The importance of and need for good self-care is hardly a new idea, long promoted by both medical and mental health professionals as a critical component of our overall wellbeing, and even increasingly accepted by employers who recognize its importance and encourage their employees toward more well-balanced living. More and more, it is apparent that people are taking self-care to heart, with social observers seeing active change: parents are beginning to back away from pushing their kids into every activity in favor of allowing unstructured time and emphasizing relaxation and play; young adults – and even the not-so-young – are rebelling against traditional working conditions and expectations, causing businesses to rethink recruitment, retention, and operations; recreation has become an even bigger personal focus for many people and a bigger part of the economy, as people seek outlets to feed their body and soul as much as they do their bank account.
We providers of mental healthcare welcome these changes in outlook and understanding! The benefits of self-care to the individual have carryover benefits to society as a whole, in terms of health, fitness, and economics, and growing awareness of mental health issues leads people to seek out help when needed without shame. But we are also acutely aware that, for many, self-care is elusive or nonexistent, and the very idea of prioritizing themselves is foreign.
Early in my career as a police officer, I saw how the pressures of the job – long and irregular hours, disrupted sleep and life rhythms, physical and emotional disconnection from family and friends, cynicism and frequent burnout, to name just a few – adversely affected most my colleagues and eventually even myself. I learned how easy it was to be sucked into bad habits and sacrifice healthy pursuits. After seeing far too many friends and coworkers suffering from poor self-care, Althea and I decided to make it our top priority, adapting the following principles:
- Work hard, but always, ALWAYS be sure to play harder!
- Prioritize fun! Even if you need to put work or responsibilities on the forefront for a while, have something fun on the books to look forward to.
- Practice good health. You read that right, good health is a practice! Focus on frequent exercise, healthy diet, sleep, and regular medical care.
- Commit to being a lifelong learner. Our brains benefit greatly from regular stimulation, and one of the surest ways to keep it healthy is with learning new tasks and stepping out of our comfort zones.
- Say, “Yes!” to new experiences and opportunities for learning, fun, and variety. Be open to novelty!
- But know when to say “No” to protect personal boundaries.