Self-Care: A Key to Good Mental Health
Self-care means honoring and respecting the miraculous woman that you are.
Self-care means learning to listen with the ear of a dedicated mother to your own physical, emotional, spiritual, and relationship needs, and then taking full responsibility for getting them met.
Self-care means taking 100% responsibility for creating an environment that nurtures your physical, emotional, and spiritual selves.
Self-care strengthens your resiliency, which can reduce susceptibility to burnout. Self-care is not just a matter of making healthy lifestyle choices. It also includes self-compassion, having healthy boundaries, being attuned to your needs, and staying true to your values. Self-neglect takes a toll on your health, relationships, and your effectiveness.
Why self-care is an issue:
Many adults never learned how to take care of themselves because of childhood abuse; childhood neglect; family dysfunctions such as alcoholism, illness and delayed social and emotional development in adult caregivers that impairs the emotional intelligence of both children and adults.
The Four Essentials of Self-Care
1. Social and Emotional Intelligence
This form of intelligence involves learning a set of skills that include:
Self awareness: involves understanding and identifying feelings; knowing when one’s feelings shift; understanding the difference between thinking, feeling and acting; and understanding that one’s actions have consequences in terms of others’ feelings.
Emotional self-regulation: expressing and managing strong feelings, controlling impulses and using anger constructively.
Self-motivation: the ability to imagine yourself doing something and setting goals and to persevere towards these goals with optimism and hope, even in the face of setbacks
Self-regulation: the ability to manage one’s behavior and impulses, to maintain focus and stay on task even if there are other more enticing alternatives available. Self-regulation impacts not just how children get along with one another but also how they can focus and learn in the classroom.
Social interactions & empathy: Empathy is the ability to put yourself “in someone else’s shoes” and to accurately read and comprehend emotional states in others. It also involves being able to receive someone’s perspective and being able to show that you care.
Relationship management: This is the ability to establish and sustain relationships, to resolve conflicts, to cooperate socially and to learn collaboratively.
Each of these skills develops in sequence and builds on one another.
First children learn to understand and recognize their own feelings. Next they learn to give language to those feelings, and then they learn that others have feelings and to empathize with them. As children grow older, they learn to manage their emotions, to shake off feelings of anxiety, sadness, or frustration and to delay gratification in order to achieve a goal.
As adults, those skills determine whether a person becomes a mediocre salesman or a successful one who can read the emotional response of a prospective client.
These skills help athletes persevere until they win their gold medals.
They help spouses empathize with one another to de-escalate arguments
They help people avoid injuring others because they can understand how such actions would cause pain.
Self-regulation is the capacity to control one’s impulses both to stop doing something that is unnecessary (even if one wants to continue doing it), and to start doing something that is needed (even if one does not want to do it).
This ability to inhibit one response and to enact another on-demand is a skill used in thinking as well as social interactions. The child who does not have self-regulation at 5 years of age is the child who cannot follow the teacher’s directions at age 6 or who cannot plan how to solve a problem at age 7. The child without self-regulation of emotions at age 4 will not be able to control his temper at 5 and will have negative peer interactions at age 7.
3. Brain Development and Self-Regulation
New studies demonstrate that there is a physiological basis for the development of self-regulation. Brain research shows that self-regulation is linked to maturation of the prefrontal cortex area of the brain, which occurs during the preschool years. So, what causes this part of the brain to mature
There is a lot of research being conducted on the prefrontal cortex part of the brain. Brain researcher Paul MacLean refers to the left pre-frontal cortex as the “vault of heaven,” “angel lobes or holy tissue. He believes that this area has a special purpose, that which makes us human.
Psychologically, this part of the brain is considered the Seat of the Selfthe conscious, reflective personality of an individual. Self-psychology includes concepts such as self-actualization, self-awareness, self-development, self-control, self-esteem and self-disclosure. From a developmental perspective, the Self is associated with the emergence of an ego that is ultimately surrendered to a higher power or transpersonal force. This phenomenon often marks a spiritual transition from self-service to the service of others.
Developmental psychologist Alan Schore’s theory describes how the exchange of positive emotions between infants and their caregivers create a safe environment that stimulates the development of the orbito-frontal portion of right prefrontal cortex of the brain.
The orbito-frontal regions are not functional at birth, but develop gradually through a process of imprinting and reach a critical period of maturation by around the age of nine months. This part of the brain is involved in emotional control. By this same time, children have developed their internal working models of reality. This is critical information for parents, as it affirms the importance of their parenting during their child’s first year. If this part of the brain does not develop during its sensitive period, children will lack the ability to regulate their emotions. This loss is the most far-reaching effect of early developmental trauma.
