What is Self-Care?
When I first heard this term in grad school, I didn’t like it. Something seemed odd about needing a buzzword to describe providing our body and mind with what they need. And yet, North American society is structured so that we really do need words like this to help us remember to include our own well-being in our busy daily routines.
Self-care is the process of tuning into your physical, mental and spiritual so you know what you want and need. It means having a relationship with yourself so you can care for you the same way you would a loved one or a pet.
Am I getting enough sleep? Am I tuned into my hunger and thirst cues? Do I know what it feels like when I’m stressed so I can do my best to breathe and be mindful throughout the day instead of holding my breath for hours at a time? Am I getting social contact with people I trust?
…Or am I going too far with self-care structure and need to loosen it up? Is it important for me to turn off my organized brain and just go pursue silliness, joy and spontaneity? Do I know the things that make me feel calm and safe so I can invite more of them into my world?
This can feel like a lot.
The good news is once you know what trusting yourself feels like, you don’t need to make extensive notes on self-care—it just flows from your intuition.
The Role of Self-Care in Individual Counselling
How to prioritize your mental health and well-being before, during, and after therapy?
As I’ve mentioned before, the counselling sessions themselves are the smaller part of growth and healing. Even more important than what happens in the counselling room is how you ‘integrate’ the experiences into your daily life.
People receiving individual counselling often begin to pursue what they need more while setting stronger boundaries. This means being firm with relationships and work so that when a therapy session is approaching, you are able to (to the best of your realistic ability) attend on time, ideally with a bit of a buffer beforehand to help you feel grounded and connected (it’s also OK to come late—we just use that time to practice self-regulating and grounding stress).
Self-care is practiced during therapy as well, as you learn to SPEAK UP and say I want to talk about this or I’d prefer if we didn’t go there. It’s an opportunity to practice taking up space in a relationship with the insurance that your therapist isn’t going to react with conditions, limitations and judgments such as the relationships that hurt us in the first place.
The time after therapy sessions is yet another chance to practice self-care. Can you avoid going on your phone right away and get some light movement and tune into how you’re feeling? Can you advise people in your life you need a bit of gentleness post-session? Can you do something kind for yourself while you are in the rawness that follows therapy? This is an excellent chance to use the increased neural plasticity of counselling to write new pathways—I’m deeply valuable, and my life is about enjoying moments, not enduring pain through constant effort.
How to Make Individual Counselling Part of Your Self-Care Routine?
Tips for incorporating therapy into your daily routine and making it a regular part of your self-care
This can be tricky at first! It’s so common to prioritize everything else and view therapy sessions as a luxury or something on the side of your desk. Really though? How can we go about our days treating our bodies and minds like machines, demanding constant output yet deprioritizing any sort of loving maintenance towards them?
I invite you first to mentally shift so that counselling is a high priority. Having my well-being in shape is the foundation for everything else. I cannot show up for myself or others if I am chronically stressed.
From there, book a month or two of sessions in advance. Start to make it a customary piece of your self-care so that you get flow and momentum and your ’therapeutic gains’ stack upon each other. Have conversations with family and work so that it is understood you have an important non-negotiable appointment every week or two.
The Importance of Self-Care in Individual Counselling
How can it enhance the effectiveness of therapy and improve your overall well-being?
It is less that self-care enhances the effectiveness of therapy so much as self-care is the effectiveness of therapy. People who attend counselling and commit to a safe and vibrant relationship with themselves develop the effortless urge to want to provide their minds and bodies with loving attention. You can tell someone has logged a lot of hours in the counselling room when they communicate their feelings and boundaries towards others with confidence and have their schedules filled with regular things that bring them joy.
While this may be an effect of counselling, you can get a jump start on it by starting today to commit to including at least one thing (and hopefully more) today in your schedule that brings you calmness or joy.
Common Challenges to Self-Care alongside Individual Counselling
How to overcome barriers and challenges to self-care and make it a sustainable part of your life?
Start simple. Are there any barriers? Could it be as simple as not having realized how important and necessary it is to prioritize health? Test this out by writing down what you want and need to feel healthy and happy this week. Are you able to schedule some things that support this?
