Self care is one of the most important things we can do for ourselves. Unfortunately, it is what we most often forget to practice. Compassion fatigue is a very real struggle that many of my patients experience. Compassion fatigue is when you quite literally care too much. Do you find yourself trying to help others at the expense of your own well being? Do you ignore your own emotions and put the feelings of others first? If so, you can be on the path to burnout.
Think of self care as driving a car. If you constantly fill everyone else’s gas tank, and neglect your own, you’ll eventually run out of gas and will stop functioning. In order to prevent this from happening, self care needs to be exercised. Here are 5 reasons why it’s important to take a mental health day:
1.You’ll sleep better. If you consistently neglect your own feelings and well being, you’re likely to suffer from insomnia, nightmares or inconsistent sleep. Most likely because you’re worrying about everything and everyone else around you and neglecting yourself.
2. You’ll strengthen your immune system. When stressed, the body produces more cortisol (the stress hormone) to help us manage the what is triggering us; however, over time, those high levels of cortisol wear the body down and leave us susceptible to illness and injury. By practicing self care, you help your body to decrease levels of cortisol in the body which will help your body (and mind!) to strengthen and heal.
3. Your relationships will improve. If you suffer from compassion fatigue (that exhausting burnout we discussed) you may find that you resent or begin to have frustrating feelings toward those same individuals who you’re always trying to help. By taking better care of yourself and putting your needs first, it will help you to be a better caretaker in the long run (you won’t run out of gas!)
4. Better finances! Who doesn’t want to feel more secure in their financial situation, right? Typically, those who do not practice self care frequently neglect their own financial matters or continue to put off their own goals because they “don’t have time.” How many times have you said to yourself, “Oh, I’ll get to that later…” Making time for yourself will help you to achieve those goals, getter better control of your finances, and overall leave you in a more secure place. Sounds like a win/win, right?
5. You’ll be able to think clearly and refocus. When we have a lot on our plates, such as managing work, children, taking care of an ill family member, helping a friend in need, etc., it’s easy to lose your ability to think straight. Our minds getting cluttered and overwhelmed with all that we’re trying to do. Practicing self care allows you to step back, take a breath and refocus. Doing so may help you uncover the answer to a question or problem that you’ve been struggling with. Perhaps you’ll be able to look at a situation with a different perspective. It’s easier to proceed once we have a clear picture in our heads of how to do so.
If you find that practicing self care is difficult for you, here’s a quick daily exercise that I usually assign to my clients. Have a journal handy or mentally ask yourself the following questions: What was the best part of my day? What was the worst part of my day? What was something nice that I did for myself today?
Keeping a daily track of this will help you stay on the path to better self care, and better mental and emotional well-being. Always remember, it’s not selfish, it’s self-care!
Dana Carretta is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and founder of Peaceful Living Mental Health Counseling, PLLC, in Hartsdale, NY. She specializes in clinical psychotherapy to treat children, adolescents and adults with anxiety, behavior and trauma difficulties. Dana has also been a private psychotherapist at Mindful Psychotherapy, LLC, located in Norwalk, CT since 2013.