Let's Build a Wall...Of Self-Care

Today’s post is a guest post from my dear friend Alison. She’s sharing with us some practical tips about how we can practice good self-care.

Although sometimes self-care can be painted as selfish (and, to be honest, I have seen some people use it as an excuse to be), I find that a healthy self-care practice, like the one Alison helps us think about here, is actually an important part of our discipleship. It helps us remember that we are finite, that we need rest, that we need other people. Good self-care can make us more effective as disciples of Jesus, better able to love God and love others. I hope you’re encouraged and challenged by what she has to share.

Alison is a pastor and a poet - and an integral part of my own “wall” of self-care for the gray New England winters. You can find her sermons on her church website and her occasional thoughts on her blog.

Enjoy!


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I don’t know about where you are, but where I am? It’s the most horrible time of the year. It’s overcast, it’s cold, it’s snowy, it’s icy, it’s gross. And gross weather means gross moods, gross feelings about oneself and one’s existence, and even, at times, gross walks with God.

Over the last eight winters living in New England I have learned that in order to protect myself against this madness, I need a good defense system. Like a wall. And not a wall where I block my friends out and don’t let them know what’s going on with me. And not a wall of blankets where I bundle myself in bed for the next two months. But a wall of self care. Like a defense system, built out of regular, healthy actions I take, to take care of myself.

But hang on a second, isn’t self care selfish? Isn’t it un-Christian? Isn’t it…wrong? No, it isn’t. Jesus instructed us to "love others" as we "love ourselves", as though loving ourselves was something he expected us to do naturally. And self care doesn’t mean we ignore everyone else or ignore God - taking care of others, and loving God is also part of a good self care system. Because those things, as well as being rewarding to God and to others, also are wonderfully rewarding to ourselves.

So how do you build a wall of self care? You do need to be intentional about this, and keep track of what you do. The best way I’ve found? With those excellent and ancient tools: the pen and the sheet of paper.

  1. Start out with a piece of graph paper, or even some kind of habit tracker like this one Ashley made as a free printable for her Evermore Paper Co blog.

  2. Make a list down the side of different activities that you can do during the day that help you take care of you. I try to make my list out of a variety of different activities that address the different needs I have: physical, emotional, social, intellectual, and spiritual needs.

  3. Keep track of what activity you do every day. Just before you go to bed, check off what you have done.

  4. The goal is not to do ALL the things every day - rather, to be consistently doing a few of them every day. These little bricks on your self-care chart make up the “wall" that you are building for yourself. A day with a solid group of bricks in it, is another notch in the wall built. A day with no bricks in it is where the defenses come down and some of those gross moods, gross thoughts, gross behaviors can creep in.

If it’s hard for you to think of what might constitute self care activities, I thought I would leave you with some suggestions. Don’t start with all of these on your chart, that would be overwhelming! Maybe two that really speak to you from each group?

Physical: go for a walk, go outside (can sometimes be hard in winter!), exercise for X minutes, dance for X minutes, drink X cups of water, eat some vegetables, eat some fruit, eat three meals, take a shower, brush your teeth, brush your hair, go to bed before Xpm, get 8 hours sleep

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Emotional: take a moment to be aware of what you are feeling, write in your journal, make a list of things that are stressing you out, make a list of things you are thankful for, visit a counselor, give yourself X quiet minutes alone, say no to something, say yes to something, take a thought that you keep having that’s really hurting you and tell it to go away, take something you keep beating yourself up about and forgive yourself

Social: call a friend, see a friend, write a card to a friend, pray for a friend, give a gift to somebody, go on a date, have some intentional play time with your kids

Intellectual: read a book, read the paper, look at some art, listen to music, play some music, watch a movie, do a crossword, work on a project

Spiritual: listen to worship music, memorize a bible verse, read the bible, pray

Of course, what constitutes good self care for you might be completely different to what it means for me. If you have any other suggestions for items other people can put on their Wall of Self Care Chart, leave them in a comment below.

Happy building, all!

Suicide Prevention Lifeline: A Resource

What makes life worth living?

It’s a question that seems easy to answer when life is going well. But it becomes painful when life seems to be a never ending string of pain, sickness, or sorrow. It becomes tragic when it’s a question tinged with despair.

Sadly, suicide is currently the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, and the 2nd leading cause of death for those aged 15-34. These are our friends and neighbors, family members and coworkers. We should not cease to see this as a tragedy.

But this is not a tragedy we must merely accept. Death by suicide is not inevitable and can be prevented.

This is why I want to share with you today the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The Lifeline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can call the Lifeline for free, confidential support for yourself or to learn how to help a loved one in crisis.

I would encourage each of you to save the number in your phone (seriously - do it now). You never know when it may be a help to someone or help you receive support in a crisis situation. The number is 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also chat with a trained crisis team member online at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website.

During this National Suicide Prevention Week, I would also encourage you to take a few minutes to read the great resources on the Lifeline website to learn more about the warning signs of suicide and what you can do to help.

I deeply believe that life is worth living. I believe your life, my friend, is precious, valuable, and worthwhile. You are a gift to the world.

Let’s keep reminding each other of this truth.

