The Basics of Self-Care
Do ever experience times when someone asks how you are – someone who cares about you – and you don’t even know what to say? Or you just respond with a quick brush-off because you know there isn’t time to get into how you really feel? Common examples:
How are you?
- You know, I’m good.
- Fine, thanks.
- Good and you?
- Busy – as usual.
How was work?
- Like it always is.
- It was, you know… work.
- Meh… (typically accompanied by a shrug*)
There are certainly days when those of us on staff at the HER Shelter want to just go home and lay on a couch, turn on our favorite comfort flick, and lose ourselves into the world of Harry Potter for an hour. And guess what? That’s okay!
Today’s topic = Self-Care: what to do when work or life is difficult, sad, emotionally, physically, or mentally exhausting, or makes you want to curl up in a ball with a cute puppy and cry a lot (or cat if that’s your pet of choice).
Now, obviously we’re not psychologists or a panel of PhD toting big-wigs explaining the results of our 12 year longitudinal study about personal health and wellness. (But you probably new that already!) On the contrary, we are group of women (and 1 dude) who work in the trenches with people going through horrific traumas and insanely difficult periods of transition. Every single day we could take home the burdens of our clients. Every day we could let the stories we hear and the realities we observe wreck us. And to be honest, sometimes we can’t avoid that – we’re not robots. Ask anyone that works with survivors (of floods, of wars, of abuse, of cancer, etc.) and they will say the same – “we do our best to not bring work home, but there are times…”
So, for us all (the HER staff and the clients we try to impart this to) – AND FOR YOU, BECAUSE THIS CAN APPLY TO EVERYONE – the question becomes, how do I take care of myself? And therefore: Self-Care.
1) Telling yourself the truth. For many people, especially people used to the grind and who have conditioned themselves for years to not pay particular mind to their own needs, telling yourself the truth will be hard. Listening will be even harder. But dash garn is it important. You’ve got to be able to hold up the proverbial mirror and be honest about what’s looking back at you! Not cruelly, mind you, just honestly.
- Step 1 – Ask the questions: If I am being honest with myself, how AM I? When is the last time I did something for just me? When is the last time I said, “This day sucked, I need to take an extra effort to make sure I am okay.”?
- Step 2 – Pay attention to the answers: I need time. I am overwhelmed. I am running out of energy. Sometimes at work I wish I could take a minute to collect myself. There are days when I don’t want to get out of bed because I am just so tired. I haven’t seen my friends in a year. Someone at work shared with me about a difficulty they are having in their marriage and asked me not to talk about it – but I haven’t been able to eat in days because I am so worried.
2) Making the decision to help yourself. Telling yourself the truth can seem freeing in and of itself. “Whoo! It felt so good to admit that… I guess I can move on now!” Not true. It’s comparable to not eating for 3 days, admitting your hunger, and expecting to magically feel full. Make sense? After identifying the truth, you have to do the most difficult part – convince yourself it’s okay and necessary to take action.
- Step 1 – Don’t let yourself off the hook: A great way to do this is by identifying a close and trusted friend or family member to keep you accountable. And guess what? If you happen to tell someone else, chances are they have “secretly” felt the same way and will be 100% on board with keeping you on the train to Self-Care City.
- Step 2 – Set an initial goal: Or, if you are like some of us here, add some reminders to your calendar or phone! Choose a date or time and tell yourself – “By then I hope to be taking better care of myself.” And stick with it! However, this is not something to shame yourself about if you fail to make your goal – don’t add more pressure to your life. We’ll talk about shame in a future blog post!
3) Determine what you need. This is the real world – a self-care strategy that works for one person might not work for someone else. Depending on what truth you realized for yourself – your self-care will look unique to you.
- Step 1 – Make a two-sided list: On one side list the truths we talked about in number one. For example – I am tired, I am lonely, I don’t feel healthy, etc. Then, on the other side, put a few things you’d like to try to do to balance out that particular vacuum you are feeling. Some of our favorites here at the HER Shelter:
- Tired? – Find time to cancel something and take a nap. Have the partner put the kids to bed tonight and hit the hay early.
- Lonely? – Call some friends and schedule a night out (and don’t worry about inconveniencing people or having to find a baby-sitter – you deserve this so do it).
- Feeling unhealthy? – Wake up 15 minutes earlier and do a free yoga video on YouTube! Renew your gym membership and find a buddy to go with you. Change something in your diet.
- Emotionally exhausted? – Let yourself watch an episode of your favorite show tonight. Don’t go to that random cousin’s birthday party and go somewhere relaxing instead. Try a mindfulness coloring book! Grab a friend and get your nails done!
- Creatively stuffy? – Pick up a hobby! Paint! Build pallet furniture! Make a family YouTube video! Get an Instagram and take artsy photos!
- And on and on and on! As one of our staff says often – “You do you booboo!” Seriously, if it makes you feel better, more stable, more rejuvenated, healthier – give it a shot!
- Here’s a couple more ideas: http://tinybuddha.com/blog/45-simple-self-care-practices-for-a-healthy-mind-body-and-soul/ or http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michelle-dempsey/women-and-selfcare-a-crit_b_11896758.html
- Step Two – Pick a few things, and try them out: Self-Care is all about you. Chances are, at first you will try something and it might turn out to not be your thing. Take me for example – I thought yoga would be something I’d love and it would make me feel great! Turns out, I am super inflexible and intense yoga mostly made my back hurt. But…..trying yoga led me to discovering how to meditate (and not the way you’re picturing). By meditate I mean just sitting, focusing on calm thoughts or a picture or a song or just nothing – and being content with the stillness, the peace or the silence. Most days at the HER Shelter are go-go-go, so for me a part of self-care was recognizing I needed to take the time to slow down, and find something calm in my day. So if you try painting but it doesn’t work for you – try something else! If you take naps and only feel more tired – try something else! If you call a friend but then they only drive you more crazy – try something else! In self-care, persistence is essential – YOU ARE IMPORTANT, AND SO IS YOUR MENTAL/PHYSICAL WELL-BEING!
4) Never ever, ever, ever, ever stop. The most important part of self-care is understanding that it is a life-long endeavor. You will change over the years – grow, mature, be shoved through change by experiences out of your control – and your self-care needs will change too. Ask an empty-nester, when they had kids they needed some calm amid the chaos of parenting; but when the kids all left home, they missed the chaos and needed some people to go out and find adventure with! Our lives are all different. Here at the HER Shelter, we have staff that come and go, seasons changes, and people move on. However, when they leave we do our best to make sure they are equipped with self-care strategies that will last them the rest of their lives.
You’re health matters.
Your condition matters.
So take matters into your own hands and take care of yourself.