Self-care – develop your own plan today
By Cheryl Dizon-Reynante
With each passing day, Diane was feeling more and more overwhelmed by all that she had been going on in her life. She is a 45-year-old mother of three, has a full-time job in a busy office environment and is caregiver for her elderly parents. In addition to her family and career stressors, she volunteers for the school board and her church.
She has noticed that she has headaches at least twice per week and she feels tired very early in the day. Diane makes sure that her kids’ lunches are put together and healthy, but when it comes to her own eating, she does not put much thought into it. Other than two or three cups of coffee in the morning, she doesn’t eat until noon, usually fast food, and then again at supper and a late night snack. Her coworkers ask her to come with them on breaks, but she rarely leaves her desk.
Over the last six months, her relationship with her husband Brian has been strained. They snap at each other over the smallest things and argue at least twice every week. Usually, they end up yelling and then do not speak to each other for one to two days. Her kids have their activities and homework and family time hardly ever happens.
Diane has noticed that she has gained 15 pounds in the last year and has difficulty falling asleep. Her thoughts are racing with all that she has to do the next day. She wakes up at least once in the middle of the night and it takes at least half an hour for her to fall asleep again. Although she has not smoked since she was a young adult, she bought a pack of cigarettes last week and has had one every day, sometimes two.
She takes the time to text friends and her sister regularly, but prefers to ask them about their life, rather than talk about her problems. Diane has started to feel teary at work, then angry at home. She’s had thoughts of what it would be like if she were not around anymore.
What do you think Diane should do? Do you see some commonalities between her life and your own? This scenario is not uncommon in today’s busy world where we have family, jobs and other commitments. We strive to make sure that we have a roof over our heads and food to eat, but do not put much thought into our overall wellness. The key to living a healthy life is finding balance.
We all have plans in place as we go about our lives: financial plans, medical appointments, workplace deadlines, grocery lists, etc. But can most people say that they have a self-care plan? A self-care plan is a list of commitments that you can make toward your physical, mental, social, and spiritual well-being. Even the smallest changes can go a long way toward enjoying life again and feeling balanced.
Steps towards wellness must consider your level of exercise, whether you get enough sleep, drink enough water, eat a healthy diet, and take required medications. We also must make sure that we visit the doctor, dentist and other health professionals regularly.
To improve our mental and emotional health, it is important to be positive. This not only involves what we say to other people, but what we tell ourselves. Negative self-talk such as, “I never get things right” or “I’m so stupid,” can have a huge impact on how we feel. When stressful situations come up, try to breathe deeply for a few minutes and look at what you have accomplished and look for realistic options. Many people find journaling at the end of the day to be helpful. It is a way to get your feelings out and improve the quality of your sleep.
Strive to maintain good relationships with the important people in your life. If you have any long-term feuds in your family, examine whether it is worth it to finally find peace with the other. Chances are, it is. Say “please”, “thank you”, and “I love you” to your loved ones, and talk to them at least once a week. If you’ve wronged them, say, “I’m sorry.” Don’t hold feelings inside; vent to someone you trust, whether it is a friend, family member, colleague, counsellor or clergy member. Try to engage in community service, or help a neighbour when you can. This not only helps others, but it also improves your sense of connectedness, self-worth, confidence and level of gratitude.
When we nurture the connectedness that we have with something bigger than our own individual life, we are healthier. Prayer, meditation, volunteer work, experiencing nature, and being a part of a spiritual community are ways to foster a sense of belonging. These activities also help us to find purpose and meaning in life. Furthermore, forgiveness of others and yourself for past transgressions is incredibly healing.
Every day, find the time to relax and engage in a healthy activity that you enjoy, such as reading a book, singing, playing an instrument, going for a walk, having a cup of tea or gardening. Stay organized so that you avoid feeling overwhelmed with too many tasks. Set goals for yourself so you have something to work towards. Go out on regular dates with your spouse – grocery shopping and errands don’t count! It does not have to be expensive; even going for a walk in the park is a chance to talk and reconnect.
Diane recognized that things were too much, so she decided to get help and talk to her doctor, counsellor, and sister. She starts the day with a quick prayer of gratitude, and packs her own lunch when she prepares the kids’ lunches. She limits herself to one cup of coffee and drinks water for the rest of the day. When she gets to work, she makes a list of tasks she wants to accomplish and tells herself that she will do her best. She also takes her 15-minute and lunch breaks. She has replaced smoking with taking a quick walk around the block.
She identified the negative messages she was telling herself everyday and tries to replace them with more positive thoughts. At the end of her workday, she takes 15 minutes to relax before starting dinner and all the other household chores.
Music is now a part of her life again where she plays the piano for at least ten minutes in the evening. Before bed, she writes in her journal and makes a list of what she needs to do the next day. Diane finds that she falls asleep easier and will not wake up as much.
Her headaches have decreased in number and intensity, and she makes sure that she has a good talk with her husband every evening about her day. They have decided to strive for at least three sit-down family meals every week. She is happy to have a self-care plan for herself and feels more balanced and happy.
At first, committing to healthy activities can seem like a huge challenge due to time commitments and adding yet another item to your never-ending list. But just stop and think for a moment. Even if you don’t believe that you are worth the effort, aren’t your loved ones worth it? Ultimately, a healthy and balanced lifestyle will increase the chances that you will be around longer to enjoy your family and friends.
Cheryl Dizon-Reynante is the founder of Nexus Counselling and a licensed therapist with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association. She is a proud member of the Manitoba Filipino Business Council and a provider for the Blue Cross Employee Assistance Program. Cheryl has experience helping clients with issues such as grief, depression, relationship difficulties, parenting, aging and illness. She can be reached at (204) 297-6744 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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