Create a Personalized Self-Care Plan in 4 Steps
- Category Mental Health
Figuring out what to do and what not to do for self-care can be a difficult task, particularly when everyone else gives you their own, different version of self-care. Keep in mind that self-care is highly individualized, so you are certainly welcome to take ideas from other people, but what works for someone else may or may not work for you. So, let’s talk about how to go about creating an effective self-care plan!
When truly practicing self care, ask yourself the question “what do I need in this moment?” and listen to what your body, mind, and spirit tells you. The answer may vary from day to day or even moment to moment. However, to create an ongoing set of tools you can use throughout your life, follow each of the following steps. These steps are all adapted from Butler and colleagues’ (2013) work on self-care for the whole person.
Step 1: Identify Current Coping Mechanisms
To develop a sustainable and effective self-care plan, one needs to prioritize and cultivate self-awareness and mindful reflection on their experience. First, it is important to identify the ways you currently cope with stress in your life, regardless of the domain it is in, and what strategies work for you (and which don’t). Use this journal prompt to guide you through this process.
Step 2: Evaluate Domain-Specific Coping Mechanisms
Then, go through each of the six domains of self-care and assess what efforts you put in place within each on an ongoing basis to reduce stress and optimize your experience. For example, think about your professional self-care and what you do to enhance your productivity and satisfaction at work. For me, when I am at work, I tend to alternate difficult or complex tasks with simple or exciting tasks to give myself mental “breaks” while still maintaining productivity.
Another important thing to consider in this process is doing your best to create an environment that minimizes the overall stress in your life. While stress will find its way into our lives regardless, if we have a physical, social, or intellectual environment that is rewarding and motivating, we will have less to cope with overall. For example, maybe you’re in the wrong career or job and changing would help in the long-run. Maybe you could add some decor or storage solutions that make you enjoy doing your work more.
Step 3: Identify New Coping Mechanisms for Your “Toolbox”
Take note of which of these strategies you identified in step 2 works and those that don’t work. Make a pledge to stop doing the ones that don’t help you and brainstorm a list of new strategies that could help. It is best to have strategies from a variety of categories. For example:
- Mental processes like allowing imperfection, positive thinking, mindfulness practices, identifying things you are grateful for
- Time-consuming behaviors like crafting, meditation, exercise, walk, naps
- Activities that cost money such as face masks, going to the movies, eating out
- Social activities like spending time with friends, joining a sports team or book club
- Change-up life by switching up your routine, moving your furniture around, allowing spontaneity, and cleaning and organizing your space
Feel free to ask co-workers, friends, or family members for tips and ideas on what they do to overcome similar stressors. This can give you ideas, but remember to try it out and only continue to use it if it actually works for you!
I like to think of this as a coping toolbox. When you are stressed and don’t know what to do about it, you can go to your toolbox to see what tools you have available to you. Different tools work for different purposes, so it will rarely be a one-size-fits-all strategy. This is why having a variety of options will optimize the chances that you have the right “tool” for any given scenario.
Step 4: Identify Barriers and Solutions
Along the way, there are any number of barriers that could possibly emerge and prevent you from successfully using these tools you already identified. Then, you must identify what your backup plan is for those moments. Largely, this is about having a big enough toolbox with a wide range of tools that you can swap one out for another when it isn’t working.
For example, sometimes when I use the strategy I described above, I have a deadline that prevents me from being able to work on anything other than a specific task. Then, when I am unable to alternate difficult and easy tasks for this reason, I have to identify other ways to manage my stress. Some things I might switch up are to then plan out a “reward” for when this complex task is done, engage in mindfulness breaks throughout my day, and break the large task into more manageable chunks so I can see my progress.
The most important factor here in managing your self-care across your life is that you prioritize and commit to your own well being and happiness. If you don’t view yourself of worthy or deserving of self-care, that is going to hinder your practice and implementation of these strategies in the moment. This might be a good time to do some self-work or even seek mental health help if this permeates other areas of your life.
The focus of this article so far has been on creating a toolbox of things you can do on an ongoing basis to maintain your self-care. However, a lot of the time, what you need in the moment could be as simple as problem-solving. When we avoid something because it makes us anxious, the avoidance then increases our anxiety over time. Therefore, the best thing you can do to care for yourself at that point is to problem-solve and get that task done.
If you struggle with accountability, share your self-care plan (or your toolbox) with others! This means that when you go to them for support with your feelings of stress (which is in and of itself a self-care strategy), they can then help remind you of these strategies and help you find a tool that works for this scenario.
Finally, it can be really helpful to schedule regular times into your life for self-reflection and to re-evaluate your plan. This way, you can determine whether you are or are not doing enough to effectively promote your well being. Additionally, even if a strategy works for you today, it may not one month or year from now (or vice versa!). Make adjustments based on what your needs are at any given time.
Please let us know what you do for self-care and how this has changed throughout your life. We would love to hear from you in the comments!
Butler, L. D., Mercer, K. A., McClain-Meeder, K., Home, D. M., & Dudley, M. (2019). Six domains of self-care: Attending to the whole person. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 29(1), 107-124.