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The Self-Care Acronym You Need to Remember on Bad Mental Health Days

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A few weeks ago, my stepdaughter had an awkward landing during a volleyball game and hurt her ankle. As we moved through the motions of caring for her injury, I realized most people had a basic understanding of how to care for a potential sprain. Unless there is an obvious bone-sticking-out-of-your-leg situation, you should “RICE” the affected body part. That’s Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation.

I think it would be great if there was an acronym for dealing with mental health conditions — something easy to remember so my husband, mom and coworkers could assess my situation and know what to do without much thought. Maybe having an acronym is the key to confidently helping others.

Since my Google search for a mental health treatment acronym came up empty, I guess I’ll just have to invent one. How about RUFF?





Just like “RICE” for a physical injury, these four simple words instruct you on how to address an episode of poor mental health.

click here to answer a person's question of what you're doing for self-care

For me, it would look like this:

I’m having a “RUFF” day. I need:

1. Rest

Resting and sleeping are two different things. When I feel overwhelmed and the world is a spinning ball of chaos, I need to rest, not go to sleep. I need to quiet my brain, remove excess noise and light, and just ratchet down a few notches until I can breathe again. For me, that usually involves sitting on the couch, wrapping up in my favorite fuzzy green blanket, and watching Food Network.

2. Unplug

If I’m on the brink of falling completely apart, nothing can push me over the edge quite like a phone call or group text. For whatever reason, I do not want to communicate when things feel volatile or unstable. Unplugging from my phone, email and social media reduces stress.

3. Food

When I’m struggling, I suck at taking care of myself — especially when it comes to food. If left to my own devices, I tend to not eat for most of the day then stuff my face with carbs and ice cream once the sun goes down. Nutrition directly affects mood. That’s why I need someone to feed me for once — not literally put a fork in my mouth, but make sure I eat decent food throughout the day. Bonus points if that person chooses the food. Trying to decide what to eat and where has seriously caused more panic attacks than I care to discuss.

4. Fun

What I mean by “fun” is something to lift my spirits. It might be a silly meme, a funny story my sister sends me about her kids or an old movie. A laugh does wonders for the psyche.

Depending on the situation, I may be able to work through the steps on my own. Other times, I will need someone to push me through the steps. Either way, the goal is to use this mnemonic device to remember the basic principles of treating an episode of poor mental health.


Rest. Unplug. Food. Fun.

Try it for yourself. Tell your friends. Let’s show physical medicine that we’ve got our own amazing acronym for mental health self-care. #RUFFday.

Just like a bone sticking out of your body, there are some obvious signs that you need to seek medical attention. If you are feeling suicidal or need stabilization, get care immediately. Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Originally published: January 21, 2019
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