One of the biggest myths floating around in the psychology and wellbeing world is that self-care is a cushy, easy process. Warm baths, massages and cups of tea. Of course, at times, self-care can look like this, but often it’s not quite that straight-forward or glamorous, especially not right now with everything we are experiencing as a consequence of COVID-19.
Caring for ourselves can be particularly tricky when we are stressed, stretched for time or feeling swamped by emotions such as fear and grief. So right now caring for ourselves can feel like a gigantically big ask.
We believe it’s important to be real about this reality, because otherwise we risk thinking that there is something wrong with us when we practice self-care and it doesn’t seem to happen smoothly or easily, and perhaps doesn’t even feel that kind or caring.
Self-care is something that most of us will be tweaking and practising (and tweaking again) for the rest of our lives. It’s normal to go through periods where you feel in tune with what you need and able to give that to myself, without much faffing or fuss. Other times you might hit patches where you seem to forget what works, or if you manage to remember (perhaps through gentle reminders from friends or family, or a few strategically placed post-it-notes), it just feels impossible to follow through. Sometimes we might even seem to be deliberately getting in the way of caring for ourselves, almost like a form of self-sabotage.
We’ve written about practical ideas for self-care in another post here. In this previous post we talked about the power of bringing your focus back to basics. Simply asking “what do I need right now”? On a really basic level – do I need to rest, do I need to focus on my breath, do I need to eat, do I need to have a break from my phone or do I need to move my body?
This post explores a few other discoveries we’ve made along the way supporting clients to care for themselves and also some lessons from our own self-care journey.
Move into doing-mode
It’s oh so tempting to try to take care of ourselves by thinking through things some more. Sometimes though giving yourself more space to mull over things can be self-punishment dressed up as self-care. Less is more when it comes to thinking and self-care.
If you find yourself getting caught up in your head, break the cycle by doing something to care for yourself instead. Shift your focus away from thinking-mode and into doing-mode. Distract yourself. Do something fun, soothing, gentle, nurturing, playful or creative.
When you feel exhausted or overwhelmed it can be difficult to think straight, so finding things to do might be harder than it sounds. It might sound like overkill, but we have found it helps to have a few ideas written down somewhere. In those moments when we really need some self-care, the less decisions we have to make, the better.
Matching the intensity of your actions to your emotions
If you’re trying to take care of yourself when you’re feeling strong emotions like panic or anger, it can help to do something physically intense to release some of this emotion from body. Going for a run, jumping around the house dancing to some music that matches your mood, punching a pillow or even singing really loudly are some favourites of ours.
For softer, more inward focused emotions like sadness or hurt, try more gentle, slow ways to take care of yourself. Lighting a candle, curling up under a cosy doona, making yourself a cup of tea, reading a favourite book, cuddling a pet or sitting under a tree can be just what’s needed.
Dropping down into your body
Connecting with our body is an ideal way to get a race from a racing mind. This is especially worth a try on those days when you feel like your thoughts are just running a million miles an hour and making very little sense. Perhaps for some of us that’s how every day feels right now?!
Connecting with your body is one of the most effective and compassionate ways you can care for ourselves. Think of it like a circuit breaker for your mind.
Some simple ways that you can do this are through breathing, mindful movement, yoga, massage, having a bath, exercise and dancing. We’ve got a few audio exercises here for you to try if you want some guidance with this.
Letting your inner child run free!
Sometimes self-care looks like stepping out of adult mode and away from responsibilities, even if just for a short amount of time. A chance for our inner child to let loose! If you have kids, you might even want to let your inner child loose together!
If you’re not sure how to connect with your inner child (they are in there, believe us!) think about what you’d do to help make a young child feel better. You’d probably make them laugh, you’d distract them with fun things, you’d play, you might encourage them to get outside and have a run around, watch a funny You Tube click with them or arrange for them to do something creative. On days when it feels like a slog, even just a few minutes of light heartedness and fun for the sake of fun can be just the trick. It’s not going to solve all of your problems, but it sure won’t make them worse.
Softening your self-talk
The irony is that for some of us, when we need it most, self-care can feel unworkable. Making a meal for ourselves, taking a break from work, it all just feels like a battle.
If you’re a determined person, you might insist on continuing with self-care despite having a bit of a love-hate relationship with it. Research evidence does suggest there is a place for going through the motions, and “faking it until you make it” with self-care, but the only caution here is to be mindful of your self-talk as you practice self-care. If you notice that while you’re doing things to care for yourself you’re also relating to yourself in a harsh, pushy or critical way, try to soften and be gentle with yourself. Remind yourself that you’re doing all that you can to take care of yourself. You’re trying, and that’s what matters.
If you find yourself struggling against your inner critic as your practice self-care, you might like to read more about this tricky beast in another one of our posts here.
Nature is always here to give you a helping hand
Getting outside when you’re feeling rough can work a treat. Even if it feels like a slog to get yourself out the door, you’re unlikely to regret that you did it. It’s such a simple way to show yourself a little kindness. Keep it simple – take a walk in the fresh air, sit in a park or just stare up at the clouds for a few minutes. Connecting back to nature settles us. You might even like to try taking your shoes off and walking slowly and mindfully across the grass. This is such a beautiful and primal way to connect to your body and the earth beneath you.
Need a little help with taking better care of yourself?
We get that there can sometimes be a whole lot of barriers that get in the way of practising self-care, some of them quite complex. If you feel like this is something you’re keen to tackle with a little help from someone else, get the ball rolling by getting in touch with our wonderful Support Team here. Our psychologists can even work with you in a single, dedicated session to develop a practical plan for taking care of yourself right now.
This image was taken by Breeana Dunbar Photography.