As a counselor, I encourage self-care strategies on a routine basis, but how hypocritical am I each time I turn to a cupcake for comfort or vent vehemently? I’ve recently cut sugar out of my diet and this change has caused me to examine how I cope with stress. In fact, I actually have to manage stress, instead of just coping with it. I realized I have some pretty sloppy self-care.
Self-care strategies are activities that help reduce stress without doing any harm to you or others in return. Many times, we cope, we ride out the bad circumstance, waiting for something to change, for the moment to pass, or for instant gratification. Self-care strategies are much more active than coping. Self-care strategies require doing something intentional to change your mood or lower your stress.
It might sound like I’m comparing apples to apples here. Let me give you a visual to make things more clear. If coping is the act of putting one foot in front of the other and continuing forward when stressors are triggered, use of a self-care strategy looks like walking forward on that same path, stopping for a break to acknowledge the stress, rolling out your yoga mat for some downward facing dogs, standing up, and continuing on your way.
Coping is often mindless, it comes naturally, without any thought. For me, coping is a walk to the vending machine for a Snickers or meeting up with a friend for wine and whining. Neither of these actions changes the stressful situation and if anything, may add stress to the situation. Complaining allows me to relive my bad mood, instead of changing it, and a long venting session may negatively effect the mood of whomever I am whining to. Eating sugar causes a spike and crash in blood sugar leading to hormonal changes that in return, physically put your body into a stress state. How’s that for an unintended effect.
Use of a self-care strategy can feel unnatural. These strategies are often part of a list of ideas that we’ve heard work well for stress management, but never actually do when we are stressed. Because self-care strategies are not automatic responses, it’s a good idea to create a list in advance. Keep that list posted somewhere really accessible. If reading emails triggers stress, keep the list near the computer. If emotional eating is your go-to coping mechanism, keep the list on the refrigerator. If smoking a cigarette is how you cope, keep the list in your pack of cigarettes.
The items on your list should be personal. Self-care strategies are not one-size fits all. Your list should include activities that are simple and give you joy. A self-care strategy is emotional. The action may evoke a feeling of comfort, it may energize or entertain you, or refocus your mind from the stress. Below is my personal list of 10 self-care strategies. Use them for inspiration to start your own list.
10 Kate-Tested Self-Care Strategies
*Create a list of self-care strategies
*Drink a cup of tea
*Take three slow breaths before a meal, and experience the physical activity that is eating
*Walk for two minutes to get blood flowing
*FaceTime with a baby
*Go outside, even if the weather is horrible, even if it’s only for two minutes; nature is worth it
*Find nature to recharge in, a hike on the weekend, or spend ten minutes on a park bench
*Cuddle with a dog
*Add subtle changes to the work environment with aroma therapy or change the location of my workspace for a different view
*Leave the building on a work break to have a brief change of scenery
Kate N., MS, CEAP, joined Empathia in 2005 as an EAP Counselor, then became a Performance Specialist in 2012. Kate has a master’s degree in Educational Psychology and is devoted to helping individuals determine how to make lasting changes. Prior to joining Empathia, she worked in the social work field as a case manager for Child Protective Services. Kate enjoys baking, yoga and escaping into the woods of Northern Wisconsin.