Self-care. Where art thou? What doth thou mean? How do I locate thee? How do I know if I need thee?
Self-care are (is?) the things we do that are restorative and nurturing to ourselves. When I googled it and visited the Wiki Page (obviously, research, ya know?) I was struck by the way it defined self-care with these three descriptors, “under individual control, deliberate, and self-initiated.” So let’s break this down…
(1) Under individual control. The good and the bad news here are one and the same: You’re in charge and in control. We love that…most of the time. We typically have more than a few mixed feelings if it means accountability and that no one is going to do it for us.
(2) Deliberate. I’m a big fan of thinking about my actions and desires as intentional. If I want something in my life, I have to be intentional about working toward it and manifesting it into my life. Listen, I too feel gross when I say things like “manifesting,” but I also feel gross when I sit back and expect life to happen to me, so I’m going for it with gusto. Put simply, it’s just something done on purpose.
(3) Self-initiated. This one is a bit like the sister of “under individual control” but it’s worth repeating: You have to be the one to do it and, maybe more importantly, the one that starts it. There can be something empowering about acknowledging how important you are, that you have the capacity to take care of yourself, and that it’s essential that you do.
Disclaimer: I have been working on and sitting on this article for 3 months and the possible underlying reason for that is not lost on me. I struggle with this stuff so, so much. I’ve recently switched jobs and I kept thinking, “Once I get to the next part of this transition, then I’ll be ready to finish it.” I guess I was waiting for a time to share this article when I had all my self-care figured out. LOLZ.
We all need self-care in our lives, the same way we need to brush our teeth every day. You just have to fucking do it. I don’t care.
I don’t care if you’re tired and you just got in bed and don’t want to get up to brush your teeth, you have to do it…(and you knew you had to do it, so why did you just get in bed without doing it? I know I’m taking to all of us out there)…I digress.
All of this goes for self-care, too. So if you’re wondering if you need to incorporate self-care into your life the answer is a resounding YES, but if you’re still not convinced here are some warning signs that burn out is on the horizon: (1) You’re always tired as hell, (2) You’re irritable even with people you know you like, (3) You feel like you want to withdrawal into a little cave where you’re never disturbed again, (4) You’re making decisions that don’t feel like you, (5) You feel stuck with some stagnation on the side and overwhelmed as a garnish, and (6) You feel like if one more thing happens you may unravel or explode…either one.
For me, the biggest sign that I’ve been neglecting myself is a pretty small one, but a significant one. When I’m done seeing clients for the day and I turn my phone off airplane mode, all my notifications come through–emails, texts, facebook, instagram, etc.—and I feel sense of panic, quickly replaced with rage sweep over me. I start thinking (read: screaming with Academy Award Winning-worthy gesturing happening), “WHY DOES EVERYONE WANT A PIECE OF ME? Don’t they know I can’t be available to everyone all the time?”
(Queue the patronizing, but ultimately well-intentioned nurturing and loving voice in my head)
[Voice] Hey sweetheart… Hi there. No one wants a piece of you. People don’t expect you to be available all the time. The only person that has that expectation is you. These are people in your life who love you and want to reach out to you. People who fill you up and support you and you’re feeling rage at them for asking how you’re doing or asking to spend time with you?
[Me] (pouting, but confident—obviously) Yes, I am feeling rage and I can feel whatever the hell I want.
[Voice] You sure can. The productivity of that is questionable at best. You’re mad at others because they want to interact with you…they want to be around you and a part of your life. Does that sound strange for you?
[Me] Not really. I understand everything about myself, all the time, perfectly and absolutely.
[Voice] Of course you do…I wonder if maybe you’ve neglected yourself so much that when someone asks you to hang out or talk you feel like you have literally nothing left over and you get mad at everyone else when you may actually be more upset with yourself.
[Me] “Ugh. Fine. It’s all my fault. It’s always my fault.”
[Voice] “Not what I said…
[Voice] No one is going to refill your cup for you. You have to do it for yourself. And it’s no one’s fault but your own that it’s empty. That part is your fault. So stop getting mad at people who support and love you.
[Me] (bowing head in submission)
I’m sure people in my life will recognize this very well. I get cagey when I feel too depleted. I ask people not to ask how I am or ask me to hang out and don’t return texts for weeks because I feel like I’m on the edge, teetering toward an epic unraveling. It takes some self-reflection through my beautiful stubbornness to realize that it’s about me neglecting my own needs, not what I may perceive in the moment as other people’s neediness. I get mad because people have needs, just like me. (face palm)
So enough of me talking, how do we start to bring self-care into our lives. Now, I could make a list of things you could try as self-care strategies, but quite frankly there are a million of those already out there (and quite useful, too; read: articles about burnout, 45 self-care practices, 17 tips from mental health professionals), but I find that it can be hard to slap a few self-care strategies or rituals into our lives for any length of time without a deeper reflection and assessment of our personal experience of burnout.
