You know how during airplane travel the flight attendant instructs us to “place your own oxygen mask before assisting others”, in case of any emergency? That little airplane safety spiel holds a gem of life wisdom as it reminds us that before you can take care of others (or handle crisis) you first have to make sure YOU are getting oxygen and essentially caring for yourself.
Self-care is deliberate, self-motivated behavior that benefits your mental and physical health. Self-care involves activities you do that take care of YOU. Self-care can protect you from dis-ease and keep you engaged with your goals. Maybe you already engage in “self care” without realizing it.
Whenever you are feeling down, whenever you find yourself comparing your life to others, whenever stress is overwhelming, whenever you experience feelings of self-loathe, whenever you feel like your goals are far fetched and unattainable, whenever your mood sucks and you’re just irritable and unpleasant to be around, whenever mindless distractions steal your time, whenever envy, worry, regret, and negativity flood your mind, PAUSE and ask yourself the following:
"When did I feel my best?"
Was it when you were eating healthy? Was it when you were creating something? Was it when you would sing or dance more often? Was it when you were involved in a community service project? Was it when you were enrolled in a class you loved? Was it when you were reading inspiring books? Was it when you became devoted to a spiritually nurturing practice? Was it that time you became super involved with fitness?
Lots of questions/possibilities but as you can see, we often feel our best when we take care of ourselves or do things we enjoy but we forget those things because, well, we become overwhelmed with everything else or we erroneously place everything else first.
Let your self-care become your own personal compass to get you back to your better YOU!
It’s different for everyone but usually self-care has a component of healthy behavior such as physical activity or eating nourishing foods but there’s so much more to it. Self-care also involves personal and unique activities that you thoroughly enjoy (without harming your body and mind). When everything else becomes too consuming, your body and mind will desperately send you signals: your weight might fluctuate, your mood changes, your energy level gets zapped...those are just some examples. Or you may notice an increase in the frequency of unhealthy habits…which are usually ways we try to momentarily feel good. One of my biggest clue when I need to step back and care for myself is whenever I become overly reliant on caffeine for energy boosts.
You don’t have to everything resolved to feel like you are moving forward.
Directing your attention to your own needs can be like a breath of fresh air that will help you return to everything else with more clarity and peace.
Over time, you may notice that your consistency towards self-care comes and goes in cycles. That’s fine and realistic. What matters most is to recognize when you’ve gravitated away from self-care or have become too comfortable in an unhealthy cycle. Figure out what nourishes your mind and body and use it as your compass to get you back to YOU. You may experience a surge of motivation or creativity just by getting back to the basics of caring for YOU.
When I was in grad school my professors practically drilled the importance of self-care into our psyche. We were told that the work of counseling others will involve listening to a lot of emotional baggage and if we're not careful, we can easily become too attached to the work and detached from ourselves. This is a concept that other professions involved with human services or trauma are also familiar with. Yet no matter the line of work, prioritizing your own emotional needs and observing the effects when you don't, is a necessary life skill. I remember when I became a mom, the distinction between self-indulgence and self-care became blurred (hormones maybe?). Thankfully, those moments were mostly passing thoughts, yet, how often do individuals (especially women), become so caught up with everything else, that they neglect their own needs? And when that happens for too long, what do other relationships begin to look like? Or more importantly, what does health begin to look like?
For me, self-care is a necessity to perform my work and fulfill my other roles such as wife and mother. It's a never-perfect balance, but the intention and awareness is there (for the most part). Journaling outdoors, running (especially during the morning hours), yoga, personal pampering, a cup of soothing herbs tea, un-rushed hot showers, and even un-doing of anything are some of my favorites go-to remedies that rev me back up when everything else attempts to suck up my "life-juice".
Although I sometimes help clients find and implement their own self-care habits, what I've learned is that most people already have a wealth of experiences (often forgotten) in which they felt better. The question remains, "When did you feel your best?"