The Importance of Self-Care - Valley Behavioral Health
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June 16, 2020 By Julie Rael, LCSW, CCO Valley Behavioral Health

These past three months have presented a host of challenges. These challenges have been addressed with innovation and strategies for us to continue to live and work during this pandemic. The stress associated with the pandemic has been compounded with the rapid succession of earthquakes, natural disasters, and terrible acts of racism and violence. We have had to quickly adjust to deal with these challenges, but we have had little time to catch our breath and decompress. We have all, especially our brothers and sisters of color, experienced psychological trauma during this time. We know that trauma can further intensify mental health conditions and exacerbate chronic health conditions. For us working in social services, health, and behavioral health, we all have the responsibility to help those that need it most during these unsettling times, but we also have a responsibility to care for our own well-being. “Compassion fatigue”, “secondary trauma” and “burnout” are real issues that can impact those working in social services, behavioral health, and health care. We must actively care for our mental health to prevent these conditions from interrupting our ability to help those in need. If you have been tirelessly providing vital services around the clock with little time for rest and recuperation, it is time to check-in and look at your “self-care” regimen.

For those working in behavioral health, “self-care” is a concept that is introduced to us at the beginning of our education and training. It becomes part of our shared vocabulary, and we are encouraged to practice “good” self-care during our careers. For some reading this message, this may be your first-time hearing this concept. For others, this concept may have become redundant, but no longer used effectively.  This concept continues to be essential, but I find that it needs to be examined and operationalized from time-to-time. Sometimes we struggle with the advice that we give to our patients. Perhaps one of the reasons for this is that we are naturally focused on helping others while putting our own needs aside. We can slowly get out of the habit of doing things that help support our well-being and resiliency. We may even forget how good we feel after we practice a tried and true self-care method. Think about at a time when you were operating at your personal best. What was going on in your life? What did your daily routine and activities look like? Who were the people you were spending the most time with?  How did you feel during these experiences? You may begin to picture and recall methods of your self-care and a routine that worked for you. Now think about what interrupted these routines. Perhaps your life situation changed, and you encountered some unexpected circumstances or maybe your routine needed to change for a while, your workload increased, and time passed. Don’t be hard on yourself, this happens to all of us. We can get back on track and adjust our routine at a pace that works for us. Let’s get back on track by exploring several key areas of an effective self-care routine. You can google and download a “self-care wheel” which can be very helpful, but I like to think of an effective self-care routine as a formula that can be personalized and adjusted for our unique needs.

Looking at our physical health routine we need to start with a good sleep regimen, as our sleep sets the tone and success of everything that we do to improve our physical health. Some people need ten hours of sleep, while others only need seven to feel well-rested and ready to tackle their day. If you are currently experiencing insomnia, can you identify what is causing it and make the adjustments needed to improve this? If lack of sleep is unavoidable, try to add in naps where you can, but find a duration that works for you. Experts suggest a nap between 30 and 90 minutes.

Nutrition and what we eat can cause us to feel nourished and energized, or it can have us craving the wrong foods, feeling lethargic and bloated. Many have food intolerances that can harm their cognitive functioning and make them ill. Avoiding problematic foods, while implementing meal planning and adding variety to our weekly menu can make a dramatic difference.

Exercise is also an important component in improving sleep, strengthening our immune system, improving our mood and cognitive function. Receiving the benefits of exercise can be as simple as walking 30 minutes a day. Also, there are several benefits of outdoor exercise that include cleaner air, vitamin D, more varied terrain with a beautiful scenery.

Our emotional needs are important and often overlooked. Keeping a journal and writing about our challenges can help us to process our emotions and support our mental resiliency. We can also support our emotional needs by seeing a therapist or confiding in a friend or loved one.

Spiritual practices such as song, meditation, prayer, and mindfulness can help center and stabilize us.

Socializing with those we enjoy, planning a fun event, taking time to explore and go on an adventure, or spending time on a hobby or reading a good book can freshen our perspective and provide a much-needed respite from stress.

Adding little things in our daily routine can go a long way in helping us power through our day. These things can be a snack or lunch break, a quick walk, stretching, or breathing exercises. It is essential that we develop a realistic schedule and plan to meet deadlines, but we also need to set boundaries to prevent ourselves from overworking.

My hope is that discussing the topic of self-care, was a helpful reminder and that you continue to take care of your own well-being. You are important, you have a purpose and the world needs you more than ever. If you are updating your self-care routine and finding that you need professional support to work through your current stressors, please don’t hesitate and give us a call to schedule a free consultation appointment

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