S.T.O.P. for Your Self-Care

Submitted by Laurie Veillette

Self-care is not something you commit to once and you’re set for life. Self-care is a daily, repeated commitment that requires effort and intentionality. You have to choose to practice self-care. What this looks like can vary person-to-person, setting-to-setting, and problem-to-problem. A hammer doesn’t work for every project (or so my husband tells me) and, similarly, one self-care strategy simply won’t do. You need to have a range of tools in your tool box. I hope that after reading this post, you will have added at least one more.

Before we review today’s self-care strategy, I want to stress an important point. Many people tell me that self-care seems selfish. If this resonates with you, I encourage you to reflect on this quote by Jim Rohn: The greatest gift you can give to somebody is your own personal development. I used to say, ‘If you will take care of me, I will take care of you.’ Now I say, ‘I will take care of me for you, if you will take care of you for me.’

Think of the people in your life that you care about. When they are doing well and taking good care of themselves, it is such a gift! Their company is more pleasant, there’s less worry or guilt, and less pressure on you to rescue or fix. You are free to simply enjoy them. By prioritizing your self-care, you are offering this same gift to those who care about you.

Another example to emphasize this a bit more (or beat a dead horse – sorry) is the popular airplane oxygen mask analogy. Maybe it’s been a minute since you were on an airplane so I’ll refresh your memory. In their pre-takeoff speech, flight attendants caution that, if the cabin loses pressure, an oxygen mask will fall from the overhead compartment. Should this happen, you must first put the mask on yourself before assisting others. Why? Simply put – you’re no good to anyone if you can’t breathe! The same goes for self-care. If you’re not taking care of you, you’re not well equipped to care for others. Okay, on to the good stuff.

The S.T.O.P. skill outlined below in four steps was adapted from Dr. Marsha Linehan (developer of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)). It’s a simple self-care tool that utilizes mindful check-ins. It’s more effective the more you practice, and is especially helpful in moments of high stress.

  1. Maybe you’ve noticed a change in your internal environment (e.g., increased heart rate, sudden emotional shift, physical discomfort) or, perhaps, you just remembered to practice this skill (good for you!). Either way – pause.
  2. Take a breath. Use this moment to take a few breaths to relax and reset. Note: simply breathing will not always help you feel calmer. To learn more about how to use your breath to calm your body and brain, check out these strategies from the University of Michigan. For the visually-oriented, a video like this may be more helpful.
  3. What’s going on in your body? Your mind? How are you feeling emotionally? Ask yourself: What do I need, if anything, in this moment?
  4. In other words, do what you need to do to take care of yourself. If you’ve noticed pain or tension in your body, take a moment to stretch, move, or massage yourself. Tend to basic needs (bathroom, hunger, thirst). If you’re feeling overwhelmed or emotionally distressed, respond effectively (e.g., loneliness – call someone; brain fatigue or overload – take a break or go outside; overwhelm – practice deep breathing strategies like those mentioned above or distract yourself with something pleasant).

That’s it. It may sound simple but it will probably feel awkward to practice at first. It’s easy to get distracted by the day-to-day, which is why we often end up missing out on messages from our bodies and brains relaying important needs. With regular practice, however, this skill will become more natural and effortless.

If you or someone you know is struggling, please reach out for help. These are two available resources:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
Crisis text line:  741741

Laurie Veillette, PsyD
Laurie Veillette, PsyDCCL Board Member
Clinical health psychologist. Specialized training in health psychology and integrated care.

If you have a wellness themed topic you would like to share or learn more about, and/or blog/vlog about as an expert in a health/wellness related field, please reach out to shelby@cclyme.org. 

Shelby Wood
Manager of Program Development
CommunityCare of Lyme