Self-care is a loving, compassionate journey of self-discovery – the conscious, deliberate attention to our needs and feelings, and the development of ways in which we can tend to them.
Self-care in essence is the mindful taking of time to pay to attention to you, that ensures that you are being cared for by you. – Maria Baratta
Dr Victoria Burns acutely observes the distinction, but interconnectedness, between self-care and self-soothing.
Self-care often involves doing the hard things (eg setting boundaries, health care appointments). Self-soothing helps us recover from doing the hard things.
WHAT SELF-CARE IS NOT
It can be particularly illuminating and helpful for our understanding of self-care to look at what it’s not.
It can feel so good to binge on Netflix for hours or eat a whole family-size bar of Galaxy caramel, but in essence, these are not acts of self-care. By numbing or escaping our feelings, we are actually contributing to more discomfort in the long run.
It can be really helpful here to consider the concept of ‘short-term gain & long-term pain vs. short-term pain & long-term gain’ – to consciously question ourselves about which of these categories our actions fall under.
Treats, play, and relaxation are absolutely all integral to our self-care, but it’s important to be conscious about the extent to which we are meeting these needs in preference to maybe some of our more prevalent needs eg. peace, ease or wholeness.
Again, this might feel like the easier option by means of its immediacy, but by retreating from life, from relationships, from responsibility, and deliberately evading conflict and difficult situations, we actually only prolong our pain and minimise our sense of wholeness and peace within.
Nurturing our needs is essential for our growth, peace of mind and reducing the risk of physical and emotional pain and strain. Imagine if you neglected a plant – what would happen? It might shrivel, yellow, wilt and prematurely die without nourishment, light and water. We humans are living, pulsing, breathing beings, just like our plants. Neglect our needs and we too will emotionally shrivel, wither and waste away.
One off/ isolated actions
Self-care is an ongoing practise of building self-connection, emotional integrity, and resilience, resulting in the reduced possibility of burnout, fatigue and depletion. It requires consistency and perseverance in order to be effective.
Ideally self-care is not a reaction to illness, or an accumulation of stress, precipitated by external or internal circumstances. The truest sense of self-care is an ever present, undercurrent of practises, internalised regularly with deliberate, gentle awareness.
HOW IT FEELS WHEN WE DON’T PRACTISE SELF-CARE
This list is an invitation for self-exploration. It is by no means conclusive or exhaustive.
Strained and Overstretched
Minimal self-care can contribute to elevated stress levels. Gabor Mate states that excessive stress occurs when the demands made on an organism exceed that organism’s reasonable capacities to fulfill them. Just like a rubber band will snap with excessive stress, so too will a human.
Fragile and Overly Sensitive
Without rest, emotional safety or community, our internal resources may become depleted and our edges can feel frayed and frazzled.
Overwhelmed and Volatile
In the absence of balance, support and stability, we can easily experience feelings of overwhelm, leading in turn to freezing and emotional shutdown, or explosiveness and volatility.
Angry and Resentful
Without freedom, autonomy, self-expression and self-authenticity, it’s very easy to fall down the rabbit hole of resentment and anger. Erin Telford explains the importance of speaking our truth (which is not necessarily ‘the’ truth), in order to live with alignment and integrity. If I’m not speaking my truth, if I’m saying yes when I mean no, I run the risk of encrusting resentment around my heart.
Ungrateful and Disconnected
Ignoring our need for love, connection, reciprocity and empathy can easily ripple into ingratitude, isolation and feelings of disconnection.
ACTS OF SELF-CARE
In addition to the obvious eating and sleeping right, drinking enough water, exercising, connecting with nature etc these are perhaps some of the less obvious ways to nurture yourself, but central to any self-care practise.
There is enormous power and autonomy in knowing our personal capacities and limitations, and it is within this space that our boundaries are rooted. Boundaries enable us to architect our own personal sanctuary, facilitating a life of more fulfillment, flow and alignment.
Areas that require the dedicated and diligent communicating of boundaries include: your time, the way you speak to yourself, your spiritual practise, your mental/ emotional/ physical space, the way in which other people speak to you/ treat you.
Self-Empathy and Compassion
This might be the most difficult, yet most potent, act of self-care. How many times a day do you ‘should’ yourself? eg. I should be able to cope with this. I should’ve known better. I shouldn’t have lost my temper. I should have responded differently. I should have said this. I shouldn’t have said that. I should be braver/ bolder/ stronger. I should be less emotional/ less needy/ less greedy.
