Updated: Feb 9, 2020
When clients ask me about self-care, I am 1) super excited about it because I know how beneficial self-care can be in preventing burn out, overwhelm, anxiety, and stress, and even physical health concerns, and 2) I'm wary. Because I know that practicing self-care takes having some privilege and time, and it can be perceived as selfish. A big part of self-care is setting boundaries with loved ones, and saying "no" often. In many cultures, you might be shunned, penalized, and shamed for setting these boundaries, and choosing to put your health or well-being first. It's tough.
Because of this, I'm a big proponent of keeping self-care simple.
On my really busy days, for example, self-care looks like making sure I take the time to make tea, take 5 deep breaths in the bathroom, mindfully look outside of my window for 5 minutes-- just appreciating the snow or the sun out there, or dance around the living room to some reggaeton (I'm looking at you, Danza Kuduro!). If you all haven't heard Danza Kuduro, stop everything, go play it and move your body however way you can.
A lot of self-care for me means pausing and being present. Taking a break from the go go go life, and pausing, and breathing. What does simple self-care look like for you? Do you need to pause more; breathe more; appreciate the beauty out there; move your body more?
When I'm not so busy, I still try to keep it simple. Maybe my morning routine, is doing a 5-minute meditation, a 20 minute yoga session, and drinking two cups of green tea (your girl is tired!); also making sure I eat a banana or some delicious eggs with spinach and tomatoes, and LOTS of cayenne pepper (your girl likes spice!) Lol!
Afternoon routine? Maybe a mindful walk for 5-15 minutes. And, eating something nutritious; I love putting spring mix, spinach, cous cous, black beans, tomatoes, and avocado together. And again, cayenne pepper. The meal is cheap and it takes me about 10 minutes to make.
Night routine? Could be a 5 minute meditation again, or reading ONE page of a book (your girl is lazy! :D), or reflecting on 3 things that happened that I'm proud of or happy with; maybe journaling for about 30 minutes in case something triggering/emotional happened and I need to process it; maybe calling a loved one to check in and having silly conversations with them, or maybe watching a lighthearted show for about an hour (Seinfeld, anyone?) before going to bed.
To me, these activities sound simple, but let me know what you think! Maybe you have some other simple self-care options. I'm always curious to know what others are doing.
Where do I find the motivation, though?
You may ask. Well, for one, self-care can be super difficult when you're depressed. When the depression is not so severe, you might be able to engage in this wonderful intervention -- opposite action. This intervention might be annoying or frustrating, or maybe you'll find it to be a bit fun to experiment with. Let's say you wake up and you're depressed and having all the anxious thoughts possible; you can notice the depressive and anxious symptoms, and you still engage in the behaviors that you planned for yourself.
It's similar to the idea in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), where you take your depression and anxiety with you as you engage in adaptive behaviors. Hold depression's hand and say: come on, love. Let's go on a walk. I know it's hard, but let's go. I promise you, I got you, and I love you and I'm here for you. It's also similar to behavioral activation, where you engage in pleasurable activities even when depression is saying: no, I don't want to!
Reflecting on values is also helpful. If you can, make time to explore what your values are. Values help guide behaviors. They're our whys, for doing. If I value fun, for example, and I want to write this blog, I make sure to make it fun for me. And, that helps motivate me to do it. Another value is connection. I want to connect with myself, with my body, with nature, with the cashier at the grocery store, and with everyone I meet.
So, let's say social anxiety is really real one day; because I value connection so much, I might say: I know. You're really anxious. You're worried about sounding stupid or not having anything to say, but connection really matters to you. And, the only way you're going to connect with others is if you go out there.
Sometimes, values get you to do the things that are important to you, the things that matter -- immediately! But, other times, they don't. And, that's OK. All you can do is keep at it. Keep reflecting on values. Keep reflecting on what matters. Forgive yourself and be kind to yourself when you feel like you fall short, and keep trying-- the next minute, the next hour, the next day.
