Community Resources

Developing Your Maintenance Self-Care Plan

Image: Self-Care arenas design.

A “maintenance self care plan” refers to the activities that you have identified as important to your well-being and that you have committed to engage in on a regular basis to take care of yourself. As we mentioned before, there is no “one-size-fits-all” self-care plan. There are, though, some general principles: take care of your physical health, manage your stress and reduce it where possible, honor your emotional and spiritual needs, nurture your relationships, and find balance in your school and work life. In other words, to take care of yourself you need to make a commitment to attend to all the domains of your life: body, mind, emotions, spirit, relationships, and school/work. However, because we each live unique lives with unique demands, each of us need to figure out what that means for us and how to apply it in our lives.

There are some straightforward steps to guide us in this process.

1. How do you cope now? Identify what you do now to manage stress in your life and assess how well suited these strategies are to your long term health and well-being by completing the Lifestyle Behaviors (“Is your life causing you stress?”) assessment. This can help you determine whether the coping strategies you presently use when you are stressed are, on balance, good for you or perhaps not so good. Consider how you could reduce your tendency (if you have one) to turn to coping strategies on the “negative” side of this ledger and employ those on the “positive” side instead. In fact, decreasing or eliminating at least one “negative” coping strategy can be one of the goals of your Maintenance Self-Care plan.

2. What would you like to do? Complete the Self-Care Assessment. Filling out this checklist should highlight the good things you are already doing for yourself and whether there is an imbalance in the areas in which you practice self-care. It can also give you some ideas for other things you can do in the future to help prevent stress, burnout, and compassion fatigue and also to maintain and enhance your well-being. Make a note of the items that you would like to add (or add more of) to your self-care repertoire. In considering this, try to be sure that each domain of self-care is well represented. If you think of things that are not included in this list just add them at the end.

3. Outlining your plan. The spaces provided in the My Maintenance Self-Care Worksheet each represent a self-care domain. In each space fill in the activities that you already engage in (“current practice”) and those you would like to add (“new practice”). Both current and new practices will comprise your Maintenance Self-Care Plan – the regular activities you engage in to take care of yourself.

4. Obstacles to implementation. Once you have identified these practices, it is useful to identify possible barriers or obstacles that could get in the way of implementing and/or maintaining them. You can revisit this topic and revise your list as you become more familiar with the demands of graduate school. For now, though, think about what you anticipate these barriers/obstacles to be (try to list at least 3 or 4 in the spaces provided), how you can address them, and how you can remind yourself to follow your plan. Write these solutions on the last page of the My Maintenance Self-Care Worksheet as well. If you have chosen to limit or eliminate a negative coping strategy that you currently use, note this as well.

5. Make a commitment to yourself. Preparing a plan is important; it identifies your goals and the strategies to achieve them. However your success in implementing your plan is ultimately based on the level of genuine commitment you make to your own self-care. This kind of commitment is only possible when you recognize that your own health and well-being are essential and you acknowledge the importance of honoring yourself and your needs. If you find this to be a challenge, then take some time to explore your reservations. One reservation might be the tendency to put the needs of others first (a tendency that may be overrepresented among professional care providers). The truth is that your self-care is not only essential to your well-being (and that is a good enough reason in and of itself), but it is also a necessary precondition for you to be effective and successful in honoring your professional and personal commitments. Remember: Just like the flight attendant says, you need to put on your own oxygen mask first before you can be of help to others. So, take a moment, think it over, and then make your personal commitment to your own self-care. You deserve it!

6. Share your intentions. Once you have developed your plan and made your commitment, share you self-care plan with other students and friends/family so you can exchange ideas/strategies and enlist support and encouragement. Consider also joining or starting a student support or discussion group as one way to consolidate and sustain your efforts. (For your reference, we have included some Tips for Starting a Support or Discussion Group, also in the “Developing Your Support System” section.)

7. Be prepared. Next, click on Developing Your Emergency Self-Care Plan, and work through those materials. Developing an Emergency Self-Care Plan helps to organize your thinking and resources before you are faced with a crisis or feel overwhelmed. This is not to suggest that you will invariably face such a situation during graduate school; the idea is to be prepared just in case. Think of it in the way you would think about preparedness for other possible emergency situations: it is important to figure out your plan in advance when you have the time, wherewithal, and concentration to do so effectively!

8. Follow your plan. Once you have completed the assessments and worksheet described above you will have identified the core elements of your personal Maintenance Self-Care Plan. The final step is to implement your plan and keep track of how you are doing. Keeping track of your progress will help you recognize your successes and identify and address any difficulties you may not have anticipated. Don’t forget that you can revise your plan as needed – self-care is always a work in progress. (Remember, also, to employ your emergency plan when and if you need to.)

(Prepared by Lisa D. Butler, PhD, based in part on materials provided by Sandra A. Lopez, LCSW, ACSW, University of Houston, Graduate School of Social Work)