Eckhard Hess developmental research also indicates that two months marks a critical milestone in the development of the occipital cortex in infants brains that dramatically increases their social and emotional capacities. For the first time, they can fully see their parents and make direct eye contact. The mother’s emotionally expressive face becomes the most potent visual stimulus in infant’s environments, and their intense interest in her face, especially her eyes, leads them to track them and to engage in periods of intense mutual gazing. The large pupils in infants eyes act as a nonverbal communication device and that elicits care-giving responses in adults.
2. Coping With Trauma & Compassion Fatigue:
Compassion Fatigue is the emotional residue of exposure to working with suffering people, particularly those suffering from the consequences of traumatic events. Professionals who work with suffering people must contend with not only the normal stress or dissatisfaction of work, but also with their own emotional and personal empathy for those who are suffering.
Compassion Fatigue is a form of vicarious trauma that you absorb through the eyes and ears of your clients. It can be thought of as secondary post-traumatic stress. It is a state of tension and preoccupation with the individual or cumulative trauma of clients as manifested by re-experiencing the traumatic event, avoiding or numbing of reminders of the event and persistent anxiety and arousal.
The human costs associated with compassion fatigue include impaired job performance, more mistakes, drops in morale drops and conflictual personal relationships. The home lives and mental health of compassion-fatigued employees start to deteriorate and eventually cause an overall decline in general health.
4. Practical Tools for Self-care
Self-care seems to be instinctual in nature – except with human beings. One downside of our highly developed human brains is that faulty learning can override instinct. Thus, we humans are capable of learning behaviors that go against self-care and are even self-destructive. Counseling usually involves helping clients learn how to take care of themselves – physically, emotionally, spiritually, and in relationships.
Relax: Throughout the day, take “mini-breaks”. Sit down and get comfortable. Slowly take in a deep breath; hold it; and then exhale very slowly. At the same time, let your shoulder muscles droop, smile, and say something positive like, “I am r-e-l-a-x-e-d.” Be sure to get sufficient rest at night.
Practice Acceptance: Many people get distressed over things they won’t let themselves accept. Often, these are things that can’t be changed, for example someone else’s feelings or beliefs. If something unjust bothers you, that is different. If you act in a responsible way, the chances are you will manage that stress effectively.
Problems-solve Situations Internally: Ask yourself what real impact the stressful situation will have on you in a day or in a week, and see if you can let the negative thoughts go. Think through whether the situation is your problem or the other person’s. If it is yours, approach it calmly and firmly. If it is the other person’s, there is not much you can do about it. Rather than condemning yourself with hindsight thinking like, “I should have…,” think about what you can learn from the error and plan for the future. Watch out for perfectionism — set realistic and attainable goals. Remember: everyone makes errors. Be careful of procrastination — practice breaking tasks into smaller units to make it manageable, and practice prioritizing to get things done.
Get Organized: Develop a realistic schedule of daily activities that includes time for work, sleep, relationships, and recreation. Use a daily “thing to do ” list. Improve your physical surroundings by cleaning your house and straightening up your office. Use your time and energy efficiently.
Exercise: Physical activity has always provided relief from stress. In the past, daily work was largely physical. Now that physical exertion is no longer a requirement for earning a living, we don’t get rid of stress so easily. It accumulates very quickly. We need to develop a regular exercise program to reduce the effects of stress before it becomes distress. Try aerobics, walking, jogging, dancing, or swimming.
Reduce Emergency Time: If you frequently check your watch or worry about what you do with your time, learn to take things a bit slower. Allow plenty of time to get things done. Plan your schedule ahead of time. Recognize that you can only do so much in a given period. Practice the notion of “pace, not race”.
Disarm Yourself: Every situation in life does not require you to be competitive. Adjust your approach to an event according to its demands. You don’t have to raise your voice in a simple discussion. Playing tennis with a friend does not have to be an Olympic trial. Leave behind you your “weapons” of shouting, having the last word, putting someone else down, and blaming.
Create Quiet Time: Balance your family, social, and work demands with special private times. Hobbies are good antidotes for daily pressures. Unwind by taking a quiet stroll, soaking in a hot bath, watching a sunset, or listening to calming music.
Pay Attention to Your Addictive Habits: Eat sensibly — a balanced diet will provide all the necessary energy you will need during the day. Avoid nonprescription drugs and avoid alcohol use — you need to be mentally and physically alert to deal with stress. Be mindful of the effects of excessive caffeine and sugar on nervousness. Put out the cigarettes — they restrict blood circulation and affect the stress response.
Talk to Friends: Friends can be good medicine. Daily doses of conversation, regular social engagements, and occasional sharing of deep feelings and thoughts can reduce stress quite nicely.
Self-care practices won’t stop self-criticism or perfectionism, compensate for behaviors that foster burnout and undermine self-care such as defining yourself by the good you do for others, operating from an exaggerated sense of responsibility and difficulty tolerating discord.