My mission for this blog is to help readers live bigger lives. This means growth and development at an intellectual and spiritual level, which can only be done with a solid bedrock of wellness, achieved through self care.
When your mind is tied up with stress, health issues and exhaustion, there is no space for the creativity you need to expand your thinking.
To consider what your life could be, what you want to achieve and how you want to make your mark on the world, you need mental space, freedom, imagination. These are not qualities that bounce into our lives at will. They are more likely to occur as fleeting bursts of inspiration, quickly quelled by the daily pressure of life admin. The fog of laundry, vacuuming, paying bills, cooking, going to the post office, commuting to work….
I believe that seemingly-elusive, positive qualities of creative self-expression can be cultivated (indirectly) through a self-care practice.
What is Self Care?
Contrary to the stereotypes I subconsciously held at the start of this process, self care is not simply an Instagram hashtag. It is not trend encouraging you to light candles and run a bath with Epsom salts to solve all of your problems. (Although if that works for you, then by all means, crack on…!)
Self care is also not simply a case of slowing down or taking more time to relax. I stand by my view that standing still can be just as dangerous as flying full steam ahead. I strongly believe that being busy can be a source of drive and inspiration. A good self care practice works for the individual.
This is aligned with the Self Care Forum, who define self care as follows:
The actions that individuals take for themselves, on behalf of and with others in order to develop, protect, maintain and improve their health, wellbeing or wellness.
Self care can therefore be seen along a continuum. At one end, the little actions you take to look after yourself, such as brushing your teeth. At the opposing end are health care services provided by medical professionals. Whilst you may be fortunate enough to avoid professional medical help, self care is a universal requirement to be happy and healthy.
Why Practice Self Care?
When others are dependent on you, it can be incredibly difficult to give yourself time to look after yourself. Rationally this seems counter-intuitive – if a friend was on the brink of a breakdown, at the stage of complete burnout, would you not tell them…
to take time out to rest and recover?
is not a selfish decision?
to put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others?
(Side note: if you answered no to these questions, you may want to re-assess the role of friendships in your life… But then who am I to judge…!)
Self care is about looking after yourself in order to live your life on your own terms. For you, this may mean giving more to others, or equally giving yourself the space to start your own business, get involved in social activism or finally write that book.
I believe self care is essential to mental health. I have concluded that those who are the happiest are not those who simply have been lucky enough to avoid trauma in their lives, but are those who have learnt how to incorporate self care into their daily lives.
Self care takes time
Am I good at it? No. I am terrible at this in so many ways. After neglecting self-care practice for months on end, I wonder why I feel miserable, lethargic and unmotivated. I blame circumstance: I had deadlines, I moved house, blah blah blah…. any mental loophole available to me, I will take it. And the point is, whilst self care may conjure up images of rest and relaxation, self-care is anything but easy.
It takes time to build self-care practices into our lives, to allow ourselves to rest and recover and to discover a sense of balance. It takes time to identify what works, and start working through the self-constructed mental hurdles which paradoxically hinder our own development.
What are your loopholes?
If you are struggling with the idea of taking time for yourself, consider your own loopholes. Humans are imperfect creatures – even the most selfless will allow a small self-care practice.
For example, you may find you are happy to go to the gym 4 times/week, or commit to the ritual cleansing of your skin each night. Yet, when it comes to taking an hour to read your favourite book you cannot conceive of loosing the time.
Equally, you may justify your own ‘sacrifices’ by judging those around you who choose otherwise. Have you ever told yourself you are a ‘better’ employee because you devote your full energy to your work? Have you ever judged a colleague for leaving the office early, whilst you sacrifice your evening to hit a deadline?
Consider also that you may be projecting your own guilt about one area of your life onto another. Are you judging another person because you feel guilty yourself?
Take time to consider the following two questions – you may wish to explore this as a journal exercise, to clarify your thoughts:
Where do you let yourself off the hook? What activities are OK? Do you allow yourself currently to go to the gym? Do you let yourself sit outside with a cup of tea for 15 minutes in the morning? What activities do you consider to be OK, which do not leave you feeling guilty or with regret?
When do you berate yourself? Now look at the activities you think are not OK. Do you tell yourself you shouldn’t have taken a bath when you have cleaning to do? Do you stop reading that exciting beach novel because you have other commitments? Identify the activities that leave you feeling guilty, regretful and frustrated.
Armed with the answers to these two questions, you can begin to see how you can be a little kinder to yourself. Consider where you can switch some activities from the ‘berate yourself’ category to the ‘let yourself off the hook’ category.
You may even find that the reverse is also true: you may let yourself off the hook for hitting snooze for an hour every morning. In reality, you desperately want to see the end to the frantic, frazzled morning rush out the door. That’s not to say you should start berating yourself for hitting snooze. The key here is self compassion.
The self-care journey
Starting down the path of self-care is a journey toward understanding yourself better and caring for yourself better. By cultivating a practice of self care, you can in turn better care for others. More importantly, in my opinion, you free your mind, to build toward the a bigger, better, more positive life.
Part two of the self-care series will be released next Sunday, and will look at the daily habits you can cultivate to better listen to yourself, and take preventative action to avoid burnout.
Disclaimer: I am not a psychotherapist; this article is written for general interest only and does not constitute medical advice. If you have a health condition, please contact your medical doctor. For those in the UK, there are also some mental health resources available through the charity Mind