Developing An Emergency Self-Care Plan
It's not news to me (or most of you) that self-care is crucial to managing stress and maintaining mental health in graduate school. What I had never thought of, however, is that you can't just "wing it" when comes to self-care.
As someone who has chronic anxiety, and has struggled with depression, I realized that when I need self-care the most—particularly when I am in crisis mode—I am often least able to do the things that will make me feel better. I either feel paralyzed to act or I start to think that even if I could act, there's nothing I could possibly do that would stop the spiral.
A friend suggested I try putting together an emergency self-care plan. So like a true historian, I did some research. I started reading up on self-care plans, there's a lot of information out there (I encourage you to take a look for yourself).
But one of the main things I learned from my research is that planning for the bad days on your good days can make a world of difference. For me, a self-care plan has erased some of the helplessness I felt during especially hard times.
Every person's emergency self-care plan will look different. Here are a few things I've included in my own plan that might help you get started building yours.
List Your Tell-Tale Signs
What are the (often subtle) signs that it might be time for you to take a step back and focus on self-care? For you, this might mean you're dreading opening your email more than usual, you've noticed that you're actively ignoring phone calls or texts from even your best friends, or you can't remember the last time you washed your hair. Creating a list of the signs that you're not feeling your best makes you and those around you more aware of when things are starting to fall to the wayside before you reach full-on crisis mode.
What helps you relax? What do you do when you're in a good mood?
This could be taking a walk, getting a manicure, listening to music, or watching your favorite tv show. List the things that put a smile on your face and bring down your stress levels.
I think it also helps to plan for these in advance when you're feeling good. Make a playlist of your favorite songs or keep your favorite face masks stocked in your bathroom.
Who and/or what should you avoid when you're having a hard time?
Calling your mom might make matters worse. Or you know that you'll feel crappy spending the day indoors alone. Whatever, or whoever, it is—figure out what you should steer clear of on your not-so-good days. These are generally the things that will dig you deeper rather than help dig you out of your rut.
Who can you contact for support or distraction?
Whether it is a family member who will take you out for a movie, a friend who you can text with updates on your feelings, or a colleague who can relate to your situation, make a list of people you can reach out to. This list will remind you that you're not alone, you have people who love you and support you.
Share your list with someone you trust
Obviously this isn't something you have to do. This might be a big step (or too big of a step) for you, but believe me it does help. Sharing my emergency self-care plan opened up channels of communication with those closest to me about my struggles. It made them aware of my tell-tale signs, of what they could do to be helpful, and what could make things worse. It has helped me get the type of support I need, when I need it, without always having to ask for it.
Have a plan, Make it your own
Spoiler Alert: I'm not an expert. You can choose to include what I've mentioned in your emergency self-care plan, or you can choose to do your own thing. Either way, the point is that you SHOULD have a plan. Because self-care is generally low on the list of priorities in graduate school, it is helpful to have a list of what you can do to take care of yourself. Whatever that means to you, make sure you're honest with yourself about what works for you and what doesn't work. The more you make it your own, the more useful a self-care plan will be for you.
About the Author
Ana Rosado is a Ph.D. student in History at Northwestern University. She is the Content Manager of Just Tryna' Graduate. She loves talking self-care, mental health, and work/life integration. You can reach her via email.