A better way to think about self-care

As a graduate student who worked and had a family, self-care became a topic of interest. I did research in this area, presented at conferences, and talked with other researchers and authors. As a psychologist who is every bit as busy as I was in grad school, self-care continues to be something I think about and talk about with colleagues on a regular basis. My wife, who is in graduate school for counseling, and I also talk about this a lot.

After a recent conversation with my wife, I have been re-evaluating my own self-care. I learned something new which I thought was really important. One of her professors gave a very interesting definition of self-care. To paraphrase, “self-care is anything that you do to set your future self up for success”. Further, “self-care doesn’t happen in a spa or in a yoga class…those things are important, but they are really leisure activities- not self-care”.

The important piece here is the distinction between leisure activities and self-care. Self-care is, of course, taking care of ourselves- but this is defined by most people as taking part in leisure activities like exercising, relaxing, pampering ourselves, hanging out with friends, etc. These and more are important for our well-being, but our ability to do them is often limited- to weekends, after work, days off, etc.

In contrast, self-care can happen anywhere, at any time. Self-care, as it is being defined here, also frees up time and mental energy for you to be able to participate in leisure activities. If these are things that set your future self up for success, what does that mean?

To reference the example I was given, this can mean things like:

  • completing your paperwork before going home at the end of the day
  • completing items on your to-do list
  • making your to-do list for tomorrow or for when you get home
  • scheduling time in your day to take a break or to get yourself organized
  • cleaning off your desk at the end of the day

Let me give more examples:

To get ready for the morning…

  • pack your lunch
  • pick out your clothes
  • set your alarm so you have more than enough time to do what you need to
  • get your kids’ things ready (have them at least help if not do it themselves)
  • be sure to get enough sleep!

To plan for the weekend…

  • make a plan if there was something you wanted to do
  • make a to-do list of jobs or projects
  • write out your schedule if you have activities or plans
  • make sure you have what you need (groceries, gifts, etc.)
  • communicate with your partner or family about plans (better yet, make plans with them)

To be ready for any kind of event (and be on time)…

  • make sure you have everything you and your family need (make a list, in advance)
  • plan more than enough time to get ready, to leave, and to get there
  • resist the urge to do too much before the event
  • communicate the plan to your partner, family, or friends (or make plans together)

What I’m talking about here is thinking ahead, planning ahead, getting organized, and avoiding flying by the seat of your pants (which brings STRESS!). This is the true definition of self-care, as it allows you to reduce stress or the potential for it, to be prepared for what lies ahead, and to have more time for leisure and the things that you really want to do. I would also bet that if self-care, as I have described it, is not a strong suit, then you frequently complain about not having enough leisure time or time for yourself. By refining your definition of self-care and putting a greater focus on it, I assure you that you will have more time for leisure than you think, no matter how busy you are.

If self-care is a struggle or if you feel your life is too stressful to really focus on this area, consider talking with a professional about it. Whatever your situation, chances are there are things you can do that would help.

Take care,

Dr. Jesse Matthews

Welcome to Matthews Counseling & Coaching!

Matthews Counseling & Coaching is a private practice in Chester Springs, PA, offering counseling and coaching services to individuals, couples, and families. I (Dr. Matthews) started my own practice in 2014 after completing my training and working as part of a group. I really wanted to work in my own community, and I was lucky enough to find an opportunity to do that. Last year I decided to form a group of my own, recently adding two other therapists.

As I often found myself unable to take new clients, and as my practice became more specialized, it became time. I didn’t want to turn people away, and I wanted to be able to help more people who contacted me. This was not taken lightly, as I sought clinicians who would be a “fit” for the practice and the community. It was also important to me that anyone representing my practice share similar values, like professionalism and respect for others. In addition, I value being a real person and making people feel comfortable whenever they call me or they come into the office. I just couldn’t bring other therapists into my practice who I couldn’t be comfortable talking with as my own therapist or who I couldn’t vouch for.

I thought I would say more here about why these things are important to me…

Being a real person– Too often I hear people say therapists they have seen or spoken to are “weird”, “stiff”, “cold”, “awkward”, and so forth. That just doesn’t sound like someone anybody would want to talk to! How can anyone want to talk about their stuff if they can’t get comfortable? I try to strike a balance between being professional and “clinical”, with being a regular person who can have a conversation or be a good listener. I also believe it’s important that a therapist be relatable and not cold or stiff. Being comfortable is the cornerstone of therapy or counseling, and sets the stage for you to develop a good working relationship with your therapist, which studies show is critical to therapy being effective.

Professionalism– I take pride in doing good work, providing the services that clients are looking for, and in helping everyone who contacts me to the extent I can. Though I may not see everyone as a client, I will at least offer some referrals or educate them on how they might find the right person for them. And a key part of professionalism is customer service. You wouldn’t believe how many potential clients tell me that they have called other therapists and few (or none) have called back! One told me yesterday that they called several and that I was the only one who called them back! Unbelievable! I may get busy and may not get back as quickly as I would like to, but I will always call or e-mail someone back.

Respect– Respect is a broad term, but I always respect my clients and my role in trying to help them. They’re asking me for help, so that is what I try to provide. I also have great respect for anyone who contacts me, because they’re taking an important step in finding someone who might be able to help them. And that is not easy to do! I also respect diversity in all forms and love working with a wide variety of clients. I welcome anyone who wishes to become a client, and if for any reason we cannot work together, I will try to help you to find the right person for you.

I worked hard in finding additional therapists to join the practice, and I truly believe they espouse the same values that I’ve built my practice on. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Please check out their profiles if you want to find more information. As always, please contact me if you have any questions: drmatthews@matthewscounselingcoaching.com

Take care,

Dr. Matthews