A few years ago one of my assignments was to create a self care action plan. Some of it still applies to me now, but I am thinking of re-writing it as it was very helpful back then, and things have changed in my life. I thought I would share the old one anyways:
Self-Care Action Plan
Part One: Awareness and Knowledge
I do recognize that this project is to have a Self-Care Action Plan. However, to do this for me, I feel I need to write a bit of background and write through the process of creating such a plan. I feel that by doing this, I will be able to create a plan that has meaning to me; a plan that I can follow as I learn to care for myself. If you do not want to read about the process itself, my Self Care Action Plan is at the end of this document.
Last year I began to really analyze myself – not because I wanted to, but because I needed to, in order to continue to function as a person, and in the multiple roles I continue to hold value and dedication to in my life.
My self-analysis and reflection did not come easily. I was injured in 2009 and had struggled with this loss of abilities that came with being injured and not healing as I would have liked. When I began to see light and returned to work, an old injury was made worse, and I now have chronic pain. I suffered a loss, and have been grieving this loss since. I think, because I still do not have closure and am being supported through a broken system, I still hold on to some resentment, guilt and grief.
I began retraining in January 2012, and like the perfectionist I am, thought that if I could do school, I could do everything without asking for help. I tried, and succeeded in this delusion for a while, and then I fell. When I fell, I fell hard. I was left with a hopelessness, a broken spirit, and anger that my God would allow me to fall.
Self-reflection has been biggest step in my process of self-care. I also believe that this quote rings true: “Bottom line: God will not allow any person to keep you from your destiny. They may be bigger, stronger, or more powerful, but God knows how to shift things around and get you to where you’re supposed to be.” (Joel Osteen) Even when that person is yourself.
After being admitted to hospital twice last year, I realized I was being my own worst enemy. I was stuck in a self-destructive cycle, and I needed it to end if I was going to continue living.
During this time, I had no lack of support. My husband and children, my case worker for Veterans Affairs, my psychologist, even my General Practitioner were there to help me. The problem was, I did not tell them as clearly as they would have liked where I was in my own head. I have never had issues with my intellectual self, and because I knew where my mind was is not a place it should be, I tried to continuously talk myself through it, and not clearly define what “it” was. I would even talk around “it” when talking to my medical professionals. I did not ask directly for help, because I thought I could just ignore it, I felt hopeless, and part of me wanted to stay there.
I did not stay there, and for that I am thankful. It is hard work for me to care for myself. I am constantly caring for others. My husband, my children, my parents, my brother, and when I am working, my clients. Some of this “over-caring” tendency came from my childhood. Growing up as a child of a co-dependant mother and an alcoholic father, I felt the need to care for my younger brother and my mother. I had low self-esteem from bullying at school. It was not until I had as child at age 17 that I began to realize I was not responsible for everyone else, however, I continued this behaviour, I believe, because it was what I had become accustomed to doing. Self-care does not come naturally for me, and therefore I must practice this every day in order to make it “come.”
First Steps of the Self Care Process
I began by asking for help. Being left to my own thoughts was not working. I began learning tools and skills that I had known in my head but had not practiced ever. I do not discount that I will be continuing to heal. I still have anxiety, but I recognize it now. I breathe. Not just life continuing breaths, but deep heart filled ones that help release anxiety. I have a list of people to call when my mind begins to fall back into self-destructive patterns. I don’t just call these people, I tell them how I am feeling. They know to just listen, and this helps.
These are just a few first steps in my process. I also see my psychologist regularly, practice EDMR, go to physiotherapy, have regular doctor appointments, taking my medication regularly, go for walks, and listen to calming music, have a bath, and pray. All of these things are helping my process of self-care, mentally, physically, and spiritually.
Working at Self Care
When looking at self-care, it is important to look at the whole self. This includes reflecting on your emotional, financial, humorous, playful, loving, priority-setting, relaxation-stress reduction, solitary, and spiritual self. I have found this step to be quite a journey, as at first glance I thought some of these topics didn’t apply to me. For example, the solitary self was difficult for me to look at as I like to have people around. As I looked deeper I found that there are times I enjoy being alone, and that solitary doesn’t have to mean that there is no one around. It could mean there are no electronics around or no children around. It means something that is usually around you is taken away for a time, so that you can enjoy this solitary time. Looking at the whole self is important to me because I want to be able to have a harmonized professional and personal life that includes a balance of other-care and self-care.
I begin writing this now, at the end of January, because I want to begin taking care of myself now, and I thought that writing through the process will actually help me write my self-care action plan. I note as I am writing this, that it is in itself helpful, as I have never expressed these things to myself on paper.
