HR Buzz: May is Mental Health Awareness Month

Focus on your self-care plan

Emotions, Mind, Spirit, Relationships, Body

There is no “one-size-fits-all” self-care plan, but there is a common thread to all self-care plans: making a commitment to attend to all the domains of your life, including your physical and psychological health, emotional and spiritual needs, and relationships.

Think of your self-care plan as a roadmap — with planned vehicle maintenance, travel activities and rest stops along the way.

FREE Local Event: Mental Health Fair

Kalamazoo Valley Museum
Saturday, May 20, 2023 | 1-3pm

Learn about local resources that promote mental health, including Gryphon Place, WMU Therapy Dogs, Disability Network Southwest Michigan and more. The event is free and directly tied to the current special exhibit Mental Health: Mind Matters, open through June 18. Learn More

On CampusMental Health First Aid Workshop

Wednesday, June 14
9:00am – 3:30pm

Mental Health First Aid is a nationally-recognized course that teaches participants how to identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental health and substance use issues. The training gives participants the skills you need to reach out, provide initial help, and support to someone who may be developing a mental health or substance use problem or experiencing a crisis. Learn more.

Steps to guide you on your mental health journey…

Don’t be overwhelmed by the steps in this process! They will help to guide you on your path.  

1. How do you cope now?

Identify what you do now to manage the stress in your life. 

Is your life causing you stress?” assessment can help you to identify the coping strategies you currently use and whether they are likely to be good (or not so good) for your well-being.

The way you live your life can have a big impact on your health, well‐being, and how well or poorly you handle stress. Below are lifestyle behaviors that affect stress levels. Doing an honest assessment of how well or poorly you take care of yourself can help you manage your stress in the future. Decreasing or eliminating at least one “negative” coping strategy can be one of the goals of your maintenance self-care; employing more “positive” strategies can be another.

Lifestyle Behaviors

When you are under
stress, do you:
YesNoWhen you are under
stress, do you:
Smoke/use tobaccoEngage in physical activity at least three times a week for 30 minutes each day
Drink a lot of coffee or caffeinated drinks (more than 2‐3 cups per day)Get six to eight hours of sleep every night
Drink alcohol (more than recommended levels of 1‐2 per day)Maintain good eating habits
Overuse over‐the‐counter medicationsMake time to relax
Overeat or under eatMaintain a sense of humor
Spend too much money on non-essentialsBe optimistic. Engage in positive thinking
Watch too much television (more than 3‐4 hours per day)Maintain healthy rituals and routines
Have angry outburstsPlay
Take illegal drugsSpend time with family or friends
Withdraw from peopleMake plans for the future
Ignore or deny stress symptomsFigure out ways to manage stress
Engage in self‐destructive relationshipsReward yourself for your accomplishments
These are negative self‐care behaviors.These are positive self‐care behaviors.
2. What do you do for self-care now?

The Self-Care Assessment will help you highlight the good things you are already doing for yourself and whether there is an imbalance in the areas in which you practice self-care.

The items in this assessment can also give you some ideas for additional things you may want to do in the future to help prevent stress and burnout and to maintain and enhance your well-being. Make a note of the items that you would like to add (or add more of) to your self-care practice. In considering this, try to be sure that each domain of self-care is well represented. If you think of things that are not included in this list, just add them at the end.

Self-Care Assessment

Adapted from Saakvitne, Pearlman, & Staff of TSI/CAAP (1996). Transforming the pain: A workbook on vicarious traumatization. Norton.

The following worksheet for assessing self-care is not exhaustive, merely suggestive. Feel free to add areas of self-care that are relevant for you and rate yourself on how often and how well you are taking care of yourself these days.

When you are finished, look for patterns in your responses. Are you more active in some areas of self-care but ignore others? Are there items on the list that make you think, “I would never do that”? Listen to your inner responses, your internal dialogue about self-care and making yourself a priority. Take particular note of anything you would like to include more in your life.

Rate the following areas according to how well you think you are doing:

  • 3 = I do this well (e.g., frequently)
  • 2 = I do this OK (e.g., occasionally)
  • 1 = I barely or rarely do this
  • 0 = I never do this
  • ? = This never occurred to me

Physical Self-Care and Balance

___ Eat regularly (e.g. breakfast, lunch, and dinner)
___ Eat healthily
___ Exercise
___ Get regular medical care for prevention
___ Get medical care when needed
___ Take time off when sick
___ Get massages
___ Dance, swim, walk, run, play sports, sing, or do some other fun physical activity
___ Get enough sleep
___ Wear clothes I like
___ Strive for balance within my work-life and work day
__ Strive for balance among work, family, relationships, play, and rest
___ Other:

Psychological Self-Care

___ Take day trips or mini-vacations
___ Make time away from telephones, email, etc
___ Make time for self-reflection
___ Notice my inner experience – listen to my thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, feelings
___ Have my own personal psychotherapy
___ Write in a journal
___ Read literature that is unrelated to work
___ Do something at which I am not expert or in charge
___ Attend to minimizing stress in my life
___ Engage my intelligence in a new area, e.g., go to an art show, sports event, theatre
___ Be curious
___ Say no to extra responsibilities sometimes
___ Other:

