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Self-Care in the New Year

Self-Care in the New Year

By James Kent, PsyD, MBA

 

Welcome to 2019! Well wishes to you and hopefully this will be your best year yet. For many people, this time of year represents a fresh start, an opportunity to be better in the coming year than we were last year. We are likely all familiar with the popular trend of setting New Year’s resolutions.

My aim here is not to suggest a particular resolution. Instead, I offer a tool of sorts to help you assess how balanced your life is so that you can feel confident that you are pursuing the right goals in 2019. I am going to discuss the concept of self-care, an often overlooked area of life vital for balance and healthiness.

I was introduced to the concept of self-care during graduate school. If I am honest, I was very conflicted over this concept initially. I struggled to discern whether self-care was secular psychology’s way of promoting selfishness and individuality over selflessness and community. I was raised in a Christian home that espoused the latter.

To further add to my confusion, I was working through this dilemma while attending graduate school at a small Christian liberal arts college in the Midwest. I am grateful that my professors were all extremely warm and caring. I knew I could trust them not to lead me astray. I came to realize over time that I was under the impression that it was wrong to care equally for self and others.

You may be familiar with what is referred to as the Great Commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” I began to understand that engaging in life-giving activities positively affects my ability to be the person God has called me to be. Furthermore, I recognized how spiritual disciplines are meant to be a form of self-care.

Many religions emphasize prayer and solitude. If you have children, then you know that there are times when you become keenly aware that you need to say a quick prayer or get some time away in order to be the parent you desire to be. If you are someone who, like me, struggles with selfishness and with feeling guilty for taking time for yourself, I suggest you continue reading.

For those of you less familiar with the concept of self-care, let’s take a closer look. I often use the idea of a “self-care wheel” to help explain self-care and how it functions in daily life.

If you have ever ridden in a vehicle that has a tire out of balance you will know that it causes the vehicle to vibrate. At lower speeds, this is mostly a nuisance, but at higher speeds it can cause the vehicle to feel as though it may vibrate into pieces.

In life, lacking balanced self-care may not be too disruptive when stressors are minimal. However, lacking balanced self-care can be very disruptive when life picks up speed and becomes more stressful. It is also true that the easiest time to seek balance is when life is moving at a gentler pace. The self-care wheel depicted above is helpful for assessing areas of life that are neglected and contributing to a lack of balance.

When we know what to look for it can be fairly easy to identify problem areas. For example, do you get enough sleep? Are you seeking to have a healthy diet, which may look different for different people? Do you engage in regular exercise? Do you allow time for silence and solitude and for engaging in spiritual activities? Are you connected to others and engaging in regular social activities? Could you possibly be using substances to self-medicate? Do you create time and opportunities for relaxation and stress relief, or are you overworked?

These are examples of questions that can help us determine which domains of self-care we need to focus on to achieve balance. In general, activities can be described as self-care if they are life-giving and help to reduce stress.

Managing stress is very important for healthy living. We can only take so much before we feel overwhelmed or incapacitated by stress. Imagine a water pitcher and the capacity of this water pitcher represents the amount of stress you can handle. Life is continually adding stress, so imagine the water pitcher steadily filling up.

Self-care is the mechanism that helps us remove water so that the pitcher does not overflow. In this analogy, times of high stress mean that our water pitcher fills up faster and self-care needs to be a priority. All too often we, unfortunately, abandon self-care during times of high stress because we perceive it to be less important or self-care activities themselves seem to become a source of stress.

Working to make self-care a priority, saying “no” to things we should not take on, and asking for help when necessary all help us keep life balanced. Those of us who work in Hattiesburg Clinic’s Psychology & Counseling department would welcome the opportunity to help you if you are having trouble finding balance in life.

Take a few minutes out of your day to think about whether your goals for 2019 will result in improved self-care and a more balanced life. There are times when life makes it difficult to be healthy. Make caring for yourself a priority now so that you are at your best and able to care for others when life becomes more challenging.

 

Information on this page should be utilized as a guide, not medical advice. If you feel you need to speak with someone regarding counseling or mental health, please contact Psychology & Counseling to make an appointment.

At Psychology & Counseling, we offer counseling and mental health assessments. Following diagnosis, we work with you to determine the best course of treatment and counseling for you. If you would like to schedule an appointment, please call us at (601) 261-1650.