This month I begin my first step to caring for myself. I am to go to bed before 11pm and try to get up by 730am on the weekdays, and 900am on the weekend. For someone reading this, this step may seem strange. But for me, it is crucial, especially if I wish to step into the social work field and still continue my multiple caring roles. I currently go to bed after midnight, and if I can get away with it, I will sleep until 230pm. There are other nights I do not sleep at all, and then in the morning I sleep a few hours and think that it will suffice. I have thought a lot about why I have such a difficult time with sleep. I think this quote fits when my non-sleeping or over-sleeping began: “I don’t know if you’ve ever felt like that. That you wanted to sleep for a thousand years. Or just not exist. Or just not be aware that you do exist. Or something like that. I think wanting that is very morbid, but I want it when I get like this. That’s why I’m trying not to think. I just want it all to stop spinning.” (Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower)
It is now a horrible non-sleeping habit for me.
Thus, my goal for the month of February is sleep, and having sleep become a regular pattern for me. I know from reading textbooks, peer reviewed essays and statistics, that sleep is essential for mental and physical health. Part of caring for my emotional self also ties into this goal. I am learning to have some self-compassion and allow myself to make mistakes and be more flexible. Part of creating good goals is to create goals that are attainable. I will be kind and understanding toward myself if there are days where I get up later than planned, as long as I continue to strive for and become closer to my goal. For instance, if I am going to bed at 11pm each evening but am not getting up until 9am that is a step to working towards my goal. If this is not interfering with priorities in my life, then I can be flexible. The goal is intended to correct my insomnia and poor sleeping habits.
I will continue to solidify some goals for a full month throughout this year, but will also be changing patterns in my life that are smaller and easier to change. I have found that some goals and strategies are easier to clarify than others. I desire positive changes overall in my life, and I want these changes to have a lasting impact.
Part 2: Understanding Barriers, Motivations and Beliefs
There are days I feel depressed, tired or busy. There are days where I could stay in bed all day, or put a mask on to make it in the outside world. There are days when my physical or emotional pain makes me not want to do anything. These days are less often than last year, and for that I am grateful. However, knowing that not every day is going to be great, I want to have a contingency plan. I am not always motivated to change. So how can you choose to make changes in your life if you will not follow through?
Motivation is very important to completing goals. If one is not seeing the need to change, and is not motivated to make the change, nothing will happen. Language and motivation are vital to create positive change in your life. I mention language, because if you consistently tell yourself you cannot do something because you have no time, are too tired, or are too busy etc. you will not do it. If you state instead that you are busy however you can give 15 minutes to go for that walk each day, you are more likely to go for that walk.
Entering into the social work field, I must be aware that my personal life can influence my professional life. I have a personal reason for entering the field of social work, thus this is in part, my motivation for working. I like to help people. Experience can also come from one’s personal life, and can help or hinder the social work practice.
Some barriers to my own self care plan could be my chronic medical conditions. Pain can cause me to stay at home and isolate myself from others, thus creating a barrier. Other barriers could be finances, age, or family responsibilities. Many times, attitudes and beliefs form personal barriers that stand in the way of caring for yourself. Not taking care of yourself may be a lifelong pattern, with taking care of others an easier option. However, you cannot care for others well if you are not well yourself.
Part 3: Development of a Self-Care Action Plan
Goal One: Improve Physical Health
1. Go to sleep before 11pm every evening, and get up by 730am on weekdays and 9am on weekends.
2. Exercise on a regular basis at least twice a week
3. Eat three meals a day and two snacks if still hungry
4. Reduce caffeine consumption
5. Quit smoking
1. If I sleep at the same time every night and get up at the same time every day for one month, this will become a habit, and thus I will be able to maintain this. I will also do things to encourage sleep: a) no caffeine after 3pm b) do something restful before bed… Ie. have a warm bath, read a book, apply aromatherapy sleep aid c) if I cannot sleep due to pain, take medication to help me sleep as per doctor’s recommendations
2. If I exercise properly I can keep my back stable for longer periods of time, and be more fit. a) Continue to attend physiotherapy every two weeks b) Put exercise in my calendar c) Do Pilates once a week d) go to the gym at least once a week (under doctor’s permission)
3. Eat around the same time each day to help maintain this. a) plan meals ahead of time b) don’t eat after 7pm c) prepare lunches the night before d) begin with adding breakfast each day and continue to eat dinner as a family
4. Taking caffeine away for one month should help to maintain a reduction of caffeine. a) After one month of no caffeine, have only one to two cups a day b) drink herbal tea in place of caffeine
5. Changing habits and replacing smoking with healthy choices a) drink water or eat carrot sticks b) meditate instead of smoking c) explore what triggers wanting to smoke and deal with those triggers d) reduce nicotine consumption over a months’ time
Goal 2: Improve Mental Health
For myself, mental health includes my emotional and spiritual well-being.
