Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including YOU. – Anne Lamott
When I sit with my friends and someone brings up self-care, an audible sigh is heard throughout our group. When? Between working and cleaning, making meals, and parenting? Between the gym, coffee, and the friends we rarely see anymore? Between the emails, lesson plans, and all the details that come with the business world? So when I sit with clients and preach the importance of self-care, I’m with them in the wondering: “Where am I going to fit that in!?”
Yet, when we take care of ourselves we are far more capable of loving ourselves, we have a greater capacity to manage daily stressors, and we are able to be more intentional in our relationships. Self-care is important…but how do we start to incorporate it into our lives?
My first introduction to self-care was in graduate school. We were given an acronym for SELF-CARE (sleep, eat, relationships, fitness, etc.) and asked to identify a few activities or changes within each area to implement in our lives. A large portion of this assignment was identifying things that we personally enjoyed and then creating a schedule. While I was in graduate school I was working, pregnant/parenting, and doing an internship. I quickly realized that my structured self-care plan was becoming a to-do list to get a good grade, rather than to help me.
When self-care is a box to check off on your to-do list, it can often fall to the very bottom, behind all of the other things that are causing you more present anxiety. For example, that mountain of laundry that’s been staring you in the face allllll daaaayyyyy long. Or the work presentation you have to give tomorrow at 9am. Or the overwhelming number of other things most of us have happening in our lives at one single moment. Because of this, I begin at a different place with self-care: rather than creating a list of things to do, I believe real, beneficial self-care starts with self-awareness.
Start by paying closer attention to your inner landscape: when you’re doing the dishes, just do the dishes. Turn off whatever screen might be watching, turn down your music and just listen to yourself. Feel the water rolling across your hands. Smell the dish soap. Adjust the water temperature to whatever feels comfortable and comforting rather than muscling through scalding water. And breathe. Take a few deep breaths, filling your lungs all the way down into your abdomen.
When we start to slow down, we start to listen. Western culture is fast paced, loud, and full of distraction: it’s not wonder so many struggle to fully enjoy the lives that they are living. Start by paying attention to yourself as you do every-day menial activities. Take the time to better understand yourself and gain self-awareness. When our awareness grows, we better understand what we need when we need it. We know whether or not we need to go to the gym at 5am or to sleep a few more hours. We know when we need to have that hard conversation. We know when we need to watch some Netflix and when we need to turn it off to finish a project.
If we know what we need, we can meet those needs for ourselves, whether through relationship, activity, community, nature, food and sleep. Increasing your self awareness begins with slowing down and paying attention.
Second, start asking yourself good questions. Are you consuming a caffeine, dairy and sugar based diet when you know sugar makes you angry, caffeine keeps you awake, and dairy makes you boogery? Have you been spending time with people who you love and share life with? Have you recently been through something difficult or challenging and taken a moment to slow down and breathe again? Or did you hustle off into the next thing on your list of to-do’s? Are you consciously choosing things that, while not always easy, can have a positive impact on your anxiety, depression, and frustration?
When you have taken the time to pay attention, increase your self-awareness, and asked yourself good questions about what you need and when you need it, choosing self-care can become less like another “to-do” and more like an active and loving choice for yourself. So if you have been noticing lately that you’re extra tired, more easily frustrated, or just “over it”, take some time to pay attention, ask yourself good questions, and just do the dishes.
Any adaptations to your activity level and diet should be discussed with a medical professional prior to making changes. As a Marriage and Family Therapist, it is outside my scope of practice to consult clients and readers on specific physical activities, dietary needs, etc., therefore, consult with their doctor before beginning a new exercise schedule or making changes to their diet.
Participate in the conversation – if this blog post was impactful for you, I’d love to hear about it by commenting below. I encourage open conversation that is honoring, respectful, and encouraging of all readers, therefore, I reserve the right to remove comments that are hurtful, aggressive, and damaging to others.