Building Healthy Habits
Article by Rebecca Wong 🖤
After such a stressful year, I’m sure you’ve heard of a buzzword that has gained traction: “self-care.” It seems to be thrown out everywhere at work, in the media we see and read, and in conversations with friends... self care is mentioned constantly, but what does it actually mean? According to the Journal of Counseling Psychology, self-care can be described as “a multidimensional, multifaceted process of purposeful engagement in strategies that promote healthy functioning and enhance well-being.” Having a self-care practice is not just doing a mindfulness activity every once in a while or working out occasionally. It's building healthy habits into a practice that includes activities that help build resilience and help you become more equipped to handle life’s stressors.
Of course, you can’t “self-care” your problems away. Doing more meditation is not going to get rid of societal issues, a global pandemic, or change real challenges you may be facing, but focusing on things within your control and making time to take care of yourself can make you feel more empowered, resilient, and can increase your overall well-being. Research has shown that having supportive relationships with others, feeling connected to your community, and building a self-care practice are all ways we can buffer the effects of stress. This article is going to give some ideas and tips on how to build those healthy habits into your routine in a way that works for you!
First, let's unpack what wellness and well-being means for you. This wellness wheel is from the University of New Hampshire. These categories will mean different things to different people, what do they mean to you? All of these categories are important for overall well-being, is there an area that you want to build upon for yourself?
There are many ways you can support your own well-being or improve on different areas of your wellness wheel. Here are just a few examples of well-being activities. Can you think of others? Is there one you want to focus on or integrate more of in your life?
Self-soothing activities provide comfort in difficult times and are immediate. They are typically referred to as “self-care.” They are often an immediate coping strategy to deal with difficult emotions in the moment.
Self-care refers to the act of intentionally and consistently engaging in activities that promote meaning, growth, and groundedness.
Organizational care (also called structural care) refers to ways that organizations can offer programs and services on a systematic level that support the well-being of their staff or members. This can be implemented in your work place and in any organizational groups that we are part of (e.g., school boards, volunteering, etc).
Community care refers to support and contributions to each other’s well-being. Volunteering, for instance, can help you get out of your head, build relationships, and connect to a purpose that’s bigger than you.
How do we build these as habits into our lives?
This plan will be unique to you. What works for you may not work for someone else! Your plan will need to be customized to your needs.
Tip #1: Start small, create a SMART goal plan (more on that below), and slowly build on your goal as time goes on.
Tip #2: When picking a goal, focus on adding something positive instead of taking something away from your life. For example, instead of cutting out all snack foods from your diet, try having a goal of eating more vegetables to make the shift more positive and less limiting!
Tip #3: Track your progress! This might not be for everyone, but sometimes, it’s nice to see your visual progress after you begin to incorporate something different into your life - at least to start. It can also be helpful to take some “baseline” information about how often you’re doing something now so you can see where you started and compare it with how it's going later.
Tip #4: Partner with a friend and have an accountability buddy! Remember, positive relationships are also a great way to combat stress! This tip can help build relationships with a buddy and help you build some habits in your own life! Tell a friend about your goal or have them make their own! Having a buddy keeps you accountable and motivated!
Set a “SMART” goal for the habit you want to build!
S - Specific: Make a specific goal you want to work on. Think about the who, what, where, when, and why.
M - Measurable: How will you know when you’ve achieved the goal? Make a goal that is tangible, so you can track progress and feel a sense of accomplishment when you complete it! Achieving smaller measurable goals will help you stay motivated and stay focused!
A - Achievable: Make the goal realistic for you to be successful given your needs, lifestyle, and abilities. For example, I am not a big runner, so setting a goal right off the bat of running a half-marathon is not very achievable or motivating for me. Maybe setting a goal of running a mile to start would be more appropriate and less daunting.
R - Relevant: Is this goal reasonable and relevant to you and your life right now? Does it seem like the right time? Do you have the resources to make this goal happen?
T - Time bound: Your goal needs a target date or time frame to be completed in. Be specific and realistic on when you’re going to complete your goal! At first try to keep small short goals to keep you on track for your longer goals! For example, if your goal is to exercise more, be specific, are you going to work out 2 times this week? After you finish your smart goal for this week, make another goal for next week!
Reflect and tweak your goal and plan as needed!
As you progress with your goals or achieve your small goals, reflect on it! What went well? What helped you achieve your goal this time? If you weren’t able to, that's okay! What happened? What got in the way? Was your goal too big? Do you need to change the time of day you do it?
Building a self-care practice can be daunting, but hopefully breaking it down using these steps will make it more manageable for you. Continue to make small goals and build upon them as you complete them! Remember to set goals that are appropriate for you and move at your own pace. Your journey will look different than someone else’s!
How to find a counselor:
Tips by Jae Hambrick 🖤
1. Check with your HR or insurance company to see if they offer an employee assistance program. This program can help find therapists in your local area that typically offer you 3-12 therapy sessions, which are covered at 100% (no copay or coinsurance). This program are also sometimes able to narrow down therapists search by ethnicity, gender, religion, or specialities you might be looking for them to specialize in such as LGBTQ+, depression, eating disorders, PTSD, and other things like marital or family therapy!
2. Psychology Today is a great resource for finding reviews of therapists from past clients, to evaluate their education and training, as well as read bios about the therapists in their own words.
3. There are several sites/apps can help you find someone to speak with virtually or over text! They may also be accepted by insurance or Employee Assistance Programs.
4. United Way can help you find resources for different types of assistance (financial and mental health among others). They can help you find someone locally and if you don’t have insurance or can help sign up for state financial assistance.
5. NAMI - National Alliance on Mental Illness - has tons of resources on mental health (articles, videos, research), but also for finding support groups and a national helpline. The NAMI HelpLine can be reached Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.–8 p.m., ET. 1-800-950-NAMI (6264).