Self-care is an ongoing process that requires flexibility as you learn what you need and when you need it which brings me to #1 (segue for daysssss).
“Inventory? Ew. Gross.”
Shush it and listen here. We need to start by looking at our days. How are we spending them? Truthfully, be honest. Take note of your days. I so often hear in my practice that clients don’t have the time for self-care. They literally groan when I suggest we talk about ways to take care of themselves. It’s almost as if they’d rather spend time listing things that don’t make them feel good and, even more than than, why they need to keep doing them.
“I can’t find the time.”
No shit. Of course you can’t find the time. We don’t even know what it feels like to be bored anymore.
When was the last time you were bored?
You can’t remember?
OK great, me neither.
That means we have time, we’re just spending it (or maybe it’s more like losing it) on mindless “experiences.” We often engage in things we think are restorative, but really, really aren’t. This is different for every person, but I imagine if you take stock of how you actual feel when you spend the night scrolling through your phone or pounding back drinks compared to a night when you unwind with a book or conversation with a loved one you will notice you’ve been self-soothing with things that don’t actually soothe you. I’m so guilty of this one. Sometimes I think sitting on the couch falling into a Real Housewives hole will restore me. Hint: It doesn’t.
Now let’s be clear. Real Housewives, a drink with a friend and/or lover, consuming social media can all be great…when done in moderation and mindfully.
2. TAKE YOUR WORK EMAIL OFF YOUR PHONE:
This is in caps for a reason. I am fo serio about this one. Let’s get real for a second, there are very few professions that require you to be available 24/7, so stop volunteering yourself into that role and sense of responsibility. The truth is that while our inbox at work may send a surge of anxiety to us, it also makes us feel important.
Take your work email off your phone and find other ways to be important, perhaps ways that require you to engage in your personal life.
If you really do need your work email on your phone, designate certain times to look at it (read: not every 5 minutes). For instance, for my current job, I am expected to respond to new referrals within 4 hours of receiving them during business hours. So what I have decided I need to do (and struggle with constantly) is to take email notifications off my phone, check my email at noon and then again at 4 p and that is it. It’s important that we are “off” from our jobs sometimes and let’s be honest, we can’t do that if we are constantly responding to emails.
3. Contain social media engagement and use of devices:
If you’ve read my post about our 20s, you know I got major feels about social media and devices. I do not think they are inherently awful. I mean, shit, without those platforms my work would never be read. Howeverrrrrrr, like anything in this world it’s about that balance, baby. I love balance…or the idea of it. I try so hard to find it sometimes, but then I remind myself the relief does not come about by getting to a place called “balance,” but by working toward it. My suggestion is not to stop using devices (although as I started writing this I accidentally left my phone at home on the way to California for a few days, initially feeling equal parts terrified and free, and then after a few hours it was just free), but rather being intentional about when we use them.
If we added how much of our day we are on our devices, I imagine most of us would weep or cower in shame. What if we contained that time into 20 minutes in the evening or 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes on break, etc. Whatever amount of time seems reasonable for you throughout the day. Schedule it and stick to it. Devices not only are a time suck, but they also impact our interpersonal relationships and can mess with our sleep if they are the last thing we see before bed. AND they mess with our sense of what is normal. What people are posting on Facebook is their highlight reel, not their actual integrated self. Repeat that a few times.
People be talking about mindfulness like it’s the newest, hippest thing, which is ahhhhwesome. While it might not be new, and I don’t know a damn thing about what is hip, mindfulness may be the greatest unused tool we have in our shed. What is mindfulness? I hope to soon start a weekly column about mindfulness, but until then here is the singular cliff note. Notice now.
Yup. Just notice things. Notice your thoughts, your feelings, your actions, the sensations in and on your body. Notice your home. Notice your kids, your pets, your partner. I imagine you’ll find things you were missing.
What does your body feel like in the shower? (Stick with me) Take a minute longer in the shower next time and really feel the sensations. The warm water on your back, the smells of your shampoo, the feeling on your skin and hair.
You’ll likely find that, to a certain extent, we go through much of our lives on autopilot dreading the monotony, hoping something will change. The sad part is that things are changing, we’re just not paying attention.
Another way to integrate mindfulness into your life: Mindfully eating. We love food. Or most of us love food. I’m currently wearing a shirt that says, “THERE IS NO WE IN PIZZA.”
Tough, but fair.
Mindfully eating is just noticing on your tongue and in your mouth the temperature, textures, flavors. It’s funny how much we love food, but often zombie out and miss out on the nuances. I remember hearing once that nothing tastes as good as the first bite…It’s almost like we keep eating mindlessly seeking for that initial taste…like a drug. If we pay better attention to what it tastes like and feels like in our bodies we may begin to eat closer to what our bodies actually need and cut out things that don’t feel good in our bodies.
