[Editor’s Note: Everyone has mental health experiences on the spectrum between thriving and struggling. Perhaps you (or a friend) are in a season where you need extra mental, social, emotional, spiritual, and physical support. In this #mentalhealth series we want to balance personal experience/story with input from mental health and medical professionals. We want to also explore, “How does our faith in Jesus relate to our mental health?” Our desire is to support you as you work towards mental well-being.
If you are considering hurting yourself or someone else, or you know someone who is, please contact a mental health emergency hotline. If you need urgent counselling support, Kids Help Phone is also available for young adults up to age 29 for phone calls, Facebook Messenger, or texting conversations.]
I’ll be brutally honest. Even though I live with a diagnosed mental illness, I have strong desires to be seen and known as competent and driven. Thus, I am reluctant to slow myself down and practise self-care.
Until a couple of years ago, I didn’t even know self-care was a thing. When I encountered various self-care practices in my outpatient mental health therapy sessions, they felt silly, awkward, and non-impactful.
As much as I tried to continue practising the exercises beyond my therapy sessions, they never stuck. Once I got back into my work and home life routines, my self-care practices were squeezed out.
After suffering an extreme panic attack that put my body in a constant heightened state of stress, I found myself very motivated to prioritize self-care. It is only because I practised self-care routinely that I could regain function and increase my stress resilience.
I now value the practice of self-care because it enables healthy long-term functioning. I see how its practice frees me from the unhealthy cycles of driving myself too hard and then crashing due to built-up stress. In particular, self-care and calming techniques help me resist an “all or nothing” mindset that lures me into a stressed-out lifestyle.
In my recent journey through the Sanctuary Mental Health course, I appreciated how they define self-care:
“Self-care is any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health.”
As I learn to understand what triggers my stress response and listen to my body’s stress levels, I permit myself to slow down, close my eyes, practise deep breathing and grounding exercises to root myself in the present moment.
I am also learning some simple things about myself that help. Getting outdoors allows me to gain a different perspective. Lifting weights releases a lot of the built-up tension in my muscles. Acrylic painting is calming and helps me relax.
Even though I’m learning how to take care of myself, these are things that still sometimes get in my way:
- I have a drive to perform, produce, and accomplish. I want to be heard and seen by a success-obsessed culture. I fear not being amazing. I wrongly equate my accomplishments and my material wealth with my self-worth.
- I value the well-being of others at the expense of my health. I essentially devalue my own health and well-being. If I am not extending empathy and compassion towards myself by practising self-care, how will I model it to others? In the long term, I may not be serving them well.
- I am overwhelmed and occupied with navigating decisions regarding what seems like endless options for activities. In my fear of missing out, I can allow the opportunities and the busyness of life to squeeze out my self-care time.
- I feel trapped in a perpetual cycle of poor mental, emotional, and physical health, thinking that I will never get out of it, so I give up the little things I can do. All or nothing.
- I give into faulty thinking that it is selfish and unspiritual to take care of myself. I tend to over-spiritualize my mental health recovery and devalue some practical exercises I can do to help calm myself.
I am learning that it is my responsibility to practise self-care, and when I do, it helps me be in a state of being from which I can serve others. When I am flourishing in my mental health, I am better positioned to serve others better.
Did you enjoy this article? We encourage you to check out more articles in our #mentalhealth series.