Everybody is talking about self-care - but what is it really all about?
We live in a fast world. Being busy is the rule and ‘doing’ is the norm. We feel guilty if we are not producing, achieving, showing results. There’s a pressure to be constantly in action. Either at work or during our time off. Even socially, it feels as if we have to be always doing something: meeting people, going to places, keeping up with events. But where is all that pressure coming from? Who is actually asking you to live your life like this?
Feelings of burnout start to creep in. Exhaustion, both physical and mental. Even your breaks and weekends feel like commitments and there’s nowhere to truly switch off. It’s when you might remember about self-care and that you really need to look after yourself. So you might go to the gym, have a relaxing bath, go for a walk, or binge on the tv. But are you really switching off? Is that true self-care? Or are they yet other ways of ‘keep doing and being busy’?
True ways of self-care:
- Start noticing your body’s needs.
How do you feel in your body? Recognise the aches, pains, tiredness, sensations and needs. Do you feel lethargic? Or do you have extra energy and don’t really attend to it? Feed your body with what it really needs. Notice the kind of food you choose, the amount of rest and sleep you have, notice how you attend to any aches or pains you might feel. Notice what your body is asking from you.
- Switch off and declutter your mind.
Your mind needs regular breaks. True rest. Are you able to turn off all your electronic devices for a few hours? Are you able to disconnect from information? Keeping up with social media is so common now, that we don’t even notice how much ‘junk’ is actually entering our minds. Those ‘wall feeds’ are a random collection of stuff that we didn’t even choose to see or to read about. And they are cluttering our brain. Without us even noticing it. An unlimited amount of undesired and unnecessary information, taking precious mental space in us, with stuff we didn’t even choose.
- Spend time with meaningful people in your life.
Meaningful relationships feed our souls. And the right human connections can be extremely healing. Feeling at ease and comfortable with someone, ‘being yourself’, not measuring your words, they all bring a sense of relaxation and peace. A sense of ‘rightness’. That you are enough as you are and that things are ok as they are.
- Stay with your feelings, don’t try to numb them.
This is a new concept for many people, especially in this ‘culture of happiness’ we live in where we feel we ‘should be happy and positive’ at all times. But the reality is that we are not always happy. It’s simply not possible. Life is rich and humans have a huge range of feelings. All colours. Trying to avoid the more difficult ones is exhausting and, sometimes, destructive. Try to accept what you are feeling in that moment, and don’t try to run away and avoid it. By staying with what it is, you’ll gradually bring acceptance to your life, in many different ways. Hopefully, also accepting yourself and all who you really are and all the feelings you have.
- Valuing yourself = investing in yourself.
Sometimes looking after yourself will require time, dedication and commitment. Sometimes even financial investment. It will require a conscious decision to make time and put effort on the things that are important to you. This can be in things like courses, holidays, art classes, dance, therapy, retreats, gym etc. Anything that gives you purpose and brings more intention and growth in you. Not only ‘ticking the boxes’, just for the sake of it or another ‘doing’, but ways of truly looking at yourself and your deeper needs. Meaningful choices that are important to you. Not what others expect you to do, but what’s coming from your own desires.
- Don’t wait for external validation.
This is such a common symptom nowadays. Other people’s opinions and what they think of you might feel more important than what you think of yourself. And that ends up determining your emotions. If there’s good feedback and praise, you’ll feel great. But if someone criticises you or says something negative, you might feel worthless and lost. Notice when those situations happen, notice how you react to other people’s opinions. Remember they are just different opinions, views and perspectives. Remember that you are the owner of your life and that you can’t simply let external factors (people, events, situations) determine your self-esteem and confidence. Looking after yourself means being alert and aware of who you truly are, with all your qualities and flaws, and being aware of how you react to others, not letting them determine your feelings and thoughts. And really valuing yourself.
- Be present. Here and now.
It’s so easy to worry about things that haven’t happened yet or keep thinking about the past. And this is where anxiety exists: somewhere else. It’s very important to bring your mind and your life where life really is: now. Yet another new concept to many people. Looking after yourself means to live your life fully and stop postponing it: ‘when I get that job’, ‘when I meet that person’, ‘when I have more money’, always when something else happens. Also, try not to get stuck in the past. Yes, some things hurt, some memories stay, but don’t turn them into your present. Learn from your past experiences, bring the memories in your heart. But come back to this moment. Start looking at the things you do have. All the things you’ve already achieved and created around you. Find the richness in your life and be grateful.
- Do things that bring you joy. Rediscover your passion.
Do you have things you used to love hidden somewhere deep inside you? Either because of circumstances, or responsibilities or external events? Rediscover what makes your heart sing, what brings you happiness. It might be an activity, playing an instrument, appreciating art, learning a language, writing, taking up a hobby, sport, and the list goes on. If you dedicate some time to things that are joyful, you’ll be giving a gift to yourself. Everything else will pause during that time and you’ll be feeding your soul and your heart. And your body and mind will be forever grateful to you.
- Laugh. Smile. Bring humour into your daily life. Have fun.
Why not? It’s literally ‘therapeutic’. Looking after yourself isn’t about paying attention to what’s wrong, focusing on the problems and trying to sort things out. It’s also about lightness, hope, laughter, fun. Sometimes don’t take things too seriously. Step back and try to see things in a different way. What will happen if you laugh at certain situations? Why does everything need to feel so heavy? And if I look at things from a different angle, a new perspective? Allow yourself to have some time off and to have fun. Laughing is a great medicine and many people forget how good it feels when you simply relax and have a good time. There’s so much rush, competition, speed and stress, that you might forget the small pleasures and what really matters in life. Go on, have some fun.