Self-care is so, SO incredibly important. Whether you live with chronic illness of any kind or not, it is crucial that we tend to our needs before we can effectively and efficiently function in the real world and help others. I personally feel that the way our society is built pushes us to feel the need to be constantly busy, to force ourselves to be moving, moving, moving, even when that results in burning ourselves out.
Recently, I’ve started to see images and excerpts circulating the internet and social media that are spouting the importance of self-care, yet many of these posts seem to be misconstruing what self-care really is. Granted, what self-care looks like differs between individuals, I do feel that it is important to state that it is much more than just eating a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, soaking in a luxurious bubble bath, or having a day-long Netflix binge every so often. Something else that I feel is necessary to bring attention to is the fact that self-care looks different for people who live chronic illness (physical or mental) than it does for those who do not, and even then, self-care for those who live with chronic illness will look different depending on what symptoms they may currently be experiencing.
There are many things I learned over my years of DBT (dialectical behavior therapy), yet there are a handful of things that have really stuck with me since I first began this type of therapy. Eventually, I will make a post talking about what DBT is in more depth, but for those of you who aren’t entirely familiar with it, here’s a tiny bit of information regarding this type of therapy. DBT is broken down into four different sections, all of which teach skills and equip you with tools to help deal with symptoms or to avoid triggering an episode. These four sections are mindfulness, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, and emotion regulation.
Only recently did I realize that a tool included in the emotion regulation section is essentially the same thing as self-care. That tool is called “PLEASE.” This is just one of many skills learned in DBT that has an acronym attached to it in order to make it easier to remember. The point of PLEASE is to reduce ones emotional vulnerability. This is especially important for those who live with mental health disorders such as mood disorders (depression, bipolar, etc.), anxiety disorders, and other disorders that inhibit the ability to effectively regulate and/or cope with emotions. Let me break down PLEASE.
PL – Treat Physical Illness – This is essentially taking your medication as prescribed if you have regular medications that you take. If you have a cold or another acute condition, it is important that you treat that as well. I think we can all agree that, when we are feeling physically ill, it is harder to cope with certain emotions and situations than it is when we are feeling well physically.
E – Balanced Eating – This means that you are eating balanced and nutritional meals. Avoiding foods that you are allergic to or intolerant of is incredibly important. It is also important to avoid foods that you are sensitive to, such as sugar and/or caffeine.
A – Avoid Mood-Altering Drugs – This means that you are not taking any drugs (pharmaceutical or recreational) that are not prescribed to you by a doctor, including alcohol.
S – Balanced Sleep – This means that you are getting the right amount of sleep for your body. Some people need 6 hours of sleep, and others need 10 hours of sleep. The amount of sleep needed to feel well-rested varies between individuals, so it is about what is best for you. Implementing good sleep hygiene can have an incredible and positive impact on your quality and amount of sleep.
E – Exercise – This means that you are getting some physical activity in. It does not have to be anything intense or overly strenuous. Even a quick walk around the block will suffice, especially if you haven’t exercised in awhile.
PLEASE covers the most basic aspects of our health. If you aren’t sure where to start with a self-care routine, I feel like this is a good foundation to build from, and is what I personally have built my own self-care off of. There are still times when I struggle with self-care and even these very basic components of it, which is why I have decided to break this discussion down into a series of three posts to further delve into the complexities of healthy and effective self-care for those with and without mental illness.
Check back next Monday for part two.
Thanks for reading.
“You cannot pour from an empty cup. Take care of yourself first.”