While it can feel fulfilling to support your loved ones if they are experiencing a mental health or substance use challenge, providing help can also take a toll on your own physical and mental wellbeing. It can be emotionally draining, bring up feelings of anxiety or sadness, or even make you physically tired.
Mental Health First Aiders who pay attention to their own physical and emotional wellbeing are better able to handle a crisis or the difficulties of supporting someone experiencing their own mental health or substance use challenge. Building a solid foundation for your own mental health and wellbeing is also a valid goal on its own. If you don’t have a lot of experience with self-care, it can be difficult to know where and when to start. Luckily, the Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) curriculum has tips to get you started on your self-care journey.
According to MHFA, self-care refers to activities and practices that you can engage in on a regular basis to reduce stress and maintain your short- and long-term health and wellbeing. Having a robust self-care foundation can help you adapt to changes, build strong relationships and recover from any setbacks life may throw your way. It is also necessary for your effectiveness and success in helping others as a First Aider.
Your self-care plan should consist of activities you enjoy doing, and it’s OK if your plan changes and grows as you do. Remember that self-care is something you should do for yourself, and not for anyone else. Your plan should be individualized for you and help combat the symptoms that arise with burnout, stress, anxiety, or depression.
According to the MHFA curriculum, there are five goals to keep in mind when developing your self-care plan:
Creating your plan around these goals will give you a more holistic approach to supporting your mental health and ensures that you’re covered in all areas of your wellbeing. People will differ in which areas they want to emphasize but finding a balance that works for you is important.
When thinking about self-care strategies and activities, start small. Consider simple changes you can make that will help your mental and physical health, such as getting a good night’s rest and striving for a nutritious and healthy diet. From there, you can add more activities to your list, such as yoga and meditation, getting routine medical care, cooking, and creating a “no” list for activities or events that you don’t actually enjoy doing or no longer want to do. Keep in mind that creating healthy boundaries for yourself is also a form of self-care, especially around people or events that you no longer enjoy or hurt your mental health more than they help.
The core tenet of self-care is you. Aim to find activities you enjoy that will help reduce feelings of stress and burnout, not add to it. If you find that something is no longer serving you, try something new! The ways in which you implement self-care should be intentional and actively planned rather than something that just happens – make a commitment to yourself for yourself.
If this is your first time intentionally practicing self-care, it may feel uncomfortable and difficult at first. That’s ok. Take small steps towards protecting and prioritizing your mental health, and you will see long-term benefits. In many ways self-care is the first step to #BeTheDifference, because a happy and healthy you will be better prepared to support those around you.
For more ways to implement self-care and tips on building your routine, check out our other blogs:
Mental Health First Aid USA. (2020). Mental Health First Aid USA for adults assisting adults. Washington, DC: National Council for Mental Wellbeing.