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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

How to Customize a Self-Care Plan That Works For You

How to Customize a Self-Care Plan That Works For You

With all that’s going on in the world right now, we have to take care of ourselves and those close to us more than ever. Most importantly, we have to learn proper self-care if we want to stay mentally and physically healthy.

What is Self-Care?

Let’s start with the basics. What exactly is self-care?

Really, it’s anything that we do that takes care of our emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual health. Because it is such a broad term, it gives us some liberty as to how we want to implement it into our life.

We can also think of it in terms of this question: “how do you take care of yourself?”

When asked this, we can start to think of how we tend to our most primal needs. In essence, self-care is a habitual, conscious routine that we do to take care of our wholesome self. It brings us back into balance with ourselves, as we ebb and flow with the ups and downs of life.

Our self-care plan acts as an anchor when things get too one-sided and reminds us that we have a routine in place that can bring us back to homeostasis.[1]

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What Are the Benefits of Self-Care?

Think back on a time when you really treated yourself. How did it feel? Did you feel lighter, more joyful, more present with the world?

These are some of those butterfly feelings that you can expect when you tune into your self-care plan. When we do good by our wholesome health, we feel good! Sticking to a self-care routine reduces our anxiety, curtails depression, and brings us back to present-moment awareness.

These mental and emotional improvements significantly affect our physical health: lower blood pressure, improved sleep, focused concentration, and a clearer path to exercise and proper nutrition.

A self-care plan also allows us to better take care of our immune system. To paint this in a clearer picture, imagine your immune system as the master dashboard screen on a highly-technical computer. It governs everything. When we take care of this dashboard system, we know everything that feeds off of it is running smoothly.

The same can be said of our physical immune system. When we take care of ourselves in every way, our immune system can be stronger to fight off pathogens and diseases, thus keeping us healthier for longer. In this day and age, that is more important than ever![2]

Customizing Your Plan

Now that you’re ready to get started creating your own routine, here are a few suggestions on how to begin.

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1. Observe What Is Out of Balance Today

It may be your physical health or your emotional state of being. Perhaps you’ve been under a lot of stress at work and your mind just needs a reset. Observe what feels out of alignment and where you tend to struggle. This will give you a clearer picture of where you need to prioritize your self-care.

2. Make a Clear Outline of Prioritizing Your Health

When you know what needs more care, you can create a roadmap for yourself. This may look like a simple outline on a piece of paper, or you may want to draw it out or use this template as a creative starting point.

This allows you to get all of your ideas out of your head and into something tangible that you can hold on to. For accountability, stick it on your fridge or your mirror![3]

3. Keep It Simple

Before you get into the nitty-gritty, remind yourself to keep it simple. There is so much information online and in self-help books that it can be overwhelming to take it all in.

Sometimes, it may feel as if we need to completely revamp our entire life to feel like we’re truly taking care of ourselves. In reality, when we come back to simplicity, this is where our health truly blossoms. When we can cut ties with too much work, involvement, stress, and over-doing, we can return to the basics of a happy life.

Keep this in mind as you attract what brings you peace and health and what (and who) keeps you from it.

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4. Choose Categories That You’d Like to Give More Attention To

These may be relationships, work, intimacy, money, exercise, or anything else that is important to you. Think back again on areas where you feel like you could use some more love and attention. From there, categories may naturally arise.

On the other hand, if it’s easier, feel free to simply list out categories that are broad and general, such as mental health, physical health, spiritual health, and emotional health.

5. Creatively Ask Yourself How You’d Like to Take Care of Yourself

For each of the categories above (or any that you created), think about ways that you’d like to take care of yourself. This question really gets into the marrow of self-care. It’s all about what you want.

If you’re a caretaker or someone who gives a lot to others, this may be a hard question to answer. Stick with it! It is teaching you how to prioritize yourself, perhaps for the first time! Some of your answers may be super simple, like taking more walks during lunch rather than sitting in your office. Perhaps they’re more complex and grandiose, like finally taking that dream vacation.

There are no right and wrong answers here; only what brings you joy!

6. Implement Your Answers

Make an appointment in your calendar or set an alarm to remind you to take that walk or drink more water. Plans without action just collect dust on pieces of paper. When you implement your ideas, they slowly begin to create your new healthful habits.