Emotional Self-Care

___ Spend time with others whose company I enjoy
___ Stay in contact with important people in my life
___ Give myself affirmations, praise myself
___ Love myself
___ Re-read favorite books, re-view favorite movies
___ Identify comforting activities, objects, people, places and seek them out
___ Allow myself to cry
___ Find things that make me laugh
___ Express my outrage in social action, letters, donations, marches, protests
___ Other:

Spiritual Self-Care

___ Make time for reflection
___ Spend time in nature
___ Find a spiritual connection or community
___ Be open to inspiration
___ Cherish my optimism and hope
___ Be aware of non-material aspects of life
___ Try at times not to be in charge or the expert
___ Be open to not knowing
___ Identify what is meaningful to me and notice its place in my life
___ Meditate
___ Pray
___ Sing
___ Have experiences of awe
___ Contribute to causes in which I believe
___ Read inspirational literature or listen to inspirational talks, music
___ Other:

Relationship Self-Care

___ Schedule regular dates with my partner/spouse
___ Schedule regular activities with my children
___ Make time to see friends
___ Call, check on, or see my relatives
___ Spend time with my companion animals
___ Stay in contact with faraway friends
___ Make time to reply to personal emails and letters; send holiday cards
___ Allow others to do things for me
___ Enlarge my social circle
___ Ask for help when I need it
___ Share a fear, hope, or secret with someone I trust
___ Other:

Professional Self-Care

___ Take a break during the workday (e.g., lunch)
___ Take time to chat with co-workers
___ Make quiet time to complete tasks
___ Identify projects or tasks that are exciting and rewarding
___ Set limits with colleagues
___ Balance my workload so that no one day or part of a day is “too much”
___ Arrange work space so it is comfortable and comforting
___ Get regular supervision or consultation
___ Advocate for my needs
___ Have a peer support group
___ Other:

3. Maintenance self-care: Adding self-care practices and eliminating obstacles

“Maintenance self-care” refers to the activities that you have identified as important to your well-being and that you have committed to engage in on a regular basis to take care of yourself.

It is also useful to identify possible barriers or obstacles that could get in the way of implementing and/or maintaining these new activities. Think about what you anticipate these barriers/obstacles to be, how you can address them, and how you can remind yourself to follow your plan. If you have chosen to limit or eliminate a negative coping strategy that you currently use, note this as well.

You can revisit this topic and revise your list as the demands of your personal and professional life change. 

4. Emergency self-care: Be prepared

So far we have focused on maintenance self-care: the kinds of things one does regularly to reduce stress and maintain and enhance well-being. But planning out what you would do under extremely trying circumstances, even though they are rare, is also important.  To do this, develop a framework using your Emergency Self-Care Plan before you are faced with a crisis or feel overwhelmed. This is not to suggest that you will invariably face such a situation; the idea is to be prepared just in case.

Emergency Self-Care Plan

Why do I need to do this? It is very hard to think of what to do for yourself when things get tough. It is best to have a plan ready for when you need it.
What should be in it? Consider 3 general areas: what to do, what to think, and what to avoid.

  • Make a list of what you can do when you are upset that will be good for you.
    • What will help me relax? (Breathing, muscle relaxation, music, reading for fun, watching a movie, exercise, taking a walk)
    • What do I like to do when I’m in a good mood?
    • What can I do to help me throughout the day? (Remember to breathe, stay in the moment, avoid too much caffeine)
    • What else do YOU need to do that is specific to YOU?
  • Make a list of people you can contact if you need support or distraction. (Friends, siblings, parent, grandparent, therapist, religious leader)
  • Next, make a list of positive things to say to yourself when you are giving yourself a hard time. (That went better than it could have.)
  • Next, make a list of who and what to avoid when you are having a hard time. Not everyone can be supportive or helpful with every situation. Go to the ones who can be supportive about the specific issues you are dealing with.
  • Write this plan on a small card. Keep it with you (wallet, phone). Look at it often. Add any good ideas to it whenever you can. USE IT!

Think of developing your emergency self-care plan in the way you would think about preparing for other possible emergency situations: it is important to figure out your plan in advance when you have the time, wherewithal, and concentration to do so effectively!

5. Make a commitment to yourself

Remember: Just like the flight attendant says, you need to put on your own oxygen mask first before you can be of help to others. So, take a moment, think it over, and then make your personal commitment to your own self-care. You deserve it!

If you find making a commitment to be a challenge, then take some time to explore your reservations. Do you have a tendency to put the needs of others first? The truth is that your self-care is not only essential to your well-being, but it is also a necessary element for you to be effective and successful in honoring your professional and personal commitments.

Preparing a plan is important; it identifies your goals and the strategies to achieve them. However your success in implementing your plan is ultimately based on the level of commitment you make to your self-care.

6. Share your plan

Once you have developed your plan and made your commitment, remember that friends, family, peers, and/or colleagues may be good additional resources for exchanging new self-care ideas/strategies and to provide support and encouragement.

7. Follow your plan

Now that you have completed the assessments and worksheets described above, you have identified the core elements of your personal Self-Care Plan. The final step is to implement your plan and keep track of how you are doing. Keeping track of your progress will help you recognize your successes and identify and address any difficulties you may not have anticipated. Don’t forget that you can revise your plan as needed. Remember, also, to employ your emergency plan should emotionally difficult circumstances arise.

Remember that self-care is always a work in progress!

(Prepared by Lisa D. Butler, PhD, based in part on materials provided by Sandra A. Lopez, LCSW, ACSW, University of Houston, Graduate School of Social Work)