What is the reality of self-care?
Many of us dislike the idea of self-care or like the idea but not the practice. I, for one, think it is the phrase ‘self-care.’ ‘Self-care,’ like other terms in the therapeutic world, has been over-used and lost true meaning. Manifestation and mindfulness are two others that come to mind. All these practices, however—manifestation, mindfulness, and yes, self-care—are useful skills for a fulfilling, peaceful, and balanced life. But they are skills with processes or actions that need to be learned. You don’t manifest something because you sit and think (or hope) for it; you are not mindful because you use the word and attach it to something. They must be practiced consistently, just like training for a marathon or a test.
I could write about self-care’s physical, spiritual, mental, emotional, or social aspects, about getting enough sleep, setting boundaries, or going to yoga. I could also write about the guilt or selfishness many feel to take time out to practice self-care. But instead, let me offer what I hope is some practical understanding and advice.
In-the-Moment versus Maintenance
As a qualified therapist, I focus on self-care with clients in relation to what is going on in their personal lives. The most beneficial way to look at it is to separate it into two categories: 1. In the moment and 2. Maintenance.
In the Moment
In the moment self-care practices are activities that can be done there and then to take care of yourself. To calm yourself, shift your energy or body, or change your thought behavior. In the moment because something is happening, about to happen, or just happened, you are stuck in a physical or mental space that needs shifting. In the moment self-care happens that same day.
For example, you get nervous before important meetings and find your heart rate increasing or your mind getting unfocused. Or you just argued with someone. Or you were late for work, stuck in rush mode, and couldn’t settle. What self-care could you do in those moments, just before the meeting, so that you can be calm and confident? To let go of an argument or calm yourself into the day? You could go somewhere private (bathroom, garden, stairwell, parking lot, or private office) and shake it out. Shake your hands, wrists, and elbows up to your shoulders, and chest. Bounce your knees, hips, and ankles and have a good shake-off. It’s not crazy. What do coaches say to an athlete who’s having a bad game? “Shake it off.” It is a mental and physical shake-off, and it works.
What else could you try in the moment?
- Take three long deep chest or belly breaths. This can calm the nervous system and your heart rate. You could bring your thumb to your index finger, and as you breathe in, move your thumb to your middle finger, ring finger, and pinky, one at a time, slowly, breathing in and breathing out in reverse from your pinky back to your index finger. This is calming and will take care of you at that moment.
- You could put on some music. Not just anything but your favorite calming song or ‘shake your booty, I must dance’ song. Put on your headphones and make it LOUD. This one never fails to switch your mood.
- Later that day, you could exercise or walk to allow your mind time to process your day or thoughts and let them go.
- You could write and shift your thoughts from circulating in your mind or body and put them somewhere safe, on a piece of paper and then throw it out.
There are many in-the-moment things to try.
The simple self-care practices above help to calm and center you, helping you get through that moment or that day. You could do them each time you need them. Better still, you could create a daily self-care routine to reach those stress points or worry less and less. You could take three deep breaths to calm down a particular situation or start your day with three deep breaths. This is the maintenance.
Starting the day in a calm and centered way so anything that comes your way will be easier to handle because you are already calm. You can write down your worries at the moment to help move through something, or you can journal every day. Even a few minutes of writing can help alleviate stress to stop it from building up and becoming a bigger problem.
Any daily (or at least regular) routine that helps center yourself allows for calm, reflection, focus, and peace and is good maintenance. And while we all immediately say meditate, breathe, journal, or exercise (because all these things do work), it is up to you. What makes YOU feel good?
I recommend everyone has a written ‘go to’ list of things that always make them feel good. There will be activities you can do daily and some to do monthly, such as a hike in nature or a silent day. Daily can include your favorite happy song, swimming, walking, a hot cup of tea, or climbing a tree; it doesn’t matter so long as it answers the question, ‘What always makes me feel good when I do it?’
Write a list of ‘in the moment’ self-care practices to have at your disposal for different situations AND a ‘maintenance’ list so that each day feels better and better.
I hope these tips help. Let me know how it goes for you.
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