Strategies for Good Self-Care
Counselors and psychotherapists cannot stress the importance of self-care enough. Good self-care forms the foundation for physical and emotional well being, as it reduces physical and mental illness.
Good self-care encompasses 4 basic areas: Psychological, Biological, Social and Spiritual.
Based on the principles of Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), we know that how we think about ourselves, situations, and the world we live in impacts our feelings and behaviors.
Aaron T. Beck (1976) identified automatic thoughts that are damaging to a person’s emotional well being. He called them “thinking errors.”
Good psychological self-care includes noticing negative automatic thoughts to challenge and refute them.
1. All-or-nothing thinking (also called black-and white, polarized, or dichotomous thinking):
You view a situation in only two categories instead of on a continuum. E.g. “If I’m not a total success, I’m a failure.”
2. Catastrophizing (also called fortune-telling):
You predict the future negatively without considering other, more likely outcomes. E.g. “I’ll be so upset, I won’t be able to function at all.”
3. Disqualifying or discounting the positive. You unreasonably tell yourself that positive experiences, deeds, or qualities do not count. E.g. “I did that project well, but that doesn’t mean I’m competent; I just got lucky.”
4. Emotional reasoning: You think something must be true because you “feel” (actually believe) it so strongly, ignoring or discounting evidence to the contrary. E.g. “I know I do a lot of things okay at work, but I still feel like I’m a failure.”
5. Labeling: You put a fixed, global label on yourself or others without considering that the evidence might more reasonably lead to a less disastrous conclusion. E.g. “I’m a loser. He’s no good.”
6. Magnification/minimization: When you evaluate yourself, another person, or a situation, you unreasonably magnify the negative and/or minimize the positive. E.g. “Getting a mediocre evaluation proves how inadequate I am. Getting high marks doesn’t mean I am smart.”
7. Mental filter (also called selective abstraction): You pay undue attention to one negative detail instead of seeing the whole picture. E.g. “Because I got one low rating on my evaluation [which also contained several high ratings] it means that I’m doing a lousy job.”
8. Mind reading: You believe you know what others are thinking, failing to consider other, more likely possibilities. E.g. “He thinks that I don’t know the first thing about this project.”
9. Overgeneralization: You make a sweeping negative conclusion that goes far beyond the current situation. E.g. [Because I felt uncomfortable at the meeting] I don’t have what it takes to make friends.”
10. Personalization: You believe others are behaving negatively because of you, without considering more plausible explanations for their behavior. E.g. “The repairman was curt to me because I did something wrong.”
11. “Should” and “must” statements (also called imperatives): You have a precise, fixed idea of how you or others should behave, and you overestimate how bad it is that these expectations are not met. E.g. “It’s terrible that I made a mistake, I should always do my best.”
12. Tunnel vision: You only see the negative aspects of a situation. E.g. ”My son’s teacher can’t do anything right. He’s critical and insensitive and lousy at teaching.” (Cognitive Behavior Therapy: Basics and Beyond, Judith Beck, 2011)
During counseling sessions damaging automatic thought become evident and they are discussed to make corrections. Over time, clients become quite expert on catching their negative automatic thoughts and make their own corrections. Through this process, self- esteem is repaired, resilience is built and as the negative internal dialogue turns more positive, so that feelings of confidence and a sense of well being emerges.
Counselors and psychotherapists agree that the following guideline developed by Beck help clients evaluate their thinking:
- Examine the validity of the automatic thought
- Explore the possibility of other interpretations or viewpoints
- Decatastrophize the problematic situation
- Recognize the impact of believing the automatic thought
- Gain distance from the thought
- Take steps to solve the problem
According to Beck, these are some useful questions to ask when negative automatic thoughts come, so that a reality based balanced perspective can emerge.
1. What is the evidence that supports this idea?
What is the evidence against this idea?
2. Is there an alternative explanation or viewpoint?
3. What is the worst that could happen (if I’m not already thinking the worst)?
If it happened, how could I cope?
What is the best that could happen?
What is the most realistic outcome?
4. What is the effect of my believing the automatic thought?
What could be the effect of changing my thinking?
5. What would I tell _____________ [a specific friend or family member] if he or she were in the same situation?
6. What should I do?
Counselors and psychotherapist can facilitate the process of thinking in a healthy and balanced way. The essence is to speak to yourself kindly, just like you would to a trusted friend who was struggling with a self-doubt, failure, rejection, a mistake, or a break-up.
Seek preventative healthcare (annual routine check-ups/medical and dental)
The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (USA) is a reliable source of information. You can consult with your doctor on this topic and find information this website for age specific routine examinations: https://www.cdc.gov/prevention/
- Seek medical advice and following through when feeling unwell.
- Get sufficient sleep (about 8 h average)
See the CHMC article on Sleep and Sleep Disorders.
- Healthy Eating
The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (USA) has made the most current dietary guidelines available: https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/
You can also consult any licensed and qualified nutritionist.
- Regular Exercise
The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (USA) has up-to-date age specific information on healthy physical activity
- Tobacco Free Living
Quitting smoking has immediate positive impacts on physical health.
See the CHMC article on Tobacco Addiction to be informed on treatments to quit.
- Preventing Drug Abuse and Excessive Alcohol Use
See the CHMC articles on addiction.
Feeling connected to friends and family is a very large component of mental and physical well-being. The question arises: What is loneliness? Loneliness is a state of painful isolation, of feeling cut off from others. Solitude however can be quite positive. Inner-directed solitude can be characterized by self-discovery and inner peace. Outer-directed solitude can refer to spirituality, or allow us to reflect on the world around us. Solitude is usually a matter of choice; loneliness is not.
Lonely people tend to spend a lot of time alone during their free time. They eat alone, do not partake in social activities, and do not have deep connections to other people. Research tells us that loneliness is linked to depression and physical illness (E.g. higher blood pressure, cancer, cardio vascular disease). In particular, it is evident that stress is implicated in mental and physical illness. People who have a support network of family and friends remain healthier, as they can manage their stress better (Rathus, Nevid and Fichner-Rathus, 2005).
At times, people are thrown into loneliness due to geographical moves, or because they fear being rejected by others. This fear is often connected with self-criticism of social skills and expectations of failure in relating to others (Vorauer et al., 2003).
Rathus et al., (2005) proposed coping strategies:
- Challenge your feelings of pessimism. Things will happen when you make them happen.
- Challenge you cynicism about human nature. Find people who possess the values that you have.
- Challenge the idea that failure in social relationships is unbearable and is thus a valid reason for giving up on them. We must all learn to live with some rejection. Continue to look for the people who possess the qualities you value and who will find things of equal value in you.
- Get out among people. Join a Meet-Up group (i.e. see Meet-Up Dubai), do volunteer work, join a group to worship with, take up a team sport, or discover hobbies that require multiple people.
- Be assertive. Express your genuine opinion.
- Become a good listener.
- Use positive verbal and non-verbal communication.
- Give people the chance to know you. Be authentic.
- Fight fair. Friends will inevitably disappoint us, so use a solution focused discussion to solve the problem.
- Remember that you are worthy of friends.
Part of our self-care is of a spiritual nature. A very wise man, Dr. Moretz (George Mason University) once asserted: We all need a spirituality/religion/or philosophy of life. He then said to imagine a patch-work blanket. Over the years patches come off, and we replace them. Or, patches curl up and we sew them back on. The essence, though, is that the blanket keeps us warm.
Over the course of a life-time, we can deepen our religious and spiritual beliefs and feel connected to something higher than ourselves. We can take solace in prayer and meditation.