Every time we ‘should’ ourselves we create an internal war in our psyche (M. J. Ryan), consolidating layers and layers of shame within our souls, and the effects of fortified shame are hugely toxic.
When we replace the ‘shoulds’ with self-love, immersing ourselves in compassion, non-judgment and open-hearted acceptance, we create fertile soil for healing. If we can hold space for our own pain and discomfort without shame, if we can meet all our emotions with curiosity instead of ferocity, we are providing ourselves with the utmost, almighty care.
Cultivating a Conscious Relationship with your Self-Talk
The often relentless, tyrannical voice of our inner critic can have a devastating impact on our wellbeing, so developing a gentle, loving relationship with that voice can be transformative. Transmuting the score of self-criticism and shame to one of compassionate cheerleading and support IS possible but requires persistence and commitment.
Releasing ‘Bad’ Habits & Creating New Ones
Humans are essentially a collection of habits – habitual thinking, behaviour and actions. We have healthy habits and we have not so healthy habits. It’s integral here to bring in boundless amounts of self-love and compassion, and know that our ‘bad’ habits don’t make us bad people.
Behind each habit is a need and a reward (Charles Duhigg), and by deciphering what these are, it can help us create new ones.
For example, the need behind ‘mindless scrolling’ might be for connection, or for inspiration, or for beauty, but it may leave us feeling lonely, fatigued, and insecure, and like we’ve been sucked into a time vacuum! To create new habits we can identify the needs we’re requiring to be met, and develop some new behaviours to meet these needs instead. If I’m needing connection, I could text or call a friend instead. If I’m looking for inspiration, I could read or listen to a podcast. If I’m needing beauty, I could go for a walk in nature with my camera.
Our needs are varied and run deep. With a little playful experimentation and lashings of love, it is possible to create new habits to meet our needs, rooted in self-care, rather than self-neglect.
*When habits become addictions, there is help and community out there to support you. My own experience with addiction (drink, drugs, self-harm) has shown me that recovery is possible, that we do have the capacity to change our habits.
Connection & Community
Part of practising self-care is in the seeking and cultivating of meaningful connections with others. We all have an innate need to be seen, to be heard, to be understood, and to feel like we matter; these needs cannot be met in isolation. We flourish when we experience a sense of belonging within a community, where we can be witnessed and appreciated for our true, uncensored selves.
Sometimes, self-care involves doing the hard thing, the thing we don’t ‘want’ to do. Excuses and procrastination can feel easier than doing the ‘thing’, but for the relief, the release, the growth and the spaciousness it creates, it’s so worth it.
Inactivity, sloth and isolation, or conversely compulsive over-working and organising, can feel so much more appealing than nurturing ourselves. But sometimes saying yes to that self-care commitment, saying yes to that coffee with a friend, saying yes to that yoga class or women’s circle, is exactly what our soul needs.
We are inherently creative beings, vibrating with creative life force energy. To stifle that is to stifle ourselves. Birthing something out of nothing is to express our innermost selves, fosters a deep sense of presence and purpose, and meets our needs for achievement, vitality and spontaneity.
WAYS TO IMPLEMENT SELF-CARE
The ways in which we practise self-care, the patchwork of tools we use to facilitate all of the above, are probably as wide and varied as there are humans.
I’m a firm believer in finding what works for you, approaching each technique with as much openness, willingness, honesty and vulnerability as possible.
1:1 support and/or immersion in a healing community are indispensable. Healing circles for me are heart medicine, providing a safe harbour for our souls, and the strength, support and inspiration for solo practises.
Circles provide care & sustenance, each a much needed commodity and energetic infusion for our hearts, minds, and spirits. In Circle we may experience deep inspiration, find healing for parts of ourselves seeking answers to our questions, and we can relearn important lessons or find new ideas about our lives. We learn to listen deeply to poignant stories, we witness the full spectrum of human emotions, we learn to hold space and allow feelings and emotions to enter the healing circle, and we honor the ability to transform in circle and to be transformed. – Marilyn Wilson
JOURNAL PROMPTS FOR SELF-CARE
Exploring the ways in which we practise self-care and unraveling our resistance to it, via journaling, can be an illuminating exercise in itself.
Self-exploration is always an invitation for self-compassion over self-judgment, for self-love over self-criticism. Go gently and go slowly.
- Do you prioritise self-care every day?
- If not, what obstructs you from practising self-care?
- In what ways do you currently practise self-care?
- What new ways might you introduce to practise self-care?
- How do you feel when you don’t practise self-care?