How to get started with self-care

Coming to terms with self-care and then jumping in is not always a snap. For most people, self-care is a list of all the things they “should be doing,” often followed by a bunch of self-defeating or critical thoughts, such as “Why can’t I be like Suzy or Tom? They take care of themselves.”

Sadly and far too often, many people engage in a harsh, negative dialogue with themselves, although they know that logically it does not help. This is what most people report in therapy. Further, they put themselves down for not taking care of themselves, and I hear many people say they don't feel they “deserve” self-care, and, in effect, say, “I don't like myself or who I am.”

The point is to just get started.

First steps

To gain value from self-care, the first step is to learn to care for oneself. Putting kind thoughts into your mind paves the way for cultivating self-directed compassion. Advice and resources for self-care can be found aplenty on the internet or at a library. Just browse any topic you are interested in to start your journey in seconds.

What you want to work toward is the attitude, determination and positive energy required to make changes. If you “hate” yourself and think you don’t deserve good things, self-care will simply be out of reach. Prior to learning self-care, we must have an inner attitude of caring about oneself. Practice how to give yourself, kindness and love. It is not as hard as you think!

One simple method is to practice thinking of someone you care about and notice what that feels like. We have natural awareness and empathy for those we care for most, so from there the idea is to tap into these feelings in order to transfer some of it to ourselves. This paves the way for self-compassion to develop.

Keep it steady

If you cultivate a calm, patient and helpful view of your own process, you are more apt to stick to any self-care plan. When we feel positive, personal power increases. Suddenly we have the means to make a change with grace and ease. The secret of self-care is in not just in the actions, but in the attitude of “caring” we bring to our lives. If you want to develop new behaviors, make sure you support yourself with an encouraging and resilient belief about yourself. This will create a foundation for self-care.

Set your priorities

Set aside some time to prioritize your needs and plan the things you want to add to your life. Pick out one self-care activity and take a step forward to emulate one of those people you admire because they know how to do things for themselves.

For example, if you need to increase the amount of time you exercise, schedule exercise times that will work with your schedule. If you are making changes in your diet, make changes with discipline but proceed gradually to support your success. Ask others to help you by telling them about the change you are making. Take advantage of their insights. Stop wishing and start living now.

Consider reaching out

You may find that having the support available in a self-care-oriented therapy session is in order, especially if you have symptoms or are recovering from trauma. Self-care is essential in any efforts to recover from substance abuse issues as well. Reach out for the help and support you need so you can be the best version of yourself in 2020.


Michele Willingham M.A., L.P.C., L.A.C. is a therapist for the Justice Accountability and Recovery Team at Community Reach Center. She specializes in trauma-informed care with an emphasis on the use of mindfulness skills and is an EMDR practitioner. Michele also runs a wellness group that utilizes walking, Tai Chi exercise and yoga to help improve symptoms.

Submit a question to Ask A Therapist at This column is for educational purposes only, and opinions are not those of this publication. Answers are not a substitute for regular or urgent medical consultation and treatment. Individuals with medical or personal problems need to seek the advice of their own physician or an appropriate health-care professional. Do not stop any medication or change the dose of your medication without first consulting with your physician.

To learn more about Community Reach Center, a nonprofit mental health center with numerous outpatient offices in Adams County, visit or call 303-853-3500. Remember that our Behavioral Health Urgent Care (BHUC) center, 2551 W. 84th Ave., in Westminster is open 24 hours. To learn more about Community Reach Center, a nonprofit mental health center with numerous outpatient offices in Adams County, visit or call 303-853-3500.


Consider social exercise to improve mental health

Mental health issues are increasing on a global scale, especially in teenagers. It is estimated 25 percent of teens experience anxiety and at least 20 percent experience depression before adulthood. In response, researchers are focusing on finding activities and lifestyles to promote mental health. From their research, they have discovered those who participate in team sports or social exercise have lower anxiety levels and experience less depression than those who participate in individual sports or no sports at all.

Why are team sports effective?

It is well-known that exercise is beneficial for mental and physical wellness, but why are team sports more helpful for reducing mental health issues than other forms of exercise?

The following factors contribute to the positive state of mental health found in team sports participants:

  • Socialization
  • Social status
  • Social support and accountability

These social elements found in team sports are beneficial for combating symptoms of depression. For instance, social isolation is a common symptom of depression eliminated through the social elements ingrained in team sports.

Team sports or social exercise?

When most people think of team sports, they usually think of sports like football, basketball, baseball or soccer. However, these sports are not suited for everyone seeking social exercise.  Here are some examples of exercise activities that can be engaged in socially:

  • Running or cycling
  • Hiking
  • Group fitness classes (i.e. yoga, martial arts, kickboxing, cycling, etc.)