Meal Trains Aren't Just for Cancer and Babies

I learned how to make pie the year my mom had cancer. She was recovering from surgery over the holidays and confined to the couch. I carried lumps of pie dough and bowls of meringue to where she lay, for her to inspect and coach me through to the right texture. Sometimes, I would walk in and find her asleep, and I would quietly tip toe back to the kitchen and go with my gut and my memories from sitting in the kitchen when she’d baked them year after year. It was a strange role reversal—I was the one in the kitchen, she was the one ill on the couch. I felt maternally protective of her rest.

My dad became caretaker as my mom went through the cycles of treatments, those multisyllabic poisons they pumped into her chest to ward off a deeper evil. I was away for my third year of college, trying to support from afar. My mom dealt with prescription changes and side effects. We all found ways to keep ourselves sane. 

Casseroles and baked pastas would appear and reappear in my parents' kitchen. A friend, who in the following years would win my heart and become my husband, made a chicken pot pie with his mom and drove it to our house. We had friends who prayed, who gave rides, who kept us company on the hard days. They let us vent, cry, hope. They kept showing up. 

There are many families with our story. There are many who have walked longer roads and darker ones. There are many whose story didn’t end as happily as ours. 

For many of us, the Christian community rallied around us. They were a safe place to share the news of what we were going through. We knew we would be met with sympathy, with support, with prayers, and a meal train.

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But what if my mom’s diagnosis hadn’t been cancer? What if she’d started exhibiting erratic behavior or paranoia? What if she heard voices telling her to harm herself? What if depression suffocated all delight? What if, instead of a breakdown in the cells in her chest, there was a breakdown in her brain? What if she had been diagnosed with a mental illness?

For the families I know who have been crippled by mental illness, the response is quite different. They may hesitate to share out of fear or shame or awkwardness. If they do garner the courage, they’re often met with spiritualized criticism or silence. 

And yet they are experiencing a lot of the same challenges my family faced as my mom went through the crisis period of diagnosis and treatment for cancer. They face strange role reversals. There are increased and ever-shifting caretaking responsibilities. They go through cycles of doctor appointments and prescription changes and side effects. A spouse may need to step away from a job, causing financial strain. They feel lonely and tired and wonder if there will be a day when life will return to a normal rhythm. 

The churches I have been a part of know how to support families through challenging illnesses. (And new babies, but I digress.) We have our traditional tools: food and prayer. Sometimes we raise money for medical bills. Sometimes we volunteer to watch young children or chauffeur to appointments. We send cards and notes. We know how to support our extended family of brothers and sisters in Christ. Mental illness shouldn’t be excluded from this extension of love and support. 

Do you know a family going through a mental health crisis or strained by severe mental illness? Respond like you would if it were any other illness. Send them an encouraging card. Let them know you’re praying for them. Take them a meal. Offer to watch their children. Ask them what practical things you can do to help. Be a friend—and keep showing up. 
 

Mental Health Month Resources: Friday Morning Coffee #62

1 in 5. That's how many Americans experience a diagnosable mental illness each year. 1 in 25 live with a serious mental illness like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. 

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For most of us, statistics like this are simply stored as a data point. They bounce off our brains with little impact. So pause with me for a moment. Let your mind trace over the faces and names of the people you know, and do a little mental math. How many people in your family? How many in your church? How many in your workplace, your school, your playgroup, your sports team? 

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and I'm thinking this morning about the precious people I know who struggle with mental illness. The ones who are afraid or ashamed or don't have access to seek treatment. The ones who choose life and health each day by taking a few small pills or talking to a trusted counselor. The ones who have been burned by stigma or ignorance or cold comforters. The ones who have shared their stories - and the many who have not. 

I'm thinking about my own struggles with depression. Of how I wrestled to come to terms with it, of the words I wish I could speak to my younger self. Of how it's cracked open my heart to care for others. 

Perhaps mental illness has intimately touched your life. I want you to know you are not alone. Keep "choosing life," holding onto hope, and continue to bravely seek out trusted friends to support you. If I can be of any help, you can contact me here.

Perhaps this conversation is new to you. Perhaps you aren't sure what you think of mental illness. I'm glad you're here. I'd encourage you to take a moment today to learn a bit more (see the links below) and to listen carefully and compassionately to other people's stories.

Mental Health Month Resources

This month is a good time to pause and learn more about mental illness, find support as a caregiver, share your story, or perhaps to seek help for the first time. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is the best one-stop resource I know of. I've included links below to get you started.

I would also strongly recommend the mental health resources on Kay Warren's website. She has become a powerful Christian mental health advocate in the last several years, after losing her son to suicide. You will find a wealth of information and resources here.

Don't know much about mental illness? Learn about warning signs, mental health conditions, treatment, and more.

Are you a family member or caregiver? Learn about how to care for your loved one and yourself or get connected to a support group.

Do you have a mental illness? Learn more about your diagnosis, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and navigating challenges like medications or employment.

Need help for yourself or a family member? Try NAMI's HelpLine (Monday-Friday, 10am-6pm), see your doctor, or seek out a mental health professional in your area. 

Are you having suicidal thoughts, desires to harm yourself, or feel like you're at the end of your rope? Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) now for 24/7, confidential support. If you are a friend or loved one of someone in crisis, you can also call the lifeline for help, or learn more on their website.