What Does Self-Care Actually Mean? And Why It Matters for the Paralysis Community

Posted by Lauren Presutti in Life After Paralysis on March 22, 2021 # Health

For individuals living with paralysis and caregivers alike, life can get busy. Busy with health appointments, wheelchair maintenance, accommodations, community accessibility, training new caregivers to assist, building support. This is on top of "normal life" responsibilities like figuring out what's for dinner and keeping up with laundry. It's easy to get overwhelmed sometimes. If you have ever seen an article on self-care with pictures of bubble baths, candles, and wine and thought to yourself, "Yeah right, I'll be lucky if I shower today," you are not alone.

Many people are flooded with online information casting self-care as a luxurious escape from reality. We see it on Facebook, we see it on Buzzfeed, it even pops up in our daily conversations. Your girlfriends may have urged you to get your nails done (call ahead to ask about accessibility!) when you express how overwhelmed you feel. Your best buds might have asked you to play video games (adaptive controllers are now available for Xbox!) to blow off some steam, but you're drowning in other responsibilities. We've all been there where we are just trying to get by each day, and it seems like making time for self-care is unattainable.women in wheelchair holding a flower next to a garden

I spend a lot of time talking about self-care in my therapy sessions with clients, but only rarely does it resemble the #selfcare we see on social media today. Instead, we talk about practicing self-care as a necessity that does not need to be complicated, expensive, time-consuming, or far-reaching. Self-care means doing things for ourselves that are going to help us have our needs met. Sometimes that means prioritizing sleep, remembering to eat breakfast, getting fresh air, making time for adaptive exercise, going to health appointments, or asking for help. Even taking out the trash is self-care if the act of doing so provides you with relief in some way (you're bound to feel more frustrated if you see garbage pile up in the kitchen). Self-care might mean taking your medication on time, confronting a toxic friend, doing meal prep in advance, saying no to something, or simply getting a haircut. Contrary to popular belief, self-care is often boring – and that's okay.

If you can incorporate some leisure activities that elicit feelings of joy and relaxation, that can be another critical part of your self-care. Once you have your basic needs met (the mundane part of self-care), try to think about integrating positive activities. Again, this does not need to be extravagant. Sometimes slowing down for a jigsaw puzzle, a family board game, or a living room movie night can boost our mental health. Throughout the day, you might allow yourself small breaks to read magazines, color, journal, play with your pet, or listen to music. When you have more time, self-care activities might include doing some adaptive yoga, shopping online, visiting with a neighbor, taking pictures, going to a park, learning a new hobby, or checking out a museum. Understanding what works best for you might mean learning more about yourself and getting curious about what helps you and what doesn't. Often, we have to go through some trial and error to figure out which self-care activities are ideal for us. This can mean exploring lots of different ways to de-stress, holding onto the ones that work, and throwing out the ones that don't.

The more we practice intentionally making time for our own self-care, the more resilient we become, which strengthens our ability to cope with distress and manage whatever comes our way. This is especially important for the paralysis community, given the extra disability-related stress that is often added to your plate.

If you've been trying to prioritize self-care but still feel like it is unattainable for you, ask yourself why you might not have the time or ability. Is there anything you can minimize? Can you ask for help to create more room in your life? Why hasn't your mental health been made a priority? What changes might be possible?

To learn about River Oaks Psychology, visit www.riveroakspsychology.com and follow River Oaks Psychology on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn.

Lauren Presutti, founder of River Oaks Psychology, is a psychotherapist and advocate for individuals and families affected by disabilities of all types. Born with Muscular Dystrophy and using a wheelchair throughout her life, Lauren is passionate about helping others overcome barriers and reach their fullest potential. Lauren also enjoys writing, speaking, and providing education on subjects relating to mental health and empowerment.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.