Self-Care Guest Blog by Sara

Hello, everyone! My name is Sara Utecht and I recently joined the 1N5 team as a Program Manager. Since 2002, I have worked in schools serving students of all ages, from elementary grades through college. As such, I have seen firsthand the increasing need for education and conversation around mental health topics. I am passionate about a holistic approach to wellness by providing a safe space for people to wonder about — and wrestle with — life’s ups and down.

We live in a world full of challenge and struggle, but also with glimmers of hope and wonderful things to celebrate. Change is constant, but I do believe we can do little things each day to harness joy and foster resilience as we go. Practicing daily acts of self compassion and self care are a part of this process for me.

Self compassion and self care, for me, are similar yet different. Self care refers to the outward and intentional actions I take each day to maintain my mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health. Self compassion involves looking inward. It is how I talk to myself when I encounter a struggle, how I experience hardship, what happens when I fail and embrace acceptance in spite of it.

I find joy in the little things like reflecting on a good memory, a walk in the park, a conversation with a friend, a snuggle with my dog. These things (and many others) help me feel compassion for myself and also care for my most basic needs each day. When I first started my career, I had a mentor who suggested that I start to collect these seemingly little nuggets of joy and write them down or save them somehow. She encouraged me to start a “Smile File.”

Now, a Smile File is certainly not my idea, nor is it a new one. I cannot take credit for it, but I do recommend it to everyone as a great way to care for yourself. Find a folder or container of some kind. Mine happens to be a shoe box that I have jazzed up a bit with various quotes, pictures, colors, and other trinkets that I have glued to the outside of the box. Within the box is magic — letters that I have saved from so many amazing students I have worked with, holiday cards from loved ones, special birthday messages, little “have a good day” notes left on my desk from dear colleagues, old movie outings and concert ticket stubs, labels I’ve ripped off of really good cheese I purchased on a trip to Paris years ago… and so much more.

On days when I feel sluggish, frustrated, overwhelmed, or distraught for whatever reason, I pull out my Smile File (which in my case is actually a Smile Shoe Box) and I browse the many notes and symbols of support, appreciation, hope, and belonging that I have stashed inside. While it doesn’t magically melt the blues away, it does remind me that I am strong, I am capable, and I have a village of supporters walking through life with me. It’s the very best kind of self compassion and self care. Perhaps it will be for you, too.

I encourage you to start a Smile File yourself and use it to regularly reflect on how much you mean to those who love you. Because you ARE loved.