Taking Care of Yourself

Positive Strategies for Coping With the Stress and Health Issues in Your Life


You have a great deal of control over your ability to feel well, physically and psychologically. There are certain basic guidelines which, when followed, tend to promote increased well-being. These guidelines may sound so simple you might ask “How could that help?” The answer is that your whole body, including your brain, is based on rhythms and patterns, intake of supplies (food and liquid) and elimination of wastes and unhealthy substances. Whatever else you are doing to care for yourself- self education, medical care, psychotherapy- will work better if you establish and maintain basic healthy behavior patterns of eating, sleeping and exercise.

  • Brief interruptions of these patterns usually are not harmful.
  • Continual changes of these patterns can result in physical and psychological problems.
  • Discuss your lifestyle honestly with your physicians and psychotherapists. Their role is not to judge you but to help you be as healthy as you can be.
  • Describe your health problem completely and systematically to your physician.
  • Read from notes to help you remember what to report or ask.
  • Take your own medications only. Take medication exactly as prescribed. If you wish to change when you take your medication, or how much your take, discuss it with your doctor first.

Eating and Drinking

Eating and drinking provide the fuels with which your body (including your brain) operates. Eating three moderate meals or five small meals per day is healthiest. Emphasize a variety of foods you enjoy selected from all food groups:

  • Fruits and Vegetables
  • Low Fat Dairy Products
  • Grains and Cereals
  • Protein foods, such as fish & poultry
  • Limit salt, sugar and caffeine.
  • Increase fiber in your diet, but add it gradually to avoid discomfort.
  • Discuss dietary supplements with your physician, nurse or dietician, not with salespersons.
  • Drink about two quarts of water (8 glasses 8 times through the day). Many persons do not take enough fluid. Avoid sugary drinks. If asked by your health professional keep a complete, honest food and fluid record.

Drugs and Alcohol

Use of “recreational drugs, self-administered medication and excessive alcohol are major problems for physical and mental well-being.

  • Discuss with your health care professional the complete discontinuation of “recreational” drugs, and non-prescription medication, at least temporarily.
  • Consider eliminating all alcohol use for two weeks to a month. Reintroduce alcohol minimally or moderately. Consider if you want or need to eliminate alcohol altogether.
  • ** CAUTION: Sudden discontinuation of some “recreational” drugs and sudden discontinuation of alcohol after heavy or moderately heavy use can be dangerous. Get medical help first to learn to do it safely.

Physical and Social Activity

Most people either love or hate exercise. If you love exercise, great. If you hate exercise, try physical and social activity, that is, play. Chose activities which you enjoy so you will be more likely to continue. Walking, swimming and dancing are excellent exercise. Exercise means physical activity. It does not have to mean exhausting, painful athletic activity. A little exercise each day is healthier than a lot, all at once, once in a while. Have a physical checkup before beginning a vigorous exercise program. If you go to a gym or an exercise studio ask about health and safety training of the staff.

There is strong evidence that persons who have regular social activity feel better and stay healthier. Engage in some minimal social activity at the beginning even if you don’t feel like it. Explore several different kinds of social activities: club meetings, church/synagogue, folk dancing, neighborhood activities, charitable volunteer work, professional meetings. Ask a friend, relative or co-worker to go with you the first time to make trying new activities easier. If you are shy or have difficulty making friends a good psychotherapist can be very helpful. There are many adults who need help learning how to have relationships or make relationships better.


There is no “right among” of sleep for everyone. You must find your own right amount which is usually between 7 and 9 hours. Certain guidelines have been found to be healthiest.

  • Go to bed at the same time each night (within about a half-hour).
  • Reserve the bed for sleep and lovemaking only (not for reading or TV.).
  • Avoid prolonged daytime napping, unless you are ill. Short (20 minute naps are healthy and do not disrupt nighttime sleep) Don’t allow yourself to doze off in front of the television.
  • Monitor your sleep environment for comfort (sound, temperature, eliminate or reduce light).
  • Provide some fresh air.
  • Provide some monotonous noise such as a fan or environmental sound recording.
  • Do relaxing exercise before going to bed.
  • Develop a pre-bedtime ritual (warm bath, light snack, relaxed activity).
  • Avoid using alcohol and non-prescribed drugs as sleep aids.
  • If you cannot fall asleep in 20 minutes get up and do something else.
  • Observe your own sleep/wake pattern and write it down.
  • Do not use electronic devices in the last hour before bedtime, because of the effect of blue light.

To improve sleep the above guidelines must be applied for weeks, not just days. If you still have trouble getting to sleep, staying asleep or experiencing excessive sleepiness speak with a physician or psychotherapist.

For more information:

General Health

  1. Boston Women’s Health Collective- Our Bodies, Ourselves
  2. Jane Brody- Guide to Personal Health
  3. Martha Davis et al- The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook
  4. Matthew Walker-Why We Sleep

Healthy Eating

  1. Covert Bailey- Fit or Fat Jane BrodyJane Brody’s Good Food Book
  2. Dean Ornish- Eat More, Weigh Less

Managing Your Moods

  1. Davis Burns- Feeling Good
  2. Pamela Butler- Talking to Yourself
  3. Edmund Bourne- The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook
  4. Mary Ellen Copeland- The Depression Workbook


  1. George Back – Creative Aggression: The Art of Assertive Living
  2. Davis Burns- Intimate Connections
  3. Pamela Butler- Self-Assertion for Women
  4. Steve Duck- Friends for Life

Controlling Substance Problems

  1. W. Miller & R. Munoz- How Your Control Your Drinking
  2. J. Baum- One Step Over the Line (Cocaine)
  3. C. Black- It Will Never Happen Again To Me (Families of Alcoholics)
  4.  Ask your friends for their favorite physicians and psychotherapists. Ask your favorite physicians and psychotherapists for their trusted referral recommendations.


Learning Optimism

Some people look on the negative side of a situation. They are called pessimists. Sometimes they are realistic in their expectations but ignore the possibilities of making something come out better than expected. Sometimes they are even unrealistic in the way they only look at the negative expectations. They really limit opportunities to have situations turn out well.

People can learn to control their expectations and look for the possibility for things to turn out well. People who look for the positive possibilities in a situation are called optimists. Optimists tend to be happier and healthier than pessimists. People can learn to be more optimistic.

  • When you look at a situation teach yourself to look at the situation as temporary and not permanent.
  • When you look at a situation teach yourself to think of it as “just this specific time” and not “every time” or “everyone.”
  • When you are in a situation that is negative, think of it as something that just happened impersonally rather than automatically taking it personally.
  • When you experience a situation think about what you can do to make it better instead of thinking of yourself as helpless.
  • To be more of an optimist remember these key words:
    • Temporary (not permanent)
    • Specific (not global)
    • Impersonal (not personal)
    • Hopeful (not hopeless)

For more information read Martin E.P. Seligman’s Learned Optimism and The Optimistic Child