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Self-care tips from a holistic mental health expert: how to create your own emotional first aid kit

by Sep 1, 2023

Home » NUHS Blog » Self-care tips from a holistic mental health expert: how to create your own emotional first aid kit

Self-care has become a relatively new focus within the workplace. It can mean different things to different people. Ultimately, it’s about learning how to make space for ourselves when we feel emotionally dysregulated. It’s making sure we’re taking time to take a breath and understand what’s going in our bodies. 

While the pandemic might be behind us, it’s not business as usual. According to experts, COVID-19 has changed the way we communicate, care for others, educate our children, work, and more. We’ve all have had to pivot and adapt to a completely new world and environment. Just taking a moment to take a breath can help improve your mental outlook.  

What does self-care look like? 

We’ve all seen the picture of someone meditating on the beach. While it looks amazing, that may not be possible for everyone to do in their everyday lives. We all have different ways of taking care of ourselves, culturally, socially, etc. Whether you have a lot of time or just a few minutes, there are a lot of ways you can work self-care into your routine.  

Depending on your personal preferences, here are some examples of what self-care could look like for you:   

Take a step back and take a breath 

It may seem simple, but hitting the pause button and acknowledging your feelings and breathing through intrusive thoughts can make a huge difference.  

Ask for help 

For some there’s a stigma around asking others for help. It can also make us feel vulnerable, but in addition to getting the help you need, it can be a great way to connect and build relationships with those around you. Finding a support network can be a great way for some people to feel connected. 

Spend some time alone 

Everyone needs alone time. Even if it’s just reading a book or browsing your phone, alone time can significantly help recharge your batteries. Find what works best for you in terms of building a social network or more alone time and try to incorporate that into your life.  

Put yourself first 

One misconception about self-care is that it’s selfish or indulgent. The truth is you can’t take care of others if your “tank” is empty. They tell you on airplanes to put your oxygen mask on first before helping others for a reason. You can help a lot more people if you have the help you need and feel supported.  

Set boundaries or limitations for yourself 

We can easily overwhelm ourselves with high expectations or “shoulds.” For example, “I should be able to answer emails within 24 hours” or “I should be available for my students immediate when they need me,” etc. It’s important to give yourself some grace regarding these expectations and understand you are doing the best you can.  

Learn how to support yourself without dependence on a health care practitioner 

Health care practitioners aren’t always around to provide acupuncture, adjustments etc. Between appointments, it’s important to learn how to help take care of yourself whether it’s sitting in your car and doing five minutes of guided meditation, doing yoga for an hour, or working out at the gym. 

Measure your day with spoons (Spoon Theory) 

Keep track of your mental wellbeing by tracking your activities with spoons. You only have a limited number of spoons per day. For most, it’s around 12.  Each task you do per day can count as a spoon, like getting dressed for the day or driving to work. When you run out of spoons, it’s important to remember to take a break or relax and listen to your body. This can be a great way to avoid burnout, especially when you’re supporting others. 

Take a walk and be present in the moment 

Just taking a walk and focusing on the here and now can be especially grounding and calming. Immersing yourself in nature and taking in all the sights, smells and sounds, also known as forest bathing, can be particularly rejuvenating. 

Connect with your community 

Build connections with people in your workplace or local community who share the same experiences. This is a great way to support each other. Just a simple walk outside in a new environment with some friends can help you recharge. Supporting people in your community by volunteering can help you feel connected to your environment and the people in it.  

Create a Self-Care First-Aid Kit 

A Self-Care First-Aid Kit is something you can prepare ahead of time before you feel overwhelmed and need support. It can be difficult to think about what you need when you’re feeling activated so keeping it handy is a great way to stay ahead of emotional dysregulation. Here are some things you can put in your kit include: 

  • Calming essential oils like lavender or a scent that is relaxing to you. 
  • Fidget spinner 
  • Stress/squeeze ball 
  •  Journal 
  • Words/notes of encouragement 
  • Music playlist 
  • An item like a picture of keepsake that grounds and creates a positive memory. 

Have a Daily Support Checklist 

These are things that you can do every day to help support your overall wellbeing. They are small things that almost anyone can work into their day: 

  • Take a little longer in a hot shower. 
  • Practice good sleep hygiene 
  • Wear your favorite color. 
  • Practice positive self-talk  
  • Perform five minutes of meditation. 
  • Bring your awareness to the present.  
  • Knit or draw. 
  • Play your favorite song.  
  • Work out or practice yoga, tai-chi, etc. 
  • When in doubt, dance it out. 

All these little activities can help encourage you to either change your current way of thinking or bring you into the present moment. Many of us have a lot on our plates. We go from meeting to meeting, from assignment to assignment. And sometimes just getting to work in traffic can be a lot to deal carry.  

Learning to make time to take a breath between our daily tasks is so important. It may seem simple, but over the long term it can really make a difference to our overall emotional well-being. 

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About the Author

Douglas Valdez

Douglas Valdez

Douglas Valdez, LMHCA, MA, MSOM, MBA, is a Psychotherapist and Founder of Curativo Health in Seattle where he specializes in working with clients who are living with chronic illness looking to build/rebuild intimacy and connection with their partner/s. As an LGBTQ+ affirming sex therapist and body positive clinician, he uses a Humanistic, Person-Centered, Somatic and Polyvagal therapy along with his training in Traditional Chinese Medicine to work in community with every patient with regards to sexual challenges, relationships, and overall mental health support. He obtained his Masters in Oriental Medicine from National University of Health Sciences, a Masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Antioch University Seattle and has completed two post graduate certificates in Multicultural Counseling and Sex Therapy. He currently serves on the board of directors for the Latinx Mental Health and Social Justice Institute. He is currently pursuing a PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision as well as his Doctorate in Acupuncture at National University of Health Sciences.

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