Lately, there has been a lot of talk about self care within the mental health community. In this era of greater mental health awareness, we are in a constant search of ways to pay attention to and take care of our emotional health. As a therapist, I am fully jumping on this trend. However, we have to be careful not to put self care in to a box. Self care is not just a mental health intervention, it applies to all aspects of our health and wellbeing. So while you are leaning into the mental health benefits of taking good care of yourself, let’s not discount the importance of other aspects of self care, like physical self care.
Physical Self Care Step 1: Assess Your Current Physical Symptoms
When it comes to physical self care, it is best to start by determining what is going on in your physical body. We can then figure out out specific physical needs and in turn, we can use physical self care to get these needs met. So before we jump into practicing physical self care without any direction, we need to bring some awareness to our current physical symptoms.
Start by noticing what you are specifically experiencing within your body. When I ask people to do this in therapy, they often revert back to emotional symptoms and say things such as stress, overwhelm, anxiety, or depression. This makes total sense to me as a therapist but I want to go a little deeper. Anxiety is an emotional symptom. But how does anxiety feel in your body? This is the physical symptom. It may manifest as shortness of breath, joint paint, physical tension, or restless movement. The importance of this exercise is recognizing the actual physical symptoms that you are experiencing so that we can design a physical self care plan to address them.
Step 2: Explore Your Physical Needs
The next step in planning your physical self care is to explore your needs. After completing the first step of identifying your physical symptoms, you can use this information to determine what specific physical needs you make have. For example, if you noticed that you are feeling tension in your neck, what might you need? Maybe you need pain relief, or rest. Maybe you need to practice some restorative exercises. Of course it is always important to consider any specific medical recommendations or prescriptions that you have in place. Once you have determined your specific physical need we can be well on our way to designing a physical self care solution to get this need met.
Physical Self Care Step 3: Acknowledge Your Limitations
Now that you know what you are feeling and what you physically need, there is one more very important step to consider before determining your physical self care strategy. You have to recognize and address any limitations that may get in the way of getting this need met. If we do not take limitations into consideration, we can easily make the mistake of creating physical self care plan that is unachievable. This will ultimately and inevitably lead to self sabotage and failure.
There are many limitations that may exist in your journey of physical self care and wellness. Sometimes we have specific doctors orders that keep us from doing certain activities. Other times we have financial restrictions that keep us from being able to do certain things. There are also time constraints, scheduling issues, and many other general life issues that may get in the way of what we think we should be doing to practice good physical self care. When we totally ignore these things, we end up making physical self care plans that are unrealistic and ultimately set us up for failure.
Step 4: Plan Your Physical Self Care
So, after exploring your physical symptoms, physical needs, and addressing your limitations, you are ready to start building a physical self care plan. Remember, self care is defined as “taking care of yourself”. So whatever you do to take care of your physical needs, is, by definition, physical self care. Designing your physical self care is done by simply asking yourself, “Given my limitations, what can I do to get these needs met?”
The answer to this question is your physical self care plan. Going back to the previous example, if you determined that you are experiencing neck tension and recognize that you need rest, physical self care would be the act of lying down in a comfortable place with the intention of resting your body and giving relief to your neck. It’s that simple.
Leave a Reply