Drawing up a self-care plan, according to experts

Stick to a self-care plan

Self-care has never been more important. But that doesn’t necessarily make it easier to stick to a self-care regimen.

Between work responsibilities, family obligations, and life’s ups and downs, we often don’t have enough time to build, let alone maintain, a self-care regimen.

But now might be the time to get a little more serious about committing to a self-care plan. (These are the signs you’re not taking care of yourself.)

Why practice self-care?

A recent survey conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA) looked at stress in America and found that most of us are stressed.

Nearly eight in ten adults surveyed cite Covid-19 as a “major source of stress” in their lives. Nearly seven in ten say they have experienced more stress during the pandemic.

The APA also found that nearly half of those surveyed felt their behavior was negatively impacted as a result of the pandemic. In particular, they indicate unexpected mood swings, emotional outbursts and heightened tension. (Here are short positive quotes to boost your mood.)

This is especially troubling given that anxiety affects 40 million adults, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Depression affects more than six million adults each year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Now more than ever, it’s important to make self-care a priority. (Here are some self-care quotes to get you started.)

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Tips for creating a self-care plan

To prioritize self-care in your life, here are nine tips for successfully putting together your own customized self-care plan.

Make up your own rules

“People have a preconceived notion of self-care and think they need to perform specific tasks,” says Candice Williams, a licensed professional counselor and athletic counselor at Ohio State University. “But self-care is what you make it. I always tell my clients that they can make their own rules.”

You can choose to build a daily, weekly, quarterly, or annual self-care regimen. Perhaps this includes 15 minute meditations and/or nighttime diaries. Add an eight-hour sleep routine or commit to quarterly mini-vacations. (Here are tips from therapists for starting a journal.)

The primary goal of self-care involves participating in “meaningful activities that reduce stress while promoting optimal health and wellness,” says Barbara Ford Shabazz, a clinical psychologist and director of the psychology program at South University. “Making a plan is a highly individualized undertaking.”

Be realistic

Williams recommends creating a realistic self-care regimen that takes into account your day-to-day responsibilities and obligations. “Often people are too ambitious and make a self-care plan that they can’t stick to,” she says.

“Self-care shouldn’t be stressful,” adds Shabazz. “Be realistic about cost and time investments. Do what you can with what you have. Don’t be afraid to scale back or adjust if you need to.” And don’t lose from good to perfect.

Balance intentionality with flexibility

When building a self-care regimen, it’s important to consciously include activities that are relaxing and calming. But keep in mind that you may need to make changes to your regimen if needed. Williams also recommends getting organized to feel more grounded and settled. (Also try these tips for organizing kitchens for healthy eating.)

Guard your boundaries and recognize your barriers

Williams emphasizes the importance of setting and maintaining boundaries with your responsibilities, such as work, and with the people in your life. Maintaining boundaries can also help you identify barriers that may keep you from maintaining a self-care regimen. “Removing something you think is an unhealthy distraction is an act of self-care in itself,” Williams says.

Boundaries are also important to guard when working from home due to the pandemic. Williams recommends setting aside at least 30 minutes a day to eat lunch outside your workspace and establish a specific closing time for answering emails and performing work-related tasks. (Here are more tips for making more “me-time”.)

Make a “You” list

As you build your self-care regimen, consider creating a “you” list. This does not include various work-related deadlines or work for others. “Write self-care activities on small pieces of paper or popsicle sticks and place them in a jar,” suggests Williams. “Every time you want to participate in a self-care activity, take it out of your ‘you-list’ jar.”

Shabazz recommends that you plan your self-regulation in a way that honors your full self. “It is imperative that your mental, physical, spiritual, emotional, financial, social, and professional needs have separate space and attention,” she says. “Identify ways you want to take care of yourself in each domain. Develop a master list, keep it handy and consult it often.”

Be in the moment by unplugging the power cord

In any self-care activity, it is important to be in the moment.

“An important part of self-care is being present in the moment and being aware of how our bodies and minds respond to daily responsibilities and how that affects our productivity,” says Willams. “This allows us to step back and take stock of where we are exaggerating. Remember: anything you can’t get rid of, you’re a slave to.” (Try these little habits to improve your mental health.)

Bet on consistency

Most things are ineffective if they are not done consistently. “It won’t work for you unless you do it,” Shabazz says. Consistency is key.

Make the little things work. “When it comes to self-care, it’s the little things that add up and make a big difference in your life,” says Akilah Reynolds, a licensed psychologist with The Black Girl Doctor.

Make the most of your limited free time. “Take just two minutes of your day to do something for yourself,” she suggests. “Light a candle, listen to music, take a walk, sit still, dance, stretch. Starting small can have a knock-on effect.” (Also, opt for one of these over-the-counter health products.)

Still not sure how to create a self-care plan?

If you want to create a self-care plan but aren’t sure how to put one together to meet your specific needs, consider a monthly self-care toolbox subscription, Williams suggests. (Silk + Sonder journals are a great place to start.)

Or snuggle down for a good reading. Reynolds recommends one of her favorite self-help books, Michelle Obama’s Become. Andranique Goodman, licensed professional counselor and clinical director of The Inner Psychotherapy Group, suggests: Hey, Be Calm: A 21-Day Guided Diary Workbook with Daily Reflections and Intention Setting.

Then check out these healthy experience gifts for wellness fans.

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