Another thing that's important is working on building habits. You need to do something every day or almost every day for your brain to be like: "oh wow. I'm used to this now! It actually feels good to do this (SO MUCH DOPAMINE, YUM!), so come on girl! Get up at 5am and go on that run!"
I think some research say that we need to do something for 21 days for the habit to start feeling easy, natural, and familiar. I've also seen 30 days or 60 days. It's hard, right? To commit to a new behavior for 2 months. But, it does feel incredible when you do commit. You feel so proud of yourself, and after those 60 days, the new behavior might feel as natural as brushing your teeth, if brushing your teeth comes naturally :D
So, what do we need to do?
We need to keep it as simple and as natural as possible. The new behaviors need to be doable/possible. We don't want to set ourselves up for failure. If you've never run before in your life and you make a goal to run 2 miles everyday, you might be setting yourself up for failure. If you're not a morning person, and you plan to wake up at 4am to go to the gym, you might be setting yourself up for failure. If you absolutely hate yoga, and you plan to commit to going to a yoga studio 4x a week, you might be setting yourself up for failure. Or, frustration, disappointment, impatience, and even self-hatred.
It's also helpful when the behaviors we want to engage in align with our values, or we make them align :D Maybe I want to wash dishes as soon as I finish eating, and I hate washing dishes. What value could I attach washing dishes with? I value mindfulness or embodied presence (e.g., feeling super connected to my breath and my body), so I could potentially use that as I wash dishes (e.g., really focusing on what it's like to wash them -- the smells that emerge, how the water feels on my hands, how my body feels as I stand in front of the sink, what it's like to feel my feet on the ground, etc.). Or, maybe I attach the value of fun into it (e.g., listen to some awesome, energizing music as I wash dishes.) Or, maybe I act silly after I finish washing a plate-- say to myself: YAAAAAAS! YOU ARE KILLING IT! :D
It's also helpful to make a plan for when we "don't feel like it," when we're experiencing mental health concerns, or when it's cold and dark out there and we'd much prefer to stay in bed. Something I really like doing is visualizing my goals. So, if I really want to wake up the next morning and meditate and do yoga, the night before, as I'm falling asleep, I smile as I imagine myself waking up the next morning, getting out of the bed, and doing the things that matter to me.
I imagine how I'll feel once I complete the tasks. I imagine how proud of myself I'll be. And I might also plan for worst case scenarios through this visualization process (e.g., what if I wake up and I feel depressed and angry, and I just want to be in bed forever? What do I do, then?). The answer is typically: I'm going to practice lots of self-kindness, self-empathy and gentleness with myself; I'm going to speak in a very loving and caring way to myself. I'm going to motivate myself in the same way that I might motivate a child who I really care for. And, I might take it even easier on myself. Instead of doing a 5-min meditation, for example, I do a one minute one. Instead of doing HIIT yoga for 20 minutes, I do gentle yoga for 5-10 minutes. Instead of waking up immediately, maybe I stay in bed an extra 30 minutes. An extra 60 minutes. An extra 120 minutes. Or, I might stay in bed for so long that I'm late to work, but I commit to driving mindfully, eating mindfully, and walking mindfully throughout the day.
Self-care, to me, is about finding various moments throughout the day to re-connect with myself and to re-connect to my values. What do you want your self-care to look like?
I hope this was helpful!
Some resources are below:
--Here's a wonderful framework for how to utilize self-care to show up authentically and meaningfully in all aspects of your life.
--Ten Percent Happier Podcast's Making and Breaking Habits, Sanely.
--If you have Amazon Prime and you like yoga, check out Julia Marie's 30 Day Yoga Challenge. She teaches amazing ways to put new habits into your life. She makes it fun! The strength you build sneaks up on you. One day you're like-- wait a minute! I can do push-ups and side planks without being on my knees!? You'll also love the "rest" days, in which she facilitates gentle yoga. She preaches showing up to your mat every single day, which is also a nice way to conceptualize life; you show up to life, every moment, no matter what.
--If you're curious about various aspects of self-care, like spiritual or workplace or emotional self-care, check out this self-care worksheet.