To develop your self-care plan, you will identify what you value and need as part of your day-to-day life (maintenance self-care) and the strategies you can employ when or if you face a crisis along the way (emergency self-care).
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.
Don't be overwhelmed by the steps in this process! They are simple and straightforward and will help to guide you on your path.
Identify what you do now to manage the stress in your life. The Lifestyle Behaviors (pdf) (“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.
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.
The Self-Care Assessment (pdf) 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.
"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.
My Maintenance Self-Care Worksheet (pdf) provides an opportunity for you to identify the activities you would like to add to your self-care practice in each self-care domain (“new practice”).
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 (try to list at least 3 or 4 in the spaces provided), how you can address them, and how you can remind yourself to follow your plan. Write these solutions on the last page of the My Maintenance Self-Care Worksheet (pdf). 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.
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 worksheet (pdf) 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.
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!
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.
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.
Consider taking your commitment a step further by joining or starting a support or discussion group (see Tips for Starting a Support or Discussion Group).
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)