I know I am needing more mindful attunement when I start to crave stillness when I’m busy and feel like I need to be busy when I’m still. Not a lot of contentment existing in that headspace.
Let’s take a break here. If you’ve thought about the first few, we maybe have weeded out some depleting things and noticed some new stuff in our lives that are pretty groovy.
At this point, I like to break things down into a few categories…not categories that I made up by any stretch of the imagination, but you know the whole Mind, Body, and Spirit thing.
Let’s start with Yo Body.
- Nurture that sweet body of yours:
I start with the body, which may seem controversial. I start here because it’s foolproof. It’s science. And it’s our tool, our temple from which we do everything else. I have this idea I often say to my clients…not sure how much merit it has, but here we go…I often find that the robotic part of myself waits for my mind to be “in the mood” for certain things: running, housework, making a difficult phone call, research. What I’ve found is that when I bypass my mind, so to speak, and just do the behavior, my mind follows. For instance, when my alarm goes off in the morning, I’m not thinking, “Can’t wait to go get my run on.” I’m thinking, “Sleep is so beautiful and important. I really need to make sure I get enough sleep today so I’m not tired later.” (hits snooze button 15 times). However, if I remember this thing that my silly ol’ mind does and just get up and go for a run, within seconds I am 100% there and glad I got up to do it.
There is no way around this one. If you want to take care of yourself in any way, your body holds a key. It’s your instrument, your source of transportation, your source of interaction, intimacy, and it is wellspring of goodies. Now let’s be super clear. Crystal fucking clear. I’m not talking about getting jacked or skinny. I’m talking about listening to your body and what it needs, which is probably not getting jacked or getting skinny per se. I’m talking about loving your body, which means listening to it. You wouldn’t ignore the people in your life that you love (if you instinct is to disagree with this statement, let’s talk), so why are you ignoring a part of yourself.
How do you listen to your body? Well that depends on the body. Only you speak that language. A good place to start is just sitting still, closing your eyes, noticing your breath, and feeling where you have tension or discomfort. I promise you, a place of neglect will scream out to you and you may wonder how you never noticed it was there. From there, it’s trial and error, my babies. What do you think your body could need? Massage? Yoga? Food? A walk? Rest? Water? A Run? Sex? Figure it out. Explore.
Remember it’s not just what we do with our bodies, but what we put in them. This is coming from a girl who referred to her Best Week Ever as a week in which I had pizza 5 times. It was pretty great because pizza is life and also I balanced that pizza with yummy greens and lots of moving my bod. Our bodies don’t run well on unleaded, which sucks because unleaded can taste good and we crave it when we are stressed (<–really great article, read it), but I think we, if I speak for us, are more interested in treating ourselves while also treating ourselves well, if that makes sense.
- See your mind:
Now that we’ve tended to our beautiful bodies, what about our mind?
Man, oh, man. Where to start? I don’t even really know as I write this. I guess I would go back to mindfulness. Noticing those thoughts and feelings. And when I say “notice,” I really mean notice. Observe. Watch your inner workings as if you were watching a movie.
What do you see? What voice is resonating in there? What sensations are lingering? What might you be ignoring? What might you be holding on to?
Poke around a bit and see what you find…and then tend to it. The great thing about mindfulness, I think, is that it gives us distance from our thoughts and feelings and allows us to recognize our own reactivity and introduces us to the idea of being an active participant and explorer in our own lives. We get to see what’s going on in there and let some things breathe.
What needs to be felt? What can we let pass on by?
You don’t learn anything when you’re pretending to know everything. So allow yourself to be surprised and intrigued by yourself.
Basically, slow down, tune in and see what you find.
- Get spiritual as fuck:
Spirituality used to scare me. I equated it with religion. While religion definitely has it’s merits in stimulating and supporting well-being, it also can sometimes encourage rigidness which can be counterproductive on our quest for wellness. My therapist dropped not-so-subtle hints about me exploring my spirituality and I was like, “No thanks, lady. I’m cool.” And she was like, “No, you’re not.” She clarified that by spirituality she did not mean organized religion, but in the most basic way that spirituality can mean getting out of our heads and into the world. Going from myself to something bigger. I took that and ran with it. Bigger than me, to me, is laughing with friends, being in nature and with animals, listening to music, creating, and any other way I can absorb and connect to this world and it’s people.
Long story, long, I thought that if I tended to my mind, that would be enough, but it’s not. Being a therapist with a long standing history of body image issues and complicated feelings about religion, I probably was just hoping delving into the mind was enough, but it wasn’t. My body and my sense of interconnectedness need my attention too. They need my nurturance. They need my acknowledgement of their importance in keeping me alive and engaged.
What needs more of you? What do you need more of?
I said this before, but it’s worth repeating (for you and for me). THIS IS A PROCESS. There is no finish line. There is no perfecting it. It takes time, flexibility, and most importantly, as always, compassion with yourself.
With gratitude and compassion, Your Beth