Measuring The Success Of Your Self-Care Plan
Once you’ve finished developing your self care plan, you’ll need to measure how well it’s working for you. Whichever self-care methods you use, there are a number of ways to measure their outcomes:
- Have your doctor measure specific health factors, such as those available in a blood test.
- Track adjustments to your daily practices. These include individual goals, such as hours of sleep, number of breaks taken in a week, and whichever other indicators you set on your self care balance sheet.31
Learning how to do a self care plan is a tremendous opportunity to improve your feelings of health and wellness. Are you ready?
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