Investigating Your Self Care Practice

Our blog post today is by Celina Vergel de Dios

Celina has a Master’s degree in Human Learning, Development, and Instruction from the University of British Columbia where she specialized in the design, implementation, and evaluation of social-emotional learning programs (e.g., mindfulness, empathy, resilience, prosociality), and additionally completed facilitator training in nidra meditation from Semperviva and Karma studios in Vancouver, B.C. Celina is a meditation instructor and in-training for designation as a registered clinical counsellor. Above all, Celina is mom to an energetic, exuberant 3-year old daughter!

An important step in self-care is asking ourselves how our stress tends to present itself, and in particular, how do each of our bodies react when faced with stressors. Like many of us here, my specific issues present as anxiety. However, the focus should not just be about developing a self-care plan to engage in stress reduction, but also implementing personally gratifying activities. In this post, I review my current self-care practices in the areas of body, mind, relationships, and environment, with an eye towards where improvements can be made – I invite you to examine your own self-care plans along with me!

My current self-care strategies seem to be on the right track for the body/physical components. I have nutrition plans and workout regimens that I follow daily. I am a healthy eater and exercise or do something active nearly everyday. Of personal relevance for me is that it is well-accepted that exercise can reduce anxiety (Rebar et al., 2015). An interesting finding by Sawhney, Jennings, Britt, and Sliter (2018) when studying self-care for work recovery among firefighters is that exercise was considered to be an activity that required both physical and cognitive exertion efforts that could be taxing instead of rejuvenating. As such, I should pay attention to make sure that my workouts are recharging rather than depleting my energy.

The importance of having a balanced and multifaceted self-care routine is key. For instance, relaxation, such as engaging in quiet undisturbed time alone, was another strategy that the firefighters reported as a means to recover from work stress. Relaxation, which can be less physically and cognitively tolling than other activities, was related to better mental health symptoms (Sawhney et al., 2018). My own self-care routine includes relaxation approaches to focus on mind and mental wellbeing, with my main activity in that domain being meditation. Feel free to check out my meditation session on our podcast: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/beyond-postpartum/e/74934496 | http://postpartum.org/podcast/

In terms of relationships and relational self-care, I make sure to connect with friends at least once a week. I additionally set aside a portion of each day after work for quality time with my husband and daughter. We are reminded, particularly in today’s present climate, of the important role that social support plays in our wellbeing. PeConga and her colleagues (2020) suggest that “actively cultivating social support” (p. S47) can act as a resilience-promotion tool during our current COVID-19 pandemic. This may mean the need to get creative to remain connected. For me, recent social interactions have included FaceTime, Zoom group chats, social distanced walks, and outdoor get togethers.

Of all the areas of self-care, my environment is the element that could use the most improvement. Since I work from home, I lack that sense of separation between professional, family/relationship, and personal space. Shirley (2011) provides some practical suggestions for fostering self-care within one’s spatial environment. Specifically, he suggests creating quadrants in separate areas or rooms, if possible, in our homes for focusing on four aspects of our health: physical (e.g., gym), mental (e.g, office), emotional (e.g., living room), and spiritual (e.g., electronics-free bedroom). The challenge with having all my worlds under one roof is that boundaries tend to get blurred. For example, because my office desk is in my bedroom, I end up checking emails at all hours of the day and night. Also, because my gym is in my house, anyone in my family can walk in to interrupt my personal time to workout. Therefore, I will additionally allot schedules for time spent in each of the quadrants. Menschner and Maul (2016) mention the importance of maintaining a consistent schedule in creating an environment that eases stress as much as possible.

I will need to implement better boundaries in my relationships and relational self-care as well. At home, I will need to communicate my quadrant schedule times with my family so that they are aware of when I am unavailable due to other commitments. In turn, I will honour my family time by not engaging in work or other distractions when we are together. As for social activities, I need to make sure to stay within my optimal level of 1-2 commitments a week. Declining invitations when needed and not overcommitting myself will be critical. On the other hand, I should actively reach out to request when I want to spend time with friends and family. As Shang’s group (2020) found, the interaction between the quality and quantity of social support, rather than merely the amount, is what influences positive growth in challenging situations.

Another change that I want to work on for my self-care plan is to have graduated levels of activity options. For body and physical care, for instance, my ideal regimen consists of 1-hour workouts. Unfortunately, that time commitment is not always possible. Therefore, rather than taking an all-or-nothing approach, I would like to implement shorter options when needed (e.g., 40- and 20-minute exercises).

A similar approach could be applied for mind and mental self-care. It may not always be feasible to listen to a guided meditation lying down for a period of time, so some alternative options could be a few minutes of breathwork while in a seated position to take a break from work, or a walking meditation if I am out somewhere. For example, a 15-minute walk in the park or relaxation activity (e.g., progressive muscle relaxation or deep breathing) during lunch-break has been shown to improve afternoon concentration and fatigue among participants in cognitively and emotionally demanding occupations (Sianoja, Syrek, de Bloom, Korpela, & Kinnunen, 2018).

Lastly, I need to ask myself: How will I gauge my upkeep across the various areas of self-care? To keep myself on track I decided to evaluate my self-care plan on a weekly, monthly, and yearly basis by completing the Institute for Functional Medicine Self-Care Questionnaire (2016) which contains items in the following domains: (a) physical; (b) mental, emotional, spiritual; (c) professional, work, career; and (d) social, family, relationships. Items with self-ratings indicating that I never, rarely, or only sometimes engage in can point to specific behaviours that can be modified to ensure that I am maintaining regular, ongoing self-care practices.

I hope you found some of this information helpful in honing your own self-care plans!

References

Institute for Functional Medicine. (2016). Self-care questionnaire. Retrieved from https://static1.squarespace.com/static/581a52ff414fb5c2f581b403/t/59d6c0bfd7bdce90d546a3c3/1507246271211/Self-Care+Questionnaire.pdf

Menschner, C. & Maul, A. (2016). Key ingredients for successful trauma-informed care implementation. Hamilton, NJ: Center for Health Care Strategies.

PeConga, E.K., Gauthier, G.M., Holloway, A., Walker, R.S.W., Rosencrans, P.L., Zoellner, L.A., & Bedard-Gilligan, M. (2020). Resilience is spreading: Mental health within the COVID-19 pandemic. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 12(S1), S47-S48.

Rebar, A., Stanton, R., Geard, D., Short, C., Duncan, M., & Vandelanotte, C. (2015). A meta-analysis of the effect of physical activity on depression and anxiety in non-clinical adult populations. Health Psychology Review, 9(3), 366-378.

Sawhney, G., Jennings, K.S., Britt, T.W., & Sliter, M.T. (2018). Occupational stress and mental health symptoms: Examining the moderating effect of work recovery strategies in firefighters. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 23(3), 443-456.

Shang, F., Kaniasty, K., Cowlishaw, S., Wade, D., Ma, H., & Forbes, D. (2020). The impact of received social support on posttraumatic growth after disaster: The importance of both support quantity and quality. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 1-8.

Shirley, D. (2011). Practically yours: Self-care tips for counsellors – Environmental health. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association. Retrieve from https://www.ccpa-accp.ca/practically-yours-self-care-tips-for-counsellors-environmental-health/

Sianoja, M., Syrek, C.J., de Bloom, J., Korpela, K., & Kinnunen, U. (2018). Enhancing daily well-being at work through lunchtime park walks and relaxation exercises: Recovery experiences as mediators. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 23(3), 428-442.