While treatment plans come in all shapes and sizes, there are four pillars that form the foundation of every self-care plan. Creating a self-care plan that addresses our physical, mental, spiritual, and relational needs is a key step in our recovery process. No two plans look the same, nor could they. Our bodies, experiences, and recovery goals all differ, requiring that our plan be uniquely tailored to us. Additionally, many of us have several self-care plans: a general day-to-day one, and at least one to handle specific situations (like a panic attack). As unique as they may be, however, research and anecdotal evidence consistently tell us that the most effective treatment plans include all four pillars. Today, we’ll look at why these pillars are so important to our plans; in the next post, we’ll talk about how to put a plan together (and avoid getting overwhelmed!).
The Physical pillar is often where most people will groan, and there’s no need for it. While it does include the standard “eat right, exercise, and get good sleep” that we hear about for our general self-care plan, we can customize it to meet our specific needs and situations. Learning what foods or drinks trigger our symptoms, or how we respond when we don’t get a good night’s rest – and how to handle those situations – means that we have influence over our illness. If I know that caffeine at 9pm means I won’t get to sleep until 1am, then I know not to drink coffee after 8:45pm. If I know that getting only three hours of sleep for two or more nights in a row means that I will likely be in a depression by day 3, then I know that I need to nail down my sleep hygiene. The more we know, the better our plan becomes.
Be sure to include a relaxation element on this list, as well. Learning how to let go of tension and take some time, even if it’s just five minutes, to do an enjoyable, low-stress activity, is crucial to our recovery success. We each relax differently: some go rock climbing; some knit; others paint, read, meditate, or pray. Whatever it is that helps you let go of what’s happening in your head and your life in that moment, make sure it gets included in your plan.
Lastly, I’m also putting “medication” on this list, for those of us who use medications as part of our recovery plan. Whatever drug you take or when you take it, it is a part of your self-care plan.
There are a few tools in the toolbox that we have for the Mental pillar of our recovery plan. The one that most typically comes to mind first is therapy. Talk therapy has the potential to yield large gains for us, and it will do so when we stick with it. We have to go on a consistent basis – which is not necessarily every week. It could be every two weeks, or four. And, there is work you can do between sessions to make the experience more successful. There’s more I could say, but I’ll leave it at this: find a trusted therapist, go consistently, and don’t quit after only a few months. Go for at least a year. It’s not time wasted.
Outside of therapy, we have other tools as we build this pillar. Two of the most effective options are journaling and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Journaling is simply writing down what you are thinking and feeling. It’s not necessarily a log of your life (“today I woke up at 6:30 and ate three oranges”). Effective journaling happens when we tap into what is happening in our lives and acknowledge the real feelings we have. CBT is a cousin to journaling; we write down the messages that the tape in our head likes to play over and over (“I’m too sensitive. I don’t deserve a promotion.”) From there, we examine them for the truth. Am I fortune telling? Am I using perfectionist thinking? What’s the real truth? The truth helps us put these messages back in context and relieve some of the pressure we feel.
The more tools we use in our mental toolbox, the better and the faster we recover. That’s not to say that the work is easy, fun, or fast: it can take months or years to break through some of the notions that hold us back. But even little bits of progress lead to big positive changes in our lives, when we have patience.
Effective journaling happens when we tap into what is happening in our lives and acknowledge the real feelings we have.
There can be times when it is tough for us to remember His presence and that He is for us.
(I’m addressing this from a Christian perspective because that’s who I am; many of these points also apply to those of other faiths.)
Our spiritual habits – reading the Bible, praying, worshiping – help connect us to God. No matter how strong our habits are, though, there can be times when it is tough for us to remember His presence and that He is for us. Beyond developing continued discipline in our spiritual habits, have a plan to help yourself remember God who He truly is—loving, caring, compassionate—in those darkest moments. Sometimes, we need help remembering that God is not a “presence;” we don’t always feel Him close to us. What can you point to, in the middle of the night? What words can you say that will remind you? Putting together this list makes it easier when it feels like we are all alone in the world to say, “I know God is with me.”
For some of us, the Relational pillar is the easiest; for others, the hardest. In this pillar, we simply identify the people in our lives that we know make a difference. When we are struggling, who can we turn to? Are there things we need to do today, so that they know how to help us when we are struggling? Do they know the right (and wrong) things to say when we’re having a panic attack? Or feeling suicidal? Can they sit there with us and just let a bad day be a bad day?
And, if we don’t have these relationships today, how are we going to change that? We know that it can be hard to meet to new people, and that real, deep relationships take time to create. It can be tough to meet new people—or even to know where to start. Our society no longer organizes the way that it once did, making meeting new people challenging. A good to place to start (regardless of your religious background) is a local church. Go to a couple of services to make sure that you have a basic values alignment and get a sense of how friendly the church is. From there, most churches will have opportunities for you to volunteer, or join an activity to meet people. It can be an easy way to get introductions and start to building out a support group. Making sure that we know who we can turn to and walk with in a time of need makes it easier when we need to call in the cavalry for help.
Making sure that we know who we can turn to and walk with in a time of need makes it easier when we need to call in the cavalry for help.
Self-care doesn’t mean that we do everything, or that we do everything “right.”
Self-care doesn’t mean that we do everything, or that we do everything “right.” It means that we know our risk points, and we have a plan in place to help us in those moments. It means that we know how to help ourselves – sometimes to prevent a bad moment, sometimes to get through a bad moment, and sometimes to recover from a bad moment. Self-care is about having the right plan (or plans) in place for ourselves, customized to who we are and what we specifically need. It helps us identify the important physical, mental, spiritual, and relational components needed to keep us safe. If you haven’t created a self-care plan yet, I encourage you to do so. For more information on how to approach a self-care plan, check out this post.