As a society, it seems we are talking more about self care and I think it is a wonderful thing. If we are taking time to be kind to ourselves and meet our own needs, we have more ability to then be kind to and take care of each other. But what does it mean? What actually is self care? How do we shift from what we were doing to successfully incorporating self care practices into our lives? Here are some ideas.
I’ll give three suggestions for how self care looks physically, mentally, and emotionally as well as the challenges to caring for yourself in each of these ways. It is worth noting, however, that although they are listed in separate categories they are all connected. Your self is physical, mental, and emotional. It is usually not possible to improve or impair one area in isolation. So, if you are neglecting your self care, you will feel it in many ways. Conversely, if you are caring for yourself you will see and feel the benefits in multiple ways.
Schedule some downtime.
We are not machines! But somehow we have embraced the idea of grind culture, constant productivity, and consistent activity. We pack our days with tasks and activities and feel guilty if we do not complete everything, as planned, always. A woman once told me, “I laid around all weekend then got up Monday morning and did all the stuff I meant to do during the weekend. I wasted so much time”. I found this to be a curious way of thinking because what I heard was, “I rested up over the weekend, gave my mind and body some downtime, then had the energy on Monday morning to get some things done”. But to her, like many of us, the fact that she took those two days to rest and relax meant she had “wasted” that time. In actuality, it was probably that time that gave her the sanity and energy to get back to work on some things Monday morning.
We so often dismiss rest, downtime, and relaxation as a waste. If the time does not produce in some way that we deem worthy, then it has somehow been misused. But I am hoping that we begin to embrace the idea of rest as it’s own form of productivity. We are not machines but how many times have we tried unplugging and re-plugging an actual machine that was not operating properly? The same idea works for humans. If we allow ourselves adequate time to step away from the daily grind, when we return we are much more likely to have energy for healthy productivity.
I also hope we begin to embrace the idea of rest as worthy in itself. We are human beings. We are not made to operate under constant pressure but instead with a balance of rest and healthy productivity. Often the symptoms of anxiety and depression we feel are due, at least in part, to the constant strain our bodies and minds feel to produce. Resist the urge to feel your worth is connected to how much you do and practice self care by creating a healthy balance.
Control your thoughts
Easier said than done, I know. Many of us often tend to sway towards the negative as it relates to thought patterns. You are not alone if you have noticed this in yourself. This is particularly true when it comes to how we perceive and talk to/about ourselves. We point out our own flaws, chastise ourselves for falling short, and ruminate over regrets all the while giving little, if any, time or thought to all the things we get right each day. Again, if this is you, you are not alone.
Self care, though, is starting the work to fix this. Sometimes people think this means adopting some overly positive, disingenuous way of thinking or talking to and about ourselves. I see it, however, as adopting a more realistic, balanced perspective. For instance, let’s say you messed up at work. The old thought pattern goes: “I always do this type of stuff. I need to get it together. Everyone knows about it and I’m probably never getting promoted”. Being kind to yourself is a bit different. That thought pattern may go: “Gosh, that was embarrassing. I will have to pay more attention next time. I know my director saw but I’ve gotten plenty of other things right so she should have seen that too.” Being kind to yourself does not mean living in denial or letting yourself completely off the hook but just accepting that as a human being, you are not perfect. Sometimes you mess up. But you have the ability to recover, learn, and move forward. Often anxiety and depression increase when we pressure ourselves to show up as perfect and are not kind to ourselves when we inevitably do not. Talk to yourself like you would a friend, with gentle and supportive honesty.
This mental shift likely will not happen overnight. But, with some practice and consistency, over time you will learn how to be gentler with yourself. As a result, you should also begin to feel a shift in your emotional energy.
Feel your emotions
Many of us instinctively attempt to push down and avoid dealing with tough emotions. This is understandable. Dealing with tough stuff is not easy to do. But, often, these repressed emotions can then show up as symptoms of increased anxiety and depression including sadness, fatigue, muscle/body pain, interrupted sleep and appetite, and worry/fear. Living with those symptoms is also not very easy. So, how do you begin to deal with and address some of these tough feelings? The first step is to acknowledge that you may be more affected by your past or particular experiences than you previously acknowledged. Just allowing yourself to acknowledge that you have had some tough times can be healing in itself. Acknowledging the difficulty of these experiences my bring up anger or tearfulness. Feel that. It is okay to say “I’m so angry I had to go through that” or “I’m so sad I had to go through that”. In doing so you begin to release some of those emotions that may be weighing you down and have been waiting to be felt for some time.
You can journal and work on allowing yourself to feel your emotions on your own, if that feels most comfortable for you. A therapist can also be helpful for this step. Sometimes once you begin to acknowledge your feelings, emotions come up that can be confusing and you may not be quite sure where to go from there. Sometimes, even starting the process can feel overwhelming and sitting down with someone can help for a start. Although a therapist can help, you can certainly feel free to get started and work on slowly feeling your feelings all on your own. Just take it one step at a time and do not hesitate to reach out for help at any point, if you feel you need it.