Self care can mean so many things but put simply it is the ability to look after yourself. Many things can interrupt our ability to do this basic task including illness, disability, pressure of time, lack of money, safe environments, motivation and self-love.
On a basic level self-care includes feeding, cleaning, dressing, organising our lives and our time. On a higher level it includes nurturing our higher-level abilities such as our intellect, spirituality, and connectedness to loved ones, our environment and feeling our place in the world.
As babies we are born dependent on our parents or carers. Gradually as we develop from the child into the adult we learn from them and others how to be independent and look after ourselves. If we are lucky our caregivers have role modelled the need for self-nurturance and we have this in our repertoire. However many of us slip from the child into the parental role of carer and giver and seem to skip over the need to care for ourselves.
What happens when we don’t care for ourselves:
When we become overwhelmed, tired out and stressed it suddenly dawns on us that we have forgotten to take some time to look after ourselves. It can be work that causes this lack of awareness: perhaps we are starting a new career/family or business and are very focussed. Time is stretched to the limit and deadlines loom daily. At times such as this self-care falls very low on our priority lists. But, if we ignore our essential need for ‘time for ourselves’ we pay the price. There is a fine balance between what is just about manageable and what will cause a breakdown or burnout. Many conscientious and extremely commendable people have gone on just that step too long and have ended up totally exhausted, drained or seriously ill. Recognising the need to care for yourself is the best way to manage your stress long term.
Not only does is give you space to stop and think, review and adjust your life but it also allows you to check out the direction you are heading to ensure you are in line with your core values. We sometimes find ourselves driven towards something that doesn’t hold the meaning it did when we first started. Like all goal setting we need to recognise the necessity for flexibility and keep checking our goals are in line with our current life, hopes, dreams and values.
Here are six simple steps to improve your self-care:
- Recognise when you are overburdened and stop doing something. This may involve making crucial choices to prioritise the most important things on your to do list. If you have perfectionist tendencies this will be a challenge! But the answer is the 3 D’s: dump it, do it or delegate. If you can’t do it, cross it off the current to do list. Make a little space to stop.
- Buy a special personal journal and start writing. Just let if flow, it can be your life story, how you feel, what you want, anything initially to get the juices going. Life story work can be really helpful (more of this in my next article). Writing ideas/problems/worries/successes down really helps you to express yourself privately and moves the barrage of thoughts onto paper where they can be released. This is cathartic and freeing.
- Learn to say “NO” nicely! Many of us tend to say yes when we mean no to all sorts of requests and demands. Learn to take a moment to think before you say yes. If necessary answer a request you are unsure about by offering to call back at a more convenient time. It is very important to value your own time and the telephone/computer can become the never ending time waster!
- Set your self some boundaries on how you use your time. Review an average day and write down what you actually do. An hourly time sheet will be useful. Then analyse where all your time goes. Decide what is important and what isn’t and then device strategies to save time in order to do the important activities. E.g. if time with your children is important but you always finish work late and suffer regret and guilt. Then make it your obsession to finish work on time. Focus on the fact you will have that extra hour to spend with the kids and the joy for you and them. Recognise what is really meaningful to you.
- What makes you feel good? Have a good think – it could be small simple things such as painting your toenails or walking in the countryside. There are many small activities that helps us feel good – make a list of your happiness buffers and ensure you do at least one a day.
- Decide to be mindful. Instead of rushing around at top speed, slow down. Start by listening to your breathing, something we are often unaware of. The breath is so important to being alive and we take it for granted. By focussing on our breathing: we can calm ourselves down, slow it down, make it deeper, just for a minute or two. Look around you and really notice your surroundings. Stop speed-reading through your life.
In my next article I will elaborate on the benefits of using a personal journal to enhance your life. If you feel overwhelmed by a deluge of responsibilities and would like to find a way of easing your situation I offer an initial free session bookable on www.mentaline.com/kathrynharris/.