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Over time, this will become second-nature. For the time being, if it helps, think about an accountability buddy with whom you can share this experience. They can help you stick to your self-care plan and maybe even join in!

7. Give Yourself a Break

Life happens, and we don’t always stick to our self-care routine. Practice forgiveness! This is also just as much a part of your self-care plan as anything else. Forgiveness reminds us that we are human and that we have off days. It removes the guilt and grief that we carry when we’re subconsciously striving for perfection.

Final Thoughts

Self-care is any practice that brings us back to our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health. When we align with what brings us joy, we take better care of ourselves! Not only do we directly benefit from this, but so do the people and the world around us.

While the overload of self-care information is available to us in large dosages, it’s helpful to know that our self-care plan is entirely up to us to create. There is great liberty in knowing that we can craft the kind of routine that speaks to us in simplicity and authenticity.

More Tips on Having a Self-Care Plan

Featured photo credit: Amanda Lins via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] PsychCentral: What Self-Care Is and What It Isn’t
[2] Community Partnerships: The Importance of Self-Care
[3] Social Work Tech: Making a Self-Care Plan

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Aleksandra Slijepcevic

Accredited and Certified Vinyasa Yoga Teacher writing for Health & Fitness

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Published on April 9, 2021

What Is Mindfulness And How It Helps Your Mental Wellness

What Is Mindfulness And How It Helps Your Mental Wellness

Mindfulness has become a popular buzzword in the health and wellness industry. However, few people truly understand what it is. My aim here is to teach you what mindfulness is and how it helps your mental wellness. By the end of this article, you will understand the meaning and benefits of mindfulness. Additionally, you will develop the ability to integrate mindfulness into your daily life.

What Is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is approximately 2500-years-old with deep roots in the Eastern world as a spiritual, ethical, and philosophical practice. These roots are intimately connected to the Buddhist practice of vipassana meditation.[1]

Mindfulness continues to be practiced as a cultural and spiritual tradition in many parts of the world. For Buddhists, it offers an ethical and moral code of conduct. For many, mindfulness is more than a practice—it is a way of life.[2]

However, mindfulness has evolved in the Western world and has become a non-religious practice for wellbeing. The evolution began around 1979 when Jon-Kabat Zinn developed Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).[3] Since then, mindfulness has emerged in the health and wellness industry and continues to evolve.

It is important to recognize the distinctions between mindfulness as a clinical practice and mindfulness as a cultural practice. The focus of this article is on the clinical model of mindfulness developed in the West.

Many researchers have integrated aspects of Buddhism and mindfulness into clinical psychiatry and psychology. Buddhism has helped to inform many mental health theories and therapies. However, the ethical and moral codes of conduct that drive Buddhist practices are no longer integrated into the mindfulness practices most-often taught in the Western world.[4] Therefore, Western mindfulness is often a non-spiritual practice for mental wellness.

Mindfulness aims to cultivate present moment awareness both within the body and the environment.[5] However, awareness is only the first element. Non-judgmental acceptance of the present moment is essential for true mindfulness to occur. Thoughts and feelings are explored without an emphasis on right, wrong, past, or future.

The only necessary condition for mindfulness to occur is non-judgmental acceptance and awareness of the present moment. Mindfulness can be practiced by anyone, anywhere, and at any time. It does not need to be complex even though structured programs exist.

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How Mindfulness Helps Your Mental Wellness

Along with MBSR, other models have been developed and adapted for use by clinical counselors, psychologists, and therapists. These include Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT).[6]

Structured models of mindfulness allow researchers to study its benefits. Research has uncovered an abundance of benefits including mental, physical, cognitive, and spiritual. The following is not a comprehensive list of all its benefits, but it will begin to uncover how mindfulness helps mental wellness.

Benefits on Your Mental Health

Practicing mindfulness can have positive impacts on mental health. It has been positively associated with desirable traits, such as:

  • Autonomy
  • Agreeableness
  • Conscientiousness
  • Competence
  • Empathy
  • Optimism

Mindfulness helps to improve self-esteem, increase life satisfaction and enhance self-compassion. It is associated with pleasant emotions and mood. Overall, people who practice this appear to be happier and experience more joy in life. Not only does it increase happiness but it may also ward off negativity.

