Self-care. Everyone in our professional and personal lives talks about it, but it’s easier said than done, right?
It seems we all intend on going to the gym, spending valuable time with loved ones and enjoying those extra moments of our favorite television shows, but sometimes things get lost in translation. And we may find ourselves yet again buried underneath a mountain of work with little hope of accessing our original intent.
So, what’s the remedy? There are lots of resources available to us, but perhaps if we set aside some time to build our self-care plan, it is less likely to crumble under stress.
The following steps will help you to begin building a solid foundation to create and maintain a self-care plan – despite the challenges that inevitably arise as we progress in our careers.
1. Assess Your Initial Self-Care Level
Everyone has his or her own thoughts and ideas about self-care. The best place to start in accessing your own notions of self-care is appraising your current self-care levels. Start by thinking about a typical week (or take a look at your calendar) and examine whether there are any times that you have taken a moment for yourself.
Assess for the frequency and duration of your self-care activities in order to establish a baseline for these habits. Pay attention to the types of activities you tend to engage in, and don’t forget to give yourself credit for smaller actions such as taking time to buy yourself a cup of your favorite coffee, doing some online shopping, or taking longer breaks to give yourself a rest.
It is also essential to note the absence of self-care throughout your daily, weekly or monthly routines.
Without some element of self-care, we may be at risk for reaching burn out more quickly, slipping up on imperative details, and most importantly, lacking in our ability to work effectively with our clients. Establishing a baseline for your self-care activities may be the answer to creating awareness about the importance of introducing these actions into our busy schedules.
2. Develop Your Personal Self-Care Strategies
Once you determine your baseline for self-care activities, your next step may be self-exploration. The objective here is to identify your personal interests and the activities that are most enjoyable for you. Consider your overall goals for self-care, including how structured or varied you want your plan to be.
Think of self-care as picking your favorite flavor of ice cream. Maybe Rocky Road works for you, but someone else likes plain old Vanilla. When developing a self-care plan, it is important to figure out your favorite flavor or combination of flavors to establish what works best for you.
Some popular self-care activities:
- Spend time with friends and family.
- Run, walk, exercise, or dance!
- Watch your favorite television show or go to the movies.
- Play video games or games on your phone or tablet.
- Engage in outdoor activities (i.e., hiking, biking, camping, swimming, etc.).
- Attend a religious or spiritual service.
- Meditate or take a yoga class.
- Listen to music or go to a live concert.
- Get creative through some form of art (i.e., painting, sculpting, drawing, or doing crafts).
- Try something new! Pick a new food, event, or activity to try every week.
Upon examining this brief list, can you think of any activities that would work best for you? Perhaps you thought of your own personal self-care activities which have already been incorporated into your busy schedule. It is critical to figure out which activities will enhance your wellbeing, but also be open to trying new things.
3. Incorporate Your Plan into Everyday Life
After some introspection and discovering what you enjoy most, it’s time to build the groundwork for your self-care plan. This will look different for each of us since some of us are more structured than others. However, it will be beneficial to develop a realistic plan that you can commit to on a consistent basis.
Aim for incorporating a self-care strategy at least once a week.
For some, it’s helpful to structure a behavioral plan where self-care activities are actually scheduled on your calendar. This way, you don’t have to put in the extra effort to think about new self-care activities each week, but rather engage in the ones already decided on. For others, a self-care plan using rewards and incentives might do the trick.
But don’t get too ahead of yourself – start slowly! You want to gradually build up to the ideal schedule that best suits your life by making small changes. For instance, if you decide that daily journaling would be a great self-care strategy for you, consider starting out by journaling once a month. Over time, you can gradually increase your frequency so you end up writing in your journal on a daily basis. Making small changes and setting attainable goals creates a more realistic path to implementing your personal self-care plan. The very last thing you want is for your self-care goals to create more stress in your life!
For instance, if you decide that daily journaling would be a great self-care strategy for you, consider starting out by journaling once a month. Over time, you can gradually increase your frequency so you end up writing in your journal on a daily basis. Making small changes and setting attainable goals creates a more realistic path to implementing your personal self-care plan. The very last thing you want is for your self-care goals to create more stress in your life!
Making small changes and setting attainable goals creates a more realistic path to implementing your personal self-care plan. The very last thing you want is for your self-care goals to create more stress in your life!
4. Monitor Your Progress
After a certain point, it will be important to monitor the success of your self-care plan. Are you able to fulfill your academic and clinical demands without feeling burnt out? How successful has your plan been in achieving more balance in your life?
If you find that you are losing the motivation to follow through with your self-care plan, one strategy is to engender new goals. Consider whether journaling, for example, is the best self-care activity for you or whether you need to develop a new approach. Keep in mind that we always have room to improve and find the most successful self-care strategies that work for us.
5. Practice! Practice! Practice!
It may be argued that self-care requires the development of a certain skill set. If you do not spend the time practicing, it’s going to be difficult to solidify the steady practice of self-care into your schedule.
As graduate students and early career professionals, we have a unique set of challenges and demands; without a successful self-care plan, keeping up with those demands may prove to be very difficult.
Remember that self-care is meant to enhance your functioning and improve your life, rather than create additional tasks you have to mark off your calendar. That’s why it is essential to find the activities that work best for you and practice incorporating them into your routine.
When implementing weekly self-care strategies, remember to be creative, flexible, and keep them interesting.
Overall, it may take some time to figure out your ideal self-care plan and implement it into your schedule; however, once you have established a solid foundation and self-care skill set, you will likely experience less burnout and see an improvement in your overall wellbeing.
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