5 Surprising Tips for the Self-Care Challenged
In my last post, I explored the challenge of self-care for people who developed a sense of identity around self-denial from a young age in order to cope with familial or societal circumstances. If we have a deep seeded need for validation from others in order to feel worthy of life, simply being told to “take care of yourself” leads to a strange paradox - on the one hand, taking care of others IS taking care of ourselves, or at least a part of ourselves. Yet attending to this need may lead us to neglect other areas of our wellbeing - like sleep or nourishment because we are rushing around taking care of the needs of others, whether it be in our personal or professional lives.
Understanding why self-care is difficult for myself made it much easier to create self-care rituals that work, but full disclosure: some days are better than others. In my personal experience, and what I have seen from working with clients, there are a few key principles to keep in mind.
- THIS PROCESS IS NOT LINEAR. This list is written numerically solely for organizational purposes and to make it easier to read ;) Let me repeat that again, because humans--particularly western humans-- really like linear processes that are logical and follow clear steps. This. process. is. not. linear. The emotional and spiritual processes that take place in order for us to shift our beliefs are not linear (and at times don’t even seem logical).
Rather than a straight line, think of change as a spiral - there is neither an end nor a beginning. We can be anywhere in the process at any given point. So please be patient with yourself and recognize that wherever you are is exactly right, even if that means that last week you thought you had completely changed for good, and yet find yourself today repeating patterns that lay dormant for years. Laugh, and allow yourself to accept the perfectly imperfect bucking bronco ride that is human potential.
2. Remember that self-care is fundamentally simple. As humans we need shelter, nourishing food and clean water, rest, sex, love and affection from other humans, creative expression, and good old vitamin N(ature). We can layer on a whole lot of conditions and material desires to these needs, but remembering to simplify can create the mental and emotional space necessary to start confronting the belief that we are not enough.
3. Get curious about the youiest you that exists. (Feel free to imagine the Cat in the Hat telling you this.)
Your higher Self, if that means something to you. The voice inside that has never changed since you came into existence. Important note: this is not to be confused with the inner critic. This voice is NOT the voice of doubt, fear, and being less than - but rather the voice connected to absolute, full body inner knowing. The one that says YES when you first fall in love, or hear about an opportunity that sparks every cell in your body. The voice that leads you to take actions you did not realize you had the courage to take, because really you were just the vehicle being driven by some outside guiding force.
If that voice has become weak or lost, mind-body practices such as yoga, qi gong, mindfulness, etc. help to create an awareness of the difference between the intelligence of the body and that of the mind. One of my favorite tools for working through subconscious beliefs is guided imagery - a subtle, yet powerful conversation with our inner wisdom that helps to repattern our underlying beliefs.
4. B-b-b-boundaries! Figuring out boundaries may be one of the trickiest practices for those of us who struggle with self-care because many of us are empathic or highly sensitive to the energy and emotions of other people, particularly those we are close to. It can be confusing to separate our own needs from the needs and desires of others if we aren’t clear on our emotions, energy, and desires. Again, in my experience, the only way to truly tune into who we are and our own inner knowing is through mind-body practices that integrate the intelligence of the body with the intellect of the mind: yoga, qi gong, mindfulness, guided imagery.
Additionally, as virtually any self-help guru will admonish: we must learn to say No. I know how scary this is, believe me! There was a time in high school when I babysat every single day because I was so terrified to say no to the many requests I received. One of my mentors helped shift this for me with this simple trick - rather than saying no to something, we are saying YES to something else. I’m into that. Think of all the things you are aching to say yes to - how does that feel?
5. Play & Rest & Create. I’m willing to bet that you are a creative person who wants more time for half-finished projects, time for the ideas that keep haunting you, waiting to be given life. Creative energy, however, is finicky. Without sufficient rest and nourishment as a foundation, creative energy is tough to maintain because our energy must be delegated to maintain our basic daily functions. Read: the difference between surviving and thriving.
When we take time to rejuvenate and nourish our bodies, rather than saying no to the part of ourselves that seeks external validation, we are saying yes to our need for creative expression, yes to our inner wisdom, yes to connecting to purpose. And we all know already that when we feel our best, we can offer our best, as opposed to constantly teetering on the edge of burnout. So saying no is actually saying yes. Paradox for the win!