How to start practising self care.
Self care is a simple concept, but one that is often overlooked, maybe because it sounds so simple.. but I find in my work and conversations with others that knowing what self care looks like for you and how to implement it into your life is trickier than it sounds. Many of us look externally to others for ideas about what we should be doing, especially if our self esteem & self worth is low, but the thing about self care is what works for one person isn't necessarily the best fit for you. And this is where the problem lies, to work out what self care you need, you must become good at listening to your own needs, both emotional & physical, and many of us find it a challenge to connect with our true selves. What makes it even harder is that what works for us one day in one moment, won't necessarily be the best self care for us the next time... our moods & needs fluctuate and we need to be attentive & responsive,
ahhh... it's beginning to sound difficult now!
I wanted to speak about self care this month as Action For Happiness's theme for the month is Self Care September. If you aren't familiar with Action For Happiness then go check out their website & content where you can find out about the movement and what they are all about. They have identified 10 keys to happiness and each month have a theme with a corresponding calendar with small actions you can do everyday to improve your mood. I highly recommend them for ideas about taking control of your wellbeing and giving you some simple steps to move forwards. As always, if you are struggling then you may still need to access professional help but following Action For Happiness will certainly complement your healing journey.
Anyway, back to the self care. What is it, how do we do it?
What is self care?
Self care is any act that you do that helps to nourish you and rejuvenate you and that takes care of your emotional & physical health. That's why even for one individual there may be many different kinds of self care that are needed at different times... for example one day doing a high intensity workout & moving your body might be just what you need and therefore great self care, but on another day when you are exhausted maybe a long bath & a rest is what you crave and therefore this is self care. If we flip these two activities and do them when we aren't in the right state then they can easily turn in to a punishment or self sabotage, something we are only doing because we think we should be, usually because we have been comparing ourselves to others.
Good self care is incorporated into our daily lives, and is made up of many small acts. It is practiced in a preventative way so that we don't wait until we are physically and mentally burned out and exhausted and only then think about how we can care for our needs. Despite there being a huge industry built around the concept of self care it does not need to cost you a lot of money, in fact most of the important self care is completely free! Also remember that self care is not indulgent or selfish, it is quite the opposite... you've all heard the phrase "you must put on your oxygen mask before you can help others" and it applies here too. Many people find it uncomfortable to put themselves first because of how we have been conditioned, but you will be a better partner/colleague/parent/friend/relative if you are feeling your best, so practicing self care enables you to give so much more to those loved ones around you. If you can't do it for yourself, do it for them!
What self care is right for me?
Only you can answer this one although I know some of you will be desperate to hear what you should be doing, but I hope I have explained that it is not one size fits all and even your own self care is going to change day to day, moment to moment. I will give some suggestions down below but first here are 2 activities that should help you identify some self care practices unique to your life (you can come back and revise this at any time, it should be an ongoing process as we are always changing & developing).
Step 1. Think back over the last month and write down all activities that left you feeling refreshed, rejuvenated, happy or content. Include the big and the small, one offs and things you do every day. Remember to think about how these activities made you feel afterwards, eating a giant pizza may have made you happy in the moment but did it leaving you feeling refreshed and rejuvenated afterwards?
Step 2. Think back over the last month and write down all the things you did that left you feeling drained, dejected and unfulfilled. We all have commitments in our lives, some of which does not fill us with joy and yet circumstances mean we are unable to remove them. But are there some things on this list that could be removed, choices you made that didn't make you feel great and could be eliminated?
Once you have completed these 2 steps can you think about what things from List 1 can be increased in your life and what things in List 2 can be removed to make space for your self care practices. By introducing more things that fill you up you will also improve your ability to cope with other draining commitments that you can't get out of or remove at this time. For example if your job is something that drains you but you know that getting a good night's sleep helps you to feel refreshed & calm, then you can prioritise getting the best sleep you can the night before you have to work, resulting in your job having less of a negative effect on you.
Ideas for Self Care
As I said, specific self care activities are going to be different for everyone but there are some common needs we all have as human beings and so the self care that works for most people is going to align with these needs, such as healthy eating, getting enough sleep, moving & exercising, and having positive social interactions & relationships.
Some ideas for you to try:
cooking & eating nutritious colourful food
developing a sleep routine & giving yourself a sleep opportunity of 8 hours every night
take a long bath, relax, read a book
get outside, walk, run, breathe
cuddle an animal (cuddling a dogs is great for increasing our oxytocin which has many physical & mental benefits)
reading a book or magazine in a comfy chair or in the garden
phone call with a friend
visit the doctor when you need to
listen to relaxation or meditation tracks
keep yourself clean, have a shower, wash your clothes
keep your space clean & tidy, and a comfortable place to be (think cushions, blankets, ambient lighting)
stretch your body or practise yoga
dance to your favourite music
set aside time for relaxing and unwinding at least once a day
bake some treats for yourself
watch youtube videos that make you laugh
take a nap
These are only suggestions and the key is to find what works for you and what you need each day, some days that is going to be giving yourself permission to binge watch your favourite shows on netflix guilt free! Always just be mindful of how you feel during & afterwards, and the more you practise paying attention to these feelings the easier it will be to check in with yourself and give yourself exactly what you need.
I am an Integrative Therapist who works remotely online with millennials who are anxious, lost, stressed or depressed. I work collaboratively with people to support them in their emotional wellbeing, to develop skills in self-care and to foster a deeper understanding of themselves. If you would like to find out how I can help you to understand your emotions better, please book a free consultation to see if we are well suited to work together.
Alternatively, please come connect with me over on Instagram - I would love to get to know you further.