Everyone knows that an apple a day keeps the doctor away. The vitamins and fiber are great for our physical health. But what about our mental health? Is there something simple to keep the psychiatrist away? Why not try some “grapes”? I am not referring literally to the fruit, although grapes and grape products (ahem, wine) are delicious (in moderation, of course.) I am talking about the acronym “GRAPES”: Gentleness, Relaxation, Accomplishment, Pleasure, Exercise and Social. These elements help keep us happy and content and are ways to practice healthy coping skills. Use the acronym as a way to quickly remember activities to practice self care.
GRAPES for Self Care
Let’s break down the elements of GRAPES. As we go through each one, try to brainstorm activities that are specific to YOU. What I consider relaxing may not be relevant to you.
Try to allow yourself to be gentle with yourself and your expectations. This might mean stopping the internal critic, forgiving yourself, or easing up on unrealistic expectations.
Make time in your schedule to do at least one thing you find relaxing. Make a short list in your head right now of your favorite relaxing activities. Do you treat yourself to at least one a day?
Try to feel accomplished at least once a day, either by crossing one thing off of your to-do list, or by doing something really well. I believe everyone has at least one thing that they do very well, or with mastery. What can you do? Don’t be modest!
What activities truly bring you pleasure? You are entitled and deserving to have a pleasant mini-break each day.
Make sure to do at least 30 minutes of exercise each day, whether walking, stretching, or, ideally, something that gets your heart rate elevated. Did you know that 60 minutes of cardio exercise at least three times a week which can be as effective as an antidepressant medication in lowering depression and anxiety?
Make plans to ensure that you interact with positive people. There is a value in social media, but this really should be done in real life, face-to-face. Second best is a nice long phone call.
Putting it all together and using the GRAPES acronym as a daily check list for self care:
Right now, write down your list of brainstormed activities. Some might be things you already do, some might be things you used to do, but haven’t done in a while. And you might like to add a few things that you have never done, but want to try. Next, do a run down of the list. Have you done at least one thing from each category today? Is there a category you regularly lack? What can you do to fulfill each of these elements?
IMPORTANT: One activity can meet more than one category. For example, walking on the beach with a friend may be Exercise, Pleasure and Social. Daily perfection is not the goal. The last thing I want to do is add to your pressures and to-do lists. Rather, if you are feeling a little down, overwhelmed or stressed, check in with yourself and see if some GRAPES could help you feel better.
This infographic was created in collaboration with my friend Gill from True Stories with Gill and originally appeared in her recent interview with me, “How to Keep Your Mind Healthy. A Story of One Calling.” I did not make up the “GRAPES” acronym for self care and I do not know the origin. If you know, please tell me, and I would be happy to credit appropriately. I worked a number of years in a cognitive therapy based program, and we used the acronym there.
Update April 2020: I’ve spoken with the lead therapists in the Cognitive Therapy Intensive Outpatient Program at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital, and no one there remembers if staff members invented GRAPES or if there is a previous source. However I can now update the reference for their manual where it is published:
Fidaleo et al (2014). Cognitive Therapy Manual. Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital, Cognitive Intensive Outpatient Program, San Diego, CA.
Interestingly, I have made a “mistake” and remembered the “G” as “Gentleness.” The Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital version listed it as “Gentle with Self.” As you find other versions online, it’s notable that some have copied my “mistaken version” with “Gentleness” and others have the original “Gentle with Self.”
Any way you enjoy GRAPES is okay with me!