Mindfulness helps individuals to let go of negative thoughts and regulate emotions. For example, it may decrease fear, stress, worry, anger, and anxiety. It also helps to reduce rumination, which is a repetition of negative thoughts in the mind.

MBSR was originally designed to treat chronic pain. It has since evolved to include the treatment of anxiety and depression. Clinical studies have shown that MBSR is linked with:

  • Reduced chronic pain and improved quality of life
  • Decreased risk of relapse in depression
  • Reduced negative thinking in anxiety disorders
  • Prevention of major depressive disorders
  • Reducing substance-use frequency and cravings

However, more research is needed before these clinical studies can be generalized to the public. Nevertheless, there is promising evidence to suggest MBSR may be beneficial for mental health.[7]

Benefits on Your Cognitive Health

Mindfulness has many important benefits for cognitive health as well. In a study of college students, mindfulness increased performance in attention and persistence. Another study found that individuals who practice it have increased cognitive flexibility. A brain scan found increased thickness in areas of the brain related to attention, interception, and sensory processing.[8]

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To explain this another way, practicing mindfulness can improve the ability to shift from one task to the next, increase attention span and increase awareness of bodily sensations and the environment. Therefore, it has the potential to literally change your brain for the better.

Harvard researchers are also interested in studies of the brain and mindfulness. One researcher studied how brain changes are sustained even when individuals are not engaged in mindfulness. Their research suggests that its benefits extend beyond the moments of mindfulness.[9]

Another study found that the benefits of mindfulness training lasted up to five years. In this particular case, individuals participating in mindfulness activities showed increased attention-span. Mindfulness has also been shown to increase problem-solving and decrease mind wandering.[10]

What Is Mindfulness Meditation?

Mindfulness can be practiced in many different ways. However, most practices include these elements:

  • An object to focus awareness on (breath, body, thoughts, sounds)
  • Awareness of the present moment
  • Openness to experience whatever comes up
  • Acceptance that the mind will wander
  • The intention to return awareness to the object of focus whenever the mind wanders

A practice that encompasses these elements is typically called mindfulness meditation. Most mindfulness meditations will be practiced between 5 to 50 minutes, per day.[11]

There is truly no right or wrong way to practice mindfulness. Most mindfulness meditations are done seated with an object of focus related to the breath, body, thoughts, emotions, or sounds. However, daily activities such as walking or eating can be practiced as a form of mindfulness meditation, as long as the aforementioned elements are in place.

Four Mindfulness Meditations and Their Benefits

Not all forms of mindfulness are created equal. Each practice has unique goals, structure, and benefits. The following four mindfulness meditations are linked with improved mental wellness related to vitality, happiness, and attention.

The results come from a study designed to explore the benefits of these four practices. All of these stem from traditional Buddhist practices.[12]

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1. Loving-Kindness Meditation

Loving-kindness is a form of meditation that focuses on sending love and compassion to others. It may begin with kindness for the self and extend outward towards close family and friends, communities, nations, and the world. Loving-kindness may even involve sending love and compassion towards enemies.

The study found that eight-weeks of loving-kindness meditation increased feelings of closeness to others. However, it did not reduce negative feelings towards enemies. Additionally, one week of loving-kindness mixed with compassion training increased the amount of positive feelings participants experienced.[13]

2. Breathing Meditation

Breathing meditation is a practice where the focus remains on the breath. Whenever the mind begins to wander, the attention is brought back to the breath.

In many different mindfulness and yoga practices, specific breathing (pranayama) practices are taught. However, for beginners, simple diaphragmatic breathing that focuses on each inhale and exhale is sufficient.

The effects of breathing meditation relate to attention. Breathing meditation is linked to changes in the way information is processed. Buddhist monks who practiced breathing meditation were able to process a greater amount of information than monks who practiced compassion meditation.

3. Body Scan Meditation

A body scan is as simple as it sounds. Attention is brought to each part of the body. Participants can choose to start from the top of the head or the bottom of the feet. It can be helpful to imagine a warmth or a color spreading from one body part to the next as each part begins to relax.