Countless activities and forms of exercise can be engaged in socially. Essentially, if an exercise activity includes the fundamental social elements of team sports, it will provide similar benefits to mental health.

What if I play individual sports?

If you are an individual sport athlete, don't sweat it. Any form of exercise has mental health benefits, although may not be as extensive as social exercises. Nevertheless, if you are interested in obtaining the mental health benefits associated with social exercise, consider finding a balance between individual and social exercise.

Positive self-talk

Research has shown that positive self-talk can improve mental health, as well as performance in sports. This is because positive-self talk decreases performance anxiety and increases an athlete's confidence in their abilities. Although – whether you play sports or not – positive self-talk is a great practice to consider due to its mental health benefits. To develop a habit of practicing positive self-talk, take the following steps:

  • Choose a positive affirmation or motivational phrase to repeat, such as “You got this” or “I can do this.”
  • Once repeating this phrase becomes a habit, create more phrases that apply to specific areas of life.
  • Once you’ve created multiple phrases, attach positive mental images to them for effective visualization.

Something to consider

Keep in mind that athletes experience mental health issues too, regardless of the sports they play. Additionally, exercise alone is not sufficient treatment for serious mental disorders. In that regard, people struggling with their mental health should seek professional help.

Finding ways to cope with mental health issues can be challenging. If you or a loved one has a mental health concern, we are happy to consult with you at Community Reach Center. To get more information about our metro Denver mental health centers visit or call 303-853-3500. We have centers in the northside Denver metro area including the cities of Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City, Broomfield and Brighton.

This blog was contributed by Brice Pernicka, a Westgate Community School student who is also an intern at Community Reach Center.

Take heart for mental health


February is American Heart Month. Although the relationship between good mental health and heart health is certainly complex, it is a proven fact that good blood flow from the heart to the brain is important for overall wellness.

Certainly, when someone has a heart attack, heart surgery or stroke, the immediate concern is physical health. At the same time, research has shown cardiovascular disease can trigger depression and the need for counseling and medication.

With these thoughts in mind, consider lifestyle changes and good habits to maintain a healthy heart.

Here are a few tips

Let’s talk about the American Heart Association’s seven risk factors as areas for improvement to live longer and healthier lives:

  • Manage your blood pressure: When you keep your blood pressure within healthier ranges you reduce stress on your heart. There are five blood pressure ranges to consider that clearly indicate a normal blood pressure or one of the elevated levels. Find out your blood pressure and consider if you need to make changes.
  • Control cholesterol: High cholesterol can clog arteries and lead to heart disease and stroke. In short, reducing saturated fats and trans fats helps and focusing on foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids and soluble fiber can help. Consider your eating habits and what may need to change.
  • Reduce blood sugar: High levels of blood sugar damage the heart, kidneys, eyes and nerves. Drink plenty of water and cut down on carb intake. Seek a low carb diet to reduce blood sugar.
  • Get active: Physical activity improves the length and the quality of life. Sometimes finding ways to enjoy exercise with others increases success. Good goals include 20 to 30 minutes a day or three times a week.
  • Eat better: A healthful diet is one of the best ways to fight heart disease. Among the many books on healthful eating is the “Mayo Clinic Diet: Eat well. Enjoy life, Lose weight.” It’s a playbook for solidifying healthful eating habits, and it is well researched.
  • Lose weight: Losing weight takes stress off your heart. Find tried and true methods, such as the Mayo Clinic book, which focuses on changing lifestyle habits to lose weight for the long term.
  • Stop smoking: Smoking increases likelihood of having heart disease. The warnings about the dangers of smoking are well known. Smoking generally increases the risk for coronary heart disease by two to four times, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, known as the CDC. Similarly, consider the dangers of nicotine in vaping.

For starters, take some steps

So maybe the best advice for American Heart Month is to take a walk. While you are on your walk think about the seven risk factors and where your best opportunities for improvement may exist.

It could be learning to live with lightly salted foods or gulping the recommended eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day. Or maybe it amounts to choosing new types of exercise and gearing up the gym bag.

It’s always a good time find opportunities to improve your health.    

Learn more

While our expertise is in mental health, we are happy to advocate for the importance of American Heart Month. Just as many physical health challenges can be healed, mental illnesses are often treatable, so please don’t hesitate to seek assistance. Remember the Behavioral Health Urgent Care (BHUC) center, 2551 W. 84th Ave., in Westminster is open 24 hours. And to learn more about Community Reach Center, a nonprofit mental health center with numerous outpatient offices in north metro Denver, visit or call 303-853-3500. If you have any questions about where to turn for help for older adults, please call the Senior Reach team at Community Reach Center at 303-853-3657. Community Reach Center provides comprehensive behavioral health services for all ages at locations in Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City, Brighton and Broomfield. As always, we are here to enhance the health of our community. Mental wellness for everyone is our goal.