If so, great. You’re off to an excellent start.
If you were raised to deny your own needs and caretake others, however, your first step will be to examine these beliefs. It’s very common to consider what everyone else needs yet be alienated from ourselves. This could be both unique to our family of origin or built right into our culture. There is nothing inherently bad about this, but it’s just a matter of checking do these beliefs still serve me.
If you are encountering great challenges in identifying what brings you joy or in sticking to your plans to take better care of yourself, this may be when it’s helpful to work with a professional to help you find out what is really going on here. If stubborn beliefs are interfering with your own care of self, a counsellor can help you make the positive change you are looking for.
Self-Care Strategies to Go Alongside Individual Counselling
Specific techniques and activities that can help you prioritize your mental health and well-being
I recommend putting pen to paper and writing down grounding activities and joy activities. In each column, see how many you can think of.
Grounding activities include: Meditating, walking, breathing patterns (check out apps like Breathwrk), Wim Hof Breathing, Epsom salt baths, yoga, journaling, massage, acupuncture and countless others. Circle three that seem the most enjoyable.
Joy activities are much more personal. Don’t be surprised if it’s a struggle to think of some. This is common if you’ve been living in alienation from your feelings and inner needs. Come back to this weekly and write new ones until you have some listed. These may include things you used to like doing but forgot about or things you always wanted to try.
Go ahead and take what you’ve written and start to integrate them into your week. If you are a scheduler, put them on your calendar. If you are more flowy, set an intention each day to practice some.
Most importantly, choose the ones that seem fun and enjoyable. You are unlikely to practice activities that feel like monotonous chores you just want to check off because you ‘should’ do them.
Mental Health Resources for Individuals Undergoing Individual Counselling
Support groups, online communities, and other resources that can help you during and after therapy
As I shared in my last article, individual counselling is like a foundation of healing with which you can add many other approaches to well-being. While I cannot easily suggest what these will be specifically, I recommend using your increasing openness to talk to others, search Google and connect with the greater community.
Counselling isn’t a replacement for social connection—it’s a service that reminds you how important community is. Individual work is the jumper cables on your battery of social support, nudging you to be a part of the greater collective of humanity.
How to Find Mental Health Resources in Your Area?
Tips for researching and accessing local resources and support groups
Ask around! Start with your counsellor, but then consider expanding the net outwards. Are there one or two friends or acquaintances you have that you know are engaged in healing or that you get the feeling they are? Why not ask them what sort of resources they like accessing?
This itself can be practiced for exploration and getting over perfectionism. Don’t be afraid to shop around and try a few different things, tuning into what feels right and not afraid to walk away from what doesn’t.
The Role of Family and Friends in Supporting Individuals Undergoing Individual Counselling
How to communicate with loved ones about your therapy and seek support from them?
This one can be tricky sometimes. The challenging truth is that when you change, the people close to you then need to change. This means that even if they love you very much, they may unconsciously act in a way that tries to keep you in the role they are most comfortable that you be in.
If you think they can hear and understand your need to change, be explicit. You’re going to see me acting a bit differently. This is part of something I’m working on. I’m learning to take up more space, ask for what I need and set boundaries. Can I ask for your support as I do this?
Often, however, we are in relationships where others cannot support our growth. In these cases, it’s best to go slow and take your time. If certain folks have negative reactions to our change process and we feel stumped for how to communicate our needs constructively, pause the arguments and work backwards a bit. Reconnect with those who can witness your change. Spend time with them to absorb the message that it’s OK to honour who you are authentically.
You don’t have to have it all figured out right away. Trust the process means taking things one step at a time, and understanding that difficult interactions, thoughts and emotions are part of a bigger mechanism of change you are a part of. Self-care is the battery that powers you through the ups and downs, ensuring you can meet life’s challenges. More important than that, even a well-cared-for mind and body ensures that when joyful moments inevitably occur, you are present and able to receive them.
Carson Kivari is the Founder and Clinic Director of Thrive Downtown, with years of experience helping individuals and couples overcome anxiety, depression, and burnout. He guides clients on a journey of self-exploration and trauma release to find purpose, connection, and safety. Take the first step towards healing and contact Carson today to schedule a session.