Substance Use Services Blog Series: Self-Care
As we in British Columbia continue with the third stage of reopening, many people are still unable to return to life the way it was before the Covid-19 pandemic. At Deltassist, we want to acknowledge that stress related to the continued effects of Covid-19, including grief and concern with the escalating overdose crisis, may mean it is best for you to take care of yourself in the ways you already know how. This post is for people who may be looking for additional coping tools or even finding themselves re-evaluating their everyday routines during these unprecedented times. The considerations in this post may be useful for anyone going through difficult times (that could be the stress of reducing substance intake, or that of seeing a family member suffer from substance use problems). Today’s post will focus on self-care and self-soothing for promoting general wellness and balance. We will look specifically at coping with urges to use substances and emotional triggers in a future post.
What is self-care?
One of the ways service providers talk about taking care of health is through the concept of self-care. However, the term “self-care” is used in many different and sometimes contradictory ways. We’ll describe two ways of thinking about self-care in this post.
- Self-care as activities we do to maintain our health
- Self-care as comforting and refueling ourselves
Let’s explore self-care from both of these perspectives!
1. Self-care as activities we do to maintain our health includes attending to hygiene, eating well, drinking lots of water, exercising, paying attention to our bodies, and following through with health appointments. Thinking about self-care from this perspective challenges us to follow through with activities that are good for our health, even when they are uncomfortable or distressing. For example, many people feel stressed out about going to the dentist or fitting exercise into their week. But routine dentists visits prevent painful teeth conditions, and exercise that gets your heart pumping for 30 mins at a time releases hormones in your brain that reduce stress, increase happy feelings, and prevent chronic physical disease as well as depression and anxiety (click the footnotes for pages with further information).
Sometimes, this kind of self-care can feel like work. It is not always enjoyable. For someone who has a chronic health care condition that needs frequent attention (like going to dialysis multiple times a week), taking care of their own health can feel like a full time job.
2. Self-Care as comforting ourselves and reducing stress
Another way the term “self-care” is used is to refer to activities that we engage in to comfort ourselves and refuel our emotional wellness. These kinds of self-care activities actually feel-good in the moment (but just because an activity feels good doesn’t mean its self-care). Each person will prefer different activities but some examples are having a bath, listening to comforting music or self-compassion recordings (discussed at the bottom of this earlier blog post), talking to a friend, reading, colouring, or drinking herbal tea.
What makes this kind of self-care different from selfishness or indulgence is the intention we bring to that activity and balance. The intention behind self comfort is to recognize when we are going through a difficult time and honour feelings that come up by taking care of ourselves, the way we might take care of a friend in a similar situation. The chosen activities are meant to restore us so that we can get in touch with our needs and return to life’s challenges with renewed energy.
Part of the challenge of this kind of self-care involves uncritically letting go of some of our expectations of ourselves – this may include expectations around the kinds of self-care activities that feel like chores. For example, ideally most of us would like to live in perfectly clean homes and eat meals that are cost-efficient, tasty, and healthy. But if we’re juggling stress in our lives from substance use problems, parenting, grief, trauma, mental unwellness, chronic pain, strained relationships, oppression, or employment challenges (just to name a few!) we might have to give up some of our ideals around on what we should be doing and respect the amount of work we are putting in our lives to just be where we are at.
One useful acronym for checking-in with whether you could use some self-care comfort is to think of the acronym H.A.L.T: (hungry, angry, lonely, tired).
Here is a short video about H.A.L.T. made by a substance use treatment centre in the USA (no affiliation with Deltassist). See their blog post about H.A.L.T. here:
Overall, self-care is less about the activity and more about the intention behind the activity, how it fits with the rest of our lives, and how it contributes to the values we are striving for – including our values about health. It’s also important to consider that self-care is just as often about saying “no” to an activity or an additional responsibility, as it is taking part in an activity.
Here are some questions to ask yourself to consider self-care for health maintenance:
When I think about times in my life that I felt most energized, what was I doing? Was I engaging in any self-care activities that I might be able to fit back into my life?
Do I have extra energy to challenge myself in new ways right now, or do I need to save my energy in order to manage unavoidable daily stressors?
Here are some questions to ask yourself when considering in engaging in self-care for comfort when you are going through a difficult time:
How would I care for a friend who was going through what I’m going through?
What’s the most caring thing I could do for myself right now?
What’s my preferred way of giving, as well as receiving care? Is there a way that I could do that for myself?
If I could hear some kind, or encouraging words from a friend, loved one, or someone that I admire, what would I want to hear from them? Could I say those things to myself?
Is this activity actually comforting me in this moment? Is it causing me any distress? Is it helping me avoid how I am actually feeling?