Take Care of Yourself

One day long ago, I had finished up a first assessment meeting with a prospective client. On the way out, I told him, “Take care of yourself.” It’s a set of parting words that are frequently shortened to just “take care,” but basically it’s a parting formula that may or may not have a lot of meaning, just as we greet each other by saying “Hi, how are you doing,” when we don’t usually want to know how the person is doing.Self care photo for RCC blog

The next time I saw the new client, he told me “I really thought about what you said, and I’ve been doing it. It really helps.” I, of course, hadn’t remembered what I said, so I asked him to remind me. He said, “You told me to take care of myself.”

It’s a priority that sometimes slips, isn’t it? But we always need to remember that when the oxygen masks deploy due to an emergency, put your own mask on first. If I am to be of any use to anyone– including myself, much less others– I have to be functional at some level. Self care is what makes it happen. If I let myself go until I can’t take care of myself, then I’m not only unable to help others, someone else has to take care of me.

Where to start with self-care? Well, of course, you can start anywhere. I like the basic self-care checklist that AA newcomers are told about: HALT. Don’t get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. I like to spell it HALTT and add Thirsty as a fifth item on the self-care check list. I’ve known people who were big beer drinkers who were consuming 200 ounces or more of beer a day to wonder why they were so thirsty– and craving beer– when they quit. They didn’t drink water! Or any other water based beverage.

You don’t need to come down with a case of alcoholism to use this simple check list, though– take care of basic physical needs first. Feed yourself, preferably something healthy. If you crave sweets, eat sweet fruits; if you want to fill up on something, fill up on vegetables & whole grains.  For people in recovery from alcohol and drug addiction, the worst junk food you can find  is better than relapse, so cut yourself slack, especially in the first few weeks.

The Angry and Lonely part of the check list may seem harder to deal with at first, but it can be amazing what a healthy beverage and a couple hundred calories can do to someone’s mood. Likewise sleep– the ultimate “T” in tired. Some people say there’s a sleep deprivation epidemic in America, and I wouldn’t doubt it. My experience is that the power nap people are right– when you’re ready to drop, take that 10-15 minute nap. Better yet, get enough sleep. I recently talked to a high school student who complained “I’m sleeping too much– eight, sometimes nine hours a night.” If you look up recommendations for a healthy amount of sleep for a young adult, that’s about right. But people aren’t getting it.

Finally we come to the Lonely part. For many people, that’s the tough one.  If you’re really alone and have no one, you don’t have to be in crisis to call for help. The San Francisco Warm Line, for example,


is open to talking about pretty much anything. It  doesn’t have to be a crisis. Also, they’re now open at 7 a.m. weekdays, according to the volunteer I just spoke with. The volunteer also gave the number of a 24 hour warm line in Cincinnati, (513) 931-9276. I verified the number & verified with the volunteer who answered the phone that they are 24 hour.

In the wee hours, there’s the San Francisco Night Ministry,


And their crisis line is open from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. (415) 441-0123

Again, they’re not going to hang up on you if your problem isn’t big enough for them.

There’s also San Francisco Suicide Prevention, (415) 781-0500


And they, like some of the other folks, have online chat part of the time, as well as some other more specialized numbers (check the web site). I know from personal acquaintance with a volunteer that they take calls that are short of “I’ve got a gun to my head and the phone in my other hand” serious. but they’re also trained for crisis calls.

Let’s not forget simpler self-care steps, however. some times it’s enough to just get your laptop (or a book, if you’re old school) and spend some time in a cafe. It can help just to be around people. For all the 12-steppers, it can the time to hit a meeting. If you’re part of a faith community, now’s the time to connect more closely.

For others, however, the very opposite problem can crop up this time of year– getting over-saturated with people time. Know yourself, and know when a little quality alone time would help you compensate for getting peopled-out. For parties, this can mean arriving early and leaving early. For family gatherings, this can mean taking ten minutes on the back porch or a walk around the block (depending on the weather), or even a trip to the bathroom to freshen up (and yes, guys are allowed to freshen up in this case!).

Whatever else goes on in this holiday season, take care of yourself. I mean it– it’s not a throw away phrase.

Do you have a special thing you do to take care of yourself– that you would share with others? 

About jamesmatter

Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) in private practice in San Francisco. I work with adults, adolescents, and couples, with focus on substance use and abuse and co-occurring disorders (having both a mental illness and an addiction).
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