Self-care is vital for the well-being of any individual, family member, and professional. Sometimes with an autism diagnosis, the experiences and emotions one might feel can make the skill to practice self-care seem unattainable. Often times, professionals and family members set aside their own needs while underestimating the effect it can have on their own well-being, frequently leading to higher levels of stress and lower levels of quality of life. Each month, OCALI will highlight resources to help start a new habit toward self-care and the opportunity to challenge yourself to be #ABetterMeABetterYou.
Check out our self-care book study Take Time for You: Self-Care Action Plan for Educators by Tina Boogren
Know Your Stressors
Back to school can be an exciting time of year for students, educators and families as they prepare for new experiences and opportunities. However, it can also bring on unmanageable stress. Even the most resilient individuals can experience stress as new routines and expectations are established. It is essential to begin to recognize the stressors and situations that are draining you and find the one healthy coping strategy that works best for you. Be sure to include it in your daily routine. One strategy might be hydrating yourself more with plenty of water throughout the day, as suggested in the Everyday Tips to Help you Stay Hydrated video by Banner Health. Water can reduce stress and is easy to include in your daily routine. For example, Tip #4 shows how vegetables and fruits contain water: watermelon 92%, carrots 87%, cantaloupe 90%, cucumber 96%, strawberries 91%, and zucchini 94%. Staying in a good hydrated status can keep your stress levels down. So, keep the water bottle handy!
Take Care of Your Body
Changing habits to include exercise, rest, and nutritious foods can be a challenge. If you start small, you might find it to be a little easier as you make these habits part of your daily or weekly routine. Begin by taking a 10-minute walk (possibly at lunchtime), stepping outside for a few minutes of fresh air, eating a healthy snack during the school day, trying a new five-ingredient recipe, and laughing. You may find that laughter is the best medicine! Consider starting your day or week by sharing a meme that best portrays how you are feeling or one that just makes you chuckle.
Be intentional about being thankful and expressing gratitude. Gratitude has been the subject of much recent research with both children and adults that has shown benefits related to both psychological and physical functioning. It not only helps boost the well-being of the person or group receiving the gratitude, but the act of identifying what you are grateful for, and specifically expressing to others what you appreciate, helps the giver's well-being. Gratitude strengthens relationships, which are a key factor in social competence and social-emotional functioning. Consider starting actions, like sharing with your students what you are thankful for in relation to them, sending a thank you note or card to a colleague, boss, friend or family member on a weekly basis.
Set Your Own Pace
Christmas, Hanukkah, and other holiday festivities create a busy schedule! We deal with holiday plays, programs, shopping, parties, and decorations. Are you doing too much too fast? Decide what must get done and what can wait and learn to say no to new tasks if they are putting you on overload. Ask others for help when planning classroom or school festivities, like parents, colleagues, or friends. Note what you have accomplished at the end of the day, not what you have been unable to do.
Nurture Your Soul
A simple place to start – breathe. Find brief moments in your day to collect your thoughts and breathe. Breathing can help calm your mind, re-center yourself, and facilitate emotion regulation. Taking a deep breath while counting to five and then exhaling for another five can come in handy during those difficult moments, but also can be an easy strategy to try throughout the day. As you practice breathing, take time to reflect on how breathing helps calm your mind and body.
Using mental pictures to imagine scenes can aid in relaxation and free your body of tension. What do you think of that brings you peace, comfort and a feeling of relaxation? Is it a beach? A catamaran ride? A walk through a forest with a babbling brook? Allow yourself to imagine a place that is relaxing to you. Engage your senses by experiencing the textures, sounds, sights, and smells that you find pleasant. Consider putting up a picture of what brings you peace in your room or on your desk and go to “that place” when you need it most. Allow the concerns of the day to fade away as you focus on placing yourself in your desired relaxing imagery.
Do you make time in your regular routine for your friends? Connections could be in person or by phone, email, or social media. The goal would be a regular connection daily or weekly. Easier said than done, right? Start by making a list of people you enjoy connecting with regularly. Now determine how you best connect with that person. Is it by phone, meeting for coffee, after-work appetizers, checking in through email, or sharing a funny post on social media? Whatever it might be, make it a habit to connect with that person on a regular basis.
April is Autism Awareness and Acceptance Month. It is a good opportunity to educate yourself more about ASD, however don’t overdo it. Continue to keep yourself informed about autism spectrum disorder but do it in a time frame that works for you. Sometimes people can get too invested in learning and forget about their own personal needs. It can be easy to become consumed in all of the information that is available. Set a schedule that works for you and supports your self-care. Perhaps you can learn about one evidence-based practice each month, while still finding time in your schedule for some “me” time.
“Shout-Out” to You
Taking a moment to acknowledge and celebrate something about you and your skills as a teacher, therapist, paraprofessional, or administrator each day can be the medicine needed to boost your outlook. Start your day by telling yourself one thing you are proud of – encouraging a student to try something new, capturing the attention of your students, training a coworker, or overcoming a personal challenge. Then end your day recognizing at least one thing you accomplished during the day. Celebrate you each and every day!