5K Team Captain Kendra Quincy Knauf (pictured left) of Team BeCause shares her insights as a mental health counselor on finding self-care that works for you. For Kendra, one piece of her self-care is participating in the Samaritans annual 5K Run/Walk for Suicide Prevention!
Not too long ago, the Samaritans Facebook page posted a reminder that “self-care looks different for everyone.” I was thrilled to see this from a mental health advocacy and support organization since I am a strong believer in this simple fact; self-care means different things to different people. At the same time, there are some pieces of the puzzle that can be helpful to keep in mind.
Self-care is about prioritizing yourself
Even if self-care is a personalized pursuit, guidance is often welcome. And if you don’t know where to start, ask someone you trust about it. You can start with, “what do you do for self-care?” As a mental health counselor, I regularly work with individuals who are singularly focused and unable to identify ways to better care for themselves, but want to. Often a client may say, “I don’t have time/energy/money to do something fun because I’m focused on X.” While each case is unique, in those moments, I try to do two things. First, I help them reframe the thinking about a “fun activity” being the only way to care for themselves. Not everything I do to take care of myself is fun per se. But I know it’s good for me. The second thing I do is to review their daily activities and encourage my clients to increase effort on their healthy habits. I use the example of running in these circumstances; it is not always fun to go for a run, but it gets me outside, helps burn off excess energy, I sleep better at night, and I’m exercising my body. Those are all things I consider ways to better care for myself. Whatever the circumstances are, pursuing these healthy habits will help minimize stress on your body and mind.
What are the healthy habits that I’m talking about?
- eight hours of sleep
- minimizing coffee and alcohol intake
- a balanced diet
- pursuing hobbies
- turning off the news when necessary
- being in nature
- what else? Remember, self-care is different for everyone.
And why am I advocating for these healthy habits?
I conceive of self-care as a combination of healthy habits that are cultivated every day, and finding joy in the present moment. I find that the more balance of activities I have in a day, the more likely I am to remain present while pursuing them. And when I’m able to focus on the current moment, I enjoy things a lot more and I worry a lot less. In my clinical work, I’ve noticed that clients who have a goal of pursuing these healthy habits, in a balanced way, are more stable than when they are focused on only one thing. The intensity of distress seems to be less when my clients are working on remaining present and balancing activities.
So, what does this have to do with running the 5K?
I initially got involved in the Samaritans annual 5K Run/Walk for Suicide Prevention because I love running! It is an amazing event to raise money and awareness for a cause that matters to so many of us. From a racing perspective, I always have the same goal; run the entire race without stopping for walk breaks. That certainly motivates me to get to the gym on rainy days, to run early during the oppressive humidity, and to generally take good care of my physical body in order to reach my goal. As I said above, it isn’t always fun to go for a run, but the pros far outweigh the cons. The BeCause team was started because we wanted to learn more about the link between a physical activity, like training for an event, and mental health outcomes. We thought the purposeful part of training and fundraising actually increases one’s positive mental health. Put another way, people who care about the cause they are running for, are practicing self-care.
Each piece of the self-care puzzle can be just one small thing you do each day to improve your mental health. Maybe for one week, you go to bed at the same time. Observe how your mood is different than previous weeks. For those preparing for the upcoming 5K, engaging in fundraising activities and training in these dog days of summer, think about how the purpose of supporting the Samaritans is aiding your mood and motivation. We can each do small things, that may seem much larger, to prioritize our own mental health.