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Self-Care is Not Self-Indulgence

January 28, 2021

When I was asked to write to my OCA colleagues for #BellLetsTalk Day last year, I focused on our collective responsibility as camp professionals to be on the lookout for the mental health of others. Little did I know that our mental health and the mental health of others would become such an important part of our daily lives. While I still believe that we are lucky to be in a position to take care of the mental health of those close to us, I left out a very important aspect of caring for the mental health of others… taking care of your own mental health.

While we don’t need any reminders of how challenging the last year has been for everyone,I do want to acknowledge that the uncertainty, fear and forced closure faced by the camp community was certainly unprecedented. And while you have likely been caring for your families and your community, it would be irresponsible of me, as a mental health professional, to not spend some time talking to you about how to take care of yourselves. 

Self-care is often described as doing things like going to the gym or going for a manicure. Not only are these things impossible during a lockdown, but I’ve had clients tell me that they feel these things are self-indulgent and can make them feel guilty for taking that time for themselves. I believe that’s where we miss the point on self-care; it’s not about the activity, it’s about the feeling that it leaves us with. If your self-care is sitting and playing Candy Crush for 2 hours, that’s great! You have found a way to zone out and enjoy yourself, but if you feel guilty about wasted time after, that is not self-care. When talking about self-care with my clients, I focus on the concepts of permission and forgiveness. Permission to do the things that make you feel good. Forgiveness for the times that you’re not as productive as you think you should be. By focusing on forgiveness and permission you’ll be relieving yourself of the guilt that is often associated with self-care.   

We need self-care. We need it to rest, refresh and recharge. Please forgive this overplayed therapeutic analogy: When you are on an airplane (remember airplanes?) and they are going through the safety procedures, the flight attendant says “put the oxygen mask on yourself before helping anyone else,” the reason being, if you don’t have oxygen, you won’t be able to help anyone around you. The same goes for self-care, if you’re not taking time to rest, refresh and recharge, you won’t have the capacity to help those around you. 

I have created a list of 7½ things you can do to look out for your own self-care. (5 isn’t enough, 8 is too many).

  1. Know Yourself – Be aware of the things that indicate that you need to take care of yourself. This may come in the form of physical pain, feeling more tired than usual or having a lower tolerance for frustration.
  2. Create a Toolkit – Take some time to think about the things that offer you the ability to rest, refresh and recharge. Maybe it’s reading a few pages of a book, rewatching a favourite episode of an old tv show or calling a friend. Have those things easily accessible.
  3. Be Prepared – Sometimes a moment for self-care may come unexpectedly… A cancelled meeting or finishing a project earlier than expected can be the perfect time to rest, refresh and recharge. Have your toolkit ready. 
  4. Tell People What You Need – Maybe you need a few minutes alone, or you want someone to just listen so you can vent. Tell them that you’re just looking for someone to listen, you’re not looking for advice or feedback. 
  5. Use “Unhealthy” Self-Care Sparingly – Sometimes we feel a need to indulge in things that may not be the best for us. Maybe it’s a drink, a mind-altering substance or food. These are not off-limits, but use them sparingly and keep an eye out for using them too much. 
  6. Self-Care Is Not Self-Indulgent – Remember this. If you’re feeling guilty, you’re not doing it right. 
  7. Get Outside – Even if it’s just for a few minutes. A little fresh air and some sunlight can go a long way. 

     7½. Remember… Forgiveness and Permission.

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