When body scan and breathing are combined, there are many benefits. Interoceptive sensitivity is the mind’s ability to focus on bodily cues. It is strengthened by body scanning. Body scanning also helps with attention and focus.[14]

4. Observing Thoughts Meditation

In observing thoughts meditation, the focus is on the thoughts. This is an opportunity to practice non-judgmental observation. It is also a practice of non-attachment.

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Within the study, participants practiced structured observation of thoughts. First, they brought their attention to their thoughts and labeled them within several categories: past, present, future, self, or others. Then, they practiced observing their thoughts without an emotional reaction.[15]

The benefits of this practice were robust. First, participants showed great improvement in the ability to observe their thoughts without judgment. Second, the practice greatly reduced rumination. As a result, participants had fewer emotional reactions to their thoughts and developed greater self-awareness around their thinking patterns.

In summary, there are many different ways to practice mindfulness meditation. The choice may be determined by the benefits each practice offers. For example, body scanning can increase bodily awareness. Thought-observation can increase self-awareness and decrease rumination. Regardless, every practice may increase positivity, energy, and focus.[16]

Considerations Before You Begin Practicing Mindfulness

Mindfulness is still a relatively new concept in clinical research. Critics worry that its benefits have been overstated. There is also concern that the Western world has changed it into something most Buddhists would not recognize.[17]

Mindfulness is a state of mind that builds self-awareness. As a result, it may force individuals to face difficult emotions, memories, and thoughts. In a study of long-term, intense mindfulness practices, 60% of participants reported at least one negative outcome. Some cases are related to depression, anxiety, and psychosis.[18]

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to mental wellness. Mindfulness offering promising results but there are also risks involved. Working with a therapist may be a great way to start a mindfulness practice while monitoring for risk.

Final Thoughts

Mindfulness is a powerful practice that has deep roots in Buddhism. It is a practice of present-moment awareness, acceptance of the present moment, and non-judgment of thoughts, emotions, or circumstances.

It has many benefits that may increase mental wellness. However, there are also some risks to consider. Overall, you should consider your unique profile before beginning a practice or consider working with a therapist at the start.

More About Practicing Mindfulness

Featured photo credit: Simon Migaj via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] NCBI: A Perspective on the Similarities and Differences Between Mindfulness and Relaxation
[2] Sage Journals: Mindfulness in Cultural Context
[3] Greater Good Magazine: What is Mindfulness?
[4] Sage Journals: Mindfulness in Cultural Context
[5] Greater Good Magazine: The State of Mindfulness Science
[6] NCBI: Effects of Mindfulness on Psychological Health: A Review of Empirical Studies
[7] NCBI: Mindfulness Meditation and Psychopathology
[8] NCBI: Effects of Mindfulness on Psychological Health: A Review of Empirical Studies
[9] The Harvard Gazette: When Science Meets Mindfulness
[10] Greater Good Magazine: The State of Mindfulness Science
[11] NCBI: A Perspective on the Similarities and Differences Between Mindfulness and Relaxation
[12] ResearchGate: Phenomenological Fingerprints of Four Meditations: Differential State Changes in Affect, Mind-Wandering, Meta-Cognition, and Interoception Before and After Daily Practice Across Nine Months of Training
[13] ResearchGate: Phenomenological Fingerprints of Four Meditations: Differential State Changes in Affect, Mind-Wandering, Meta-Cognition, and Interoception Before and After Daily Practice Across Nine Months of Training
[14] ResearchGate: Phenomenological Fingerprints of Four Meditations: Differential State Changes in Affect, Mind-Wandering, Meta-Cognition, and Interoception Before and After Daily Practice Across Nine Months of Training
[15] ResearchGate: Phenomenological Fingerprints of Four Meditations: Differential State Changes in Affect, Mind-Wandering, Meta-Cognition, and Interoception Before and After Daily Practice Across Nine Months of Training
[16] Greater Good Magazine: How to Choose a Type of Mindfulness Meditation
[17] NCBI: Has the Science of Mindfulness Lost Its Mind?
[18] NCBI: Has the Science of Mindfulness Lost Its Mind?

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