1. Go to church
4. Go to Adult Day Therapy
5. Use supports given for mental health
7. Do something fun
8. Find the Positives
9. Do something calming
10. Talk to someone
11. Be flexible
12. Time for solitude
1. Attend church more regularly a) If not able to go in the morning, choose an afternoon service at another church b) Have church at home, read and listen to music
2. Meditate a) Meditate each morning at the same time every day b) listen to music or guided meditation to help c) Use meditation DVD or mindfulness workbook
3. Breathe a) when feeling heart rate increase, chest pain, heaviness or other panic signs, take deep slow breaths. b) practice breathing during meditation
4. Attend Adult Day Therapy a) attend grounding and education sessions b) talk to case worker about how you are feeling c) practice grounding exercises regularly
5. Take care of mental health through: a) taking medication regularly b) talking to psychologist, case worker and doctor regularly
6. Write a) write about your day or feelings and triggers that arise b) write before bed each night
7. Do something fun a) paint a picture b) make cards c) take pictures of things you find beauty in d) tell a joke e) laugh f) maintain weekly date night with spouse g) have weekly game night with family
8. Find the positive in negative situations a) look at situation in a different perspective b) write a list of positives
9. Do something calming a) go for a walk b) have a bubble bath c) use aromatherapy d) practice calm yoga
10. Talk to someone a) go visit a friend b) call someone c) ask your husband to go for a walk with you
11. Be flexible a) things can change and that is not the end of the world b) be kind and forgiving to yourself when you make a mistake
12. Time for solitude a) time without electronics b) prayer c) walk by self
Financial: create a budget in writing with spouse involvement; pay an extra $100 a month on debts
Priority-Setting: Maintain boundaries at work, school and home that contribute to my physical and mental safety; write a to do list; use calendar
By writing this Self-care Action Plan, I have begun my process in harmonizing professional and personal life. I will take one step at a time as I change areas in my life. I will reward myself through looking through a different lens and seeing my small victories.
Since I began writing this self-care plan, three months have passed, and I have begun some of this self-care process. I began this process working on my physical self. In January, I had begun working on my sleep habits, learning to be flexible as this was a process for me. I now sleep most nights between 1030pm and 1130pm, and wake before 900am most mornings. Weekends are still sometimes a struggle for me, and I continue to work on choosing not to stay in bed. February was to be devoted to exercise. I can state that I have exercised more since beginning this part of my self-care action plan. However, I am just beginning physiotherapy again, and have found that by scheduling exercise in my calendar, this motivates me more often than not to actually exercise. I will continue this through April. I have reduced caffeine, and do not drink caffeine after 3pm. I have tried quitting smoking on numerous occasions, and will not be giving up my goal to quit smoking, however at this time I continue to smoke. I am learning that I cannot do everything at once, giving up bad habits is a process. I am trying to eat three meals a day, but still struggle with eating dinner. As we eat dinner as a family, this in itself helps me to try and eat. I am also aware that the medications I am on can affect my eating.
I have also worked on parts of my mental self. I have stopped taking one of the medications I was on after reading lengthy reports on its long term effects. It has been almost one month since I stopped taking this medication. The withdrawal symptoms made my process of self-care difficult, however, I managed to continue through the side effects and feel that it was a good decision overall. I continue to take my other medications, and this is important to my mental health. I continue to attend Adult Day Therapy at least once a week. This helps reaffirm tools I can use when I feel that I am mentally “slipping”. I find I am using breathing and writing as tools to help through anxious moments, and am working on looking at things through a more positive lens. I have not been able to attend church regularly as I find mornings are slow moving for me, however I have begun to attend an afternoon church on Sundays, which I feel will help me continue. I will continue to work through this self-care action plan and see this as an ongoing process.
Moving through this self-care action plan helps me remember the person I am. “The person in life that you will always be with the most, is yourself. Because even when you are with others, you are still with yourself, too! When you wake up in the morning, you are with yourself, lying in bed at night you are with yourself, walking down the street in the sunlight you are with yourself. What kind of person do you want to walk down the street with? What kind of person do you want to wake up in the morning with? What kind of person do you want to see at the end of the day before you fall asleep? Because that person is yourself, and it’s your responsibility to be that person you want to be with. I know I want to spend my life with a person who knows how to let things go, who’s not full of hate, who’s able to smile and be carefree. So that’s who I have to be.” – C. JoyBell C. This is not the conclusion, but the beginning of change.