Self-care demystified with Catherine Cook-Cottone – UB Now: News and views for UB faculty and staff

Diana J. Smith

As Catherine Cook-Cottone, professor in the Department of Counseling, School and Educational Psychology and a yoga instructor, sees it, in this time of quarantine and social action, the front line includes us all. Now more than ever, Cook-Cottone says, everyone is responding to urgent needs. This means “self-care” — taking care of one’s own physical and mental health — is paramount.

Cook-Cottone, whose research includes yoga, mindfulness and self-care, explains that the things that relieve stress and fortify are unique to the individual. To help consider healthy possibilities, she and Wendy Guyker, clinical associate professor, designed a Mindful Self-Care Assessment with six categories and suggestions — from physical activity and supportive relationships to relaxation. Since launching the Mindful Wellness Assessment website last spring, between 10 and 100 people from all over the country take it every day.

“It’s to get you thinking … Looking at where you’re at and seeing where you are can inspire you to get creative about it,” she says of the self-assessment. “We’re taking back self-care from the media and from the marketing.”

The practice can also be a political act, Cook-Cottone says. To make the point, she offers this quote from the late activist and poet Audre Lorde: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

Cook-Cottone shared with UBNow her insights about self-care and why it’s particularly important during these difficult times.

Why do you think that we should all consider ourselves as front-line workers who need to make self-care a priority?

We’re all negotiating a pandemic. We’re all trying to keep our families safe. We’re on the front lines right now. Stop thinking of it as someone else on the front line … Systemic racism isn’t going to shift until we all start thinking of ourselves as on the front line.

You say that tending to the self helps others because it leaves a person with more energy and attention. Can you elaborate?

It’s thought of as indulgent, but it’s a very generous act, actually, to take care of yourself. Like a mom who is in great self-care — what a gift to her children because then she’s available for them.

How do you explain self-care?

Self-care can be a way to get to know yourself. I think of it as self-love. Self-love is actionable. When somebody really loves you, they just don’t show you in one way.

What you want in self-care is diversity. You don’t want all of your investments in one area. It should be a mix of fun and supportive friends. Walk, kayak. Take time to nap on the weekends. Write in your journal.

You’re like a bird with two wings. One wing is your mission and direction in life, and the other is self-care. When we have both a sense of mission and self-care, we can fly strongly. I call it great effort and great rest. You’re constantly asking of yourself and you’re constantly caring for yourself.

It’s not obligatory. It includes curiosity. It’s not a checklist. Your self-care becomes part of your life practice. It’s not something other people do for you. It’s part of taking care of yourself as a human being.

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