Put Together Your Self-Care Toolbox

By UB therapist Michael Maloney, LCPC 

Self-care has always been a tricky thing that we are all asked to do now. It is not enough to be successful at work or have a great family and relationships, but we must also make sure we take care of ourselves. The task of self-care seems daunting to many people and to others it is yet another things they must master. For most they have yet to figure out how to do self-care.

But when we do not do true self-care we are doing something else: self-neglect. We often see self-care as recharging the batteries, but it is more than that. Self-care is about centering yourself and engaging in things that revitalize your soul. When we don’t engage in care of the self we end up neglecting core aspects about ourselves. If we don’t work out a muscles, it will shrivel from atrophy. The same will happen if we neglect our core values that make us unique.

When asked how does one do self-care there is no clear answer. In fact there is no one answer because they are many answers. Some answers are right for one person while the same answer would be daunting to another. I often give the analogy of building a self-care tool box. Each self-care tool box is unique to everyone and we can see what others use and maybe add it to our own. Our own self-care tool box is built upon of values and are often unique to each individual.

I have asked many people what their self-care looks like and many people will respond with watching TV, playing video games, or having a glass of wine. I point these examples out because they are ones easy to get in the habit of overuse. These may be fine occasional self-care measures but they should not be the only ones. Similarly a person who uses exercise as a self-care should not use only exercise otherwise they would wear down the body and potentially harm the body. It is important to have multiple options in your self-care tool box.

A key to a good self-care is a focus on one’s values. By exploring our values we can better understand what might go into our self-care tool boxes.

Friends and Social Groups: Being with friends is often an easy option for many of us. Particularly as things get busier it get harder to plan these meetups. With good company, our easy activities such as playing video games, having a drink or having a meal, are more fulfilling when we share it with others. What are activities you would enjoy adding a friend or more into?

Leisure and Play: Children rarely need self-care because often everything is play for them. We adults have a lot to learn from them. And that is one of the parts of play. You may see it a frivolous but play offers a safe and fun way to learn and test our limits. Dancing allows us the freedom to move our bodies. Board games allow us to use mental skills in a different settings. Sports often test our limits of our strengths. What is your version of play?

Career: For many people this category may seem counter-intuitive as work is the reason we need self-care. But many people gain enjoyment from their work and even if they did not there are still options to explore. If you don’t have your dream job are there steps that you could do to make it closer? Possible going to trainings or networking events can appease anxiety. Also addressing the things that do bring stress at work are important areas to explore.

Education: Not many people enjoyed school but learning is one of our basic drives. Like eating many of use our inquisitive and trying to learn new things. Taking classes on a new activity or skills such as learning how to fix something, martial arts, or the arts helps us to explore those curiosities. Reading book and watching documentaries are also ways we feed this drive. What are you curious about?

Spirituality: Ones does not have to be religious to be spiritual. Connecting to a high power comes in many forms for all of us. Prayer, tai-chi, mindfulness and meditation can help people connect to not only that high power, but also to themselves. Most of these area are to focus on our values and our sense of spirituality is how we understand and connect to the world. Reflecting on how this shapes who we are and how we interact with others is something we want to foster. What brings peace or meaning to your life?

Physical Health and Wellbeing: Exercise has been a great source of self-care for many. Running, going for a walk, going to the gym, or taking a class are things people often add to their routines to find relief. Similarly our nutrition and what we consume is also an important part of taking care of ourselves on a physical level. Lastly, sleep and rest are also areas that we may want to make sure we incorporate in taking care our physical well being. What are changes you would like to do for yourself?

Creative and Artistic: Getting in touch with our creative sides offers many options including painting, playing music or dance. Even activities such as building a bookcase or cooking are part of the creative process. Often people can lose themselves in these activities and find space to unwind. How are you creative?

Community, Service, and Volunteering: Being with others is a great source of strength for many of us. Community can take many different forms from our physical neighbors or book clubs or people with a shared mission. Engaging in service work can also take many forms. I have seen people get much enjoyment from volunteering at animal shelters, soup kitchens and even joining the armed reserves. Many Nonprofit Organizations are often looking for those will who will volunteer or take leadership roles. What is a community you want to be part of?

Family, Significant Others and Children: I usually tell clients that all relationships take work. This is true particularly with our closest loved ones. But these relationship are our greatest forms of support. Spending time with these people on our day to day lives they can see and love us often in our most vulnerable spaces. Sometimes we need to vent or someone to give advice. Other times we want to see our loved ones, especially our children, grow and complete tasks because we have seen their struggles. Making sure we honor time with them is part of the work, but it is also part of our self-care. How can you value the time to create new memories?

All the areas above are ways to explore how we take care of ourselves while keeping to who we are. Imagine this tool box full of things to do to recharge our batteries and help strengthen ourselves for the next day. Even the simple tools mentioned at first can be made stronger when they are met with values. Sharing a drink with a friend, watching a tv series or movie with a loved one, or playing video games that may teach a language may help energize us more than if we binged on these things by themselves.

Making a tool box is only the first step, because having the tools are useless unless they are put into action. Sharing your toolbox with others may help them find tools for themselves but also help you find more tools for yourself. Also some tools may be less useful to you after a time and it is okay to thank that tool for its help and use newer more relevant tools at your disposal. Lastly, always take time to make sure your tool box is up to date because these are tools for you.


On July 30th, our current electronic health system will transition to a new and advanced system to better serve you: Athena. Prior to the transition date, you will be sent a registration link to create a new patient account in Athena. If you have any immediate questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact your therapist, or call our office to speak to a staff member.