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Self-care is about the choices we make every day to stay happy and healthy. These include the small things we do like getting enough sleep, to bigger self-care choices, such as going to see a counsellor or attending an anger management course.
Why is self-care important?
Self-care is an important part of managing difficult feelings and helps us to keep safe when we are struggling and overwhelmed. Lots of young people say that when they feel down, depressed, anxious or suicidal they struggle to do the little things to take care of themselves. This might include brushing our teeth, making sure we get enough sleep, eating regularly or keeping on top of chores. When these things feel so difficult, it's understandable that bigger self-care tasks, such as attending health appointments or taking time to relax, can be difficult to manage.
How can I make sure I am looking after myself?
Try some activity scheduling. You can try planning your week, maybe breaking the days down into sections. Next, try to think of things you should do to take care of yourself that maybe you haven't been doing and ask yourself which of these feels most achievable. You can then try scheduling this in. Remember, it's OK to start small and when you feel more able you can start to plan more challenging activities - such as attending a meditation class or socialising with friends. This type of activity scheduling is known as behavioural activation and it's something that some therapists use to get people more used to taking care of themselves and doing meaningful activities.
What if I'm struggling with focusing on myself?
Self-compassion is important. Be kind to yourself - especially when you are struggling. We often can have high expectations of ourselves and feel frustrated or annoyed with ourselves if we don't meet them. We can also engage in negative self-talk saying things to ourselves that are very unkind. Some days you might feel very productive and capable. Other days you might feel overwhelmed and that you can't cope. This is OK. It is important to remember that the more compassion and kindness you show yourself on the days when you feel overwhelmed, the quicker you can get back to feeling better again. It can be really helpful to write some positive things about yourself on the days where you feel okay and then put them somewhere you can see them for those days where you find it hard to see anything positive.
Are there any strategies to cope with this?
Self-help strategies can include; mindfulness and meditation, breathing exercises, alternatives to harmful behaviour, distraction techniques, help to self-soothe, and expressing how you are feeling. Examples of these are below;
- Mindfulness can help you to become more aware of your thoughts and feelings and accept them in the moment, rather than trying to fight them or allow them to become overwhelming. It can also help you to focus on the present moment rather than future worries or past memories.
- Breathing exercises can be helpful if you are feeling anxious, stressed, overwhelmed or experiencing panic. They help to relax you by encouraging your breathing to return to normal, which encourages other body systems to feel more normal too - like a pounding heart, racing thoughts, muscle tension and feeling sick.
- Alternatives to harmful behaviour: When we are feeling overwhelmed we can sometimes harm ourselves as a way of coping. There are lots of different reasons why and how people self-harm; finding alternative coping strategies can help you to stop.
- Distraction techniques can be helpful in coping with difficult feelings although it can sometimes be hard to do, especially for long periods of time. Finding an activity you enjoy and that will engage your mind can be helpful, like watching TV or playing a game on your phone or computer. If you have a longer period of time you need to cope in, try breaking your distraction periods down into manageable chunks - like 15 minutes - and perhaps alternating activities. If your feelings are too intense to be distracted from, don't worry - another coping strategy might be more useful at that time.
- Self-soothing can also be a part of distress tolerance. This can include doing self-care activities that are soothing or relaxing.
- Expressing how you feel can be an important part of self-help when you are feeling overwhelmed. This might be creative expression, such as writing poems or music; verbal expression, like practicing what you would to say to someone who has made you feel angry or screaming into a pillow; or physical expression, like tearing up an old newspaper or going for a run.