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A Different Take on Self Care

Written by Bruce Cruser

Bruce Cruser has been Executive Director of Mental Health Virginia since 2016, bringing a background in social work and community corrections, and many years of leadership experience in local and state government.

November 3, 2022

Jenny Sappington

Here’s the scenario: You sit down at a Self-Care workshop, and out comes The List. You know, the one that lists all the options you’ve seen countless times before: take a walk, take a bath, read a book, journal (ugh, that’s the worst one for me) etc… And, for you, NONE of the options sound like anything you’d want to do.

I’m not saying there is anything wrong with the list of common self-care strategies. In fact they are great starting place, and proven to be helpful and even essential to many. But it’s important to find what works for you individually. For me, taking a bath would be a form of punishment, and I haven’t always had a place where I COULD take a walk. And the reason that those lists fail you is that no one actually ASKED YOU what YOU do for Self Care, or even how to figure that out.

My takeaway from that workshop: I HAVE FAILED. I’ve failed at self care. How ridiculous is that? And now I feel even worse about myself than when I sat down… And it occurred to me that I can’t be the only person who struggles with this, especially now that the holiday season is upon us. For many, this is an extremely stressful time even if they enjoy the time, so Self Care is REALLY IMPORTANT.

So, I did some thinking about all that. And I came up with a potential “road map” when approaching Self Care. (Side bar: I am writing this from my journey and experiences. You are not required to do ANYTHING I write.)

Self Care is ANYTHING you do to give your brain a break.

Think about when you have reached your limit of anxiety or overload. What do you currently do when you hit that point? Whatever your answer is, it’s probably a form of Self Care. You just didn’t realize it.

For me, I play Dungeons & Dragons every week. There is a website that helps you build every part of my character. There is no limit to how many you can make. It wasn’t until I realized that I had THIRTY characters that I thought back to when I had made them, and what was going on in those moments. I was stressed or anxious every time. I know there is no way I will ever use that many characters, but just the act of creating them was a calm in the storm.

Once you figure it out, become aware of when your self care DOESN’T work. Maybe add a new layer to an existing self care idea.
EXAMPLE: If you do take a walk and your usual route isn’t really working, maybe go in a totally new direction. Or add a stress ball or fidget spinner or a small stuffed animal (or anything soft).

SELF WORTH is critical. If you don’t have a sense of Self Worth, then how can you be expected to do Self Care? Especially when looking at The List.

Note: I am not saying that people who struggle with Self Worth (like me) are gonna read this blog post and wake up the next morning with a new found sense of Self Love, but you do have to BELIEVE that you DESERVE to feel good in order to do Self Care. Believe that it’s ok that you’re not always ok.

Self Care is selfish, and that’s ok. I truly believe that “selfish” isn’t always negative. Taking time for yourself, finding relief from the situation, those are selfish acts. But they aren’t bad. You don’t have to be “on” 24/7.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with whatever is going on, you can afford to step out of that situation even just for a few minutes and allow yourself to be “off.” Self Care is what you do in those moments. Just do ANYTHING that might make you smile or slip away mentally for a bit.

Consider calling our Warm Line 866-400-MHAV (6428).

Calling any Warm Line TAKES COURAGE. It is a courageous act of self care. Callers are anonymous, but you are revealing yourself to someone you do not know.
Fortunately, our Warm Line is staffed with Peers who use their life experiences to support you wherever you are when you call. They’re not counselors. They’re people who have at some point in their own lives felt small, scared, adrift, or all of the above. It is our honor to be a part of your journey, and that you trusted us enough to share it with us.

Jenny Sappington is Outreach Coordinator for Mental Health America of Virginia, and also helps staff the agency’s Warm Line.

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