My general attitude towards self-care used to basically be – “get out of my way, I don’t have time for you.” Running a business and my passion for creating mental-wellness tools was my first priority, and everything else took a distant second.
As you can imagine, this did not end well. In fact, it led to tiny (read massive) existential crisis. All at once I was dealing with a serious health crisis, financial insecurity, my grandmother going into the hospital, a failed business relationship, and bed bugs while traveling. It was a lot.
I had recently been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. From what I read, I needed to eat a complicated, inconvenient, and restrictive diet, get exercise (but not too much), and also reduce my stress. I had to manage this or my teeth and hair would fall out, I would continue to have painful lesions, and I could go blind. Now that’s a self-care dilemma.
Hence the ensuing existential crisis. It was enough to force me to pause and seriously re-assess my life as a whole. It took me a while to dig out, but as I did, I created a tool to help me try to get my head around what I knew was the solution, upping my self-care game.
As I flew back home, the gist of my Self-Care plan came together. I knew a few things about myself.
I needed a way to not get bogged down in the details
I needed a visual representation so I could see progress
The process needed to be fun and not create additional stress
Thus was born my Self-Care Calendar.
Basically, I boiled down all the thousands of things I needed to be doing into a fairly simple broad-stroke tracking tool.
I’ll go ahead and explain my tracking categories, but I’m guessing yours might be slightly different if you plan to try this for yourself. Please note that each of these categories is framed in the “positive” and you get a star each time you complete something in a category.
In this category I get a star for doing any movement activity that I predefined for myself (or decided to add on the fly). For me, moderate exercise and stretching are the best, so my movement category included things like: going for a walk, yoga, qi gong, stretching class, and so forth.
Because my diet restrictions are daunting, I need to not sweat-the-details and just track best-eating practices. Cooking a large batch of food that meets all of my dietary restrictions fit the bill. It allows me to have a good meal and then have healthy food on hand to pack for lunches.
This category represents my mind/spirit and how well I’m taking care of it. I get a star in this category if I do any of the following activities: go to church or other spiritual group/meeting, go to a meditation class, do an additional meditation (beyond my daily prayer/mediation), read a nurturing book or take a class in this area.
This category is a catch all for the many things one needs do to manage physical health. I usually keep a running list of these things because they tend to be resource intensive and I can’t do them all at once. Some examples are: making a doctor appointment, going to the doctor or dentist, purchasing drugs or other health purchases, and generally anything else that I know I need to do to maintain my health.
I struggled with how to deal with my goal of reducing stress. How do you track the absence of something? In my quest to keep things positive, I decided to track delight as a way to ensure that I was giving myself the time to do fun things, and acknowledge the blessings in life. Some of the things that have made my calendar include: coffee with a dear friend, going to an art opening, volunteering for an organization I love, getting a surprise check in the mail, and going on a fun date.
What resulted is a way for me to visually see how well I am taking care of myself. By just glancing at my calendar I can tell if I need to step up my self-care or if I am doing fine. It works so well that I can predict when I’m going to have a relapse of my autoimmune symptoms based on my number of stars.
So am I perfectly healthy now? No. Doing self-care is a practice and I sometimes still find myself letting life get in the way.
The good news is that I keep getting better at catching myself. My calendar is located right in my kitchen where I have to walk by it several times a day, which is helpful for accountability.
So why am I sharing this? Well it took me a long time and a significant amount of pain to develop this process for myself. If you have just been diagnosed with a chronic disease, you may be able to modify this calendar to help you live your best life possible. Make the categories and process work for you, but make sure to keep them all doable!
Even if you don’t have health challenges, it may help you be more balanced and perhaps prevent you from encountering health challenges down the road.