What is self-care? Becoming a new you
For the entirety of the festive season, I was ill. On Christmas Day I was determined to get up early, watch my kids open their presents, and cook the Christmas dinner for my family. I did manage to achieve both things, however, I can barely remember anything about either! After two lots of antibiotics and fifteen days, I could say I finally felt more like myself again.
Being laid up gave me lots of time to ponder on the past year; its highs and lows. I have a heart condition - it’s not life-threatening, but it can sometimes impact on my overall health. I walk a lot which helps build stamina and strength. I will not let it define who I am, and I will not let it impact negatively on my quality of life. I set up in private practice last year which was a great achievement; helping others is my passion. Life has thrown me some curveballs that have helped me appreciate the little things in life - the things that matter and make a difference to promote positive mental well-being.
This time of year is full of fresh starts, new beginnings, and new resolutions. I started to think about my new resolutions that I could make, and as I started to make a list I questioned myself as to whether any were about actual self-care.
What is self-care?
As a counsellor I am aware of all the mindful ways to promote positive mental health, breathing exercises, walking, getting enough sleep, eating the right foods, talking to others, being self-aware about the impacts of social media, and how we let others affect our mental well-being.
These things are all important, however, they are the generic things to promote positive mental well-being. We are all individuals, and what suits one person may not suit another.
Self-care could mean something as simple as taking thirty minutes to sit down with a coffee and some lunch and enjoy thirty minutes of doing nothing. How many of us are so busy that we just carry on, unable to switch off during the day. It may be because you feel guilty taking a break, or it might be a bit of subconscious self-punishment. "I'll stop when I finish this piece of work…"; before you finish it another urgent thing pops up, and so on. By the end of the day you probably feel tired; maybe you have a headache and feel irritable? This could have a negative impact not just on yourself, but on the whole family.
Something so simple, and yet the fall out can be quite huge!
I can resonate with this scenario. My family would have told anyone that I would never sit down and do nothing - I used to always be in perpetual motion. Through my self-awareness, I recognised this was because I felt guilty; guilty that I was doing enough of anything - work, looking after my family, cleaning, cooking, house chores, etc.
This was, of course, my phenomenology - the story I told myself. It was not backed up by fact; far from it. My lack of self-esteem was what created this false story. When I was challenged about why I felt I couldn’t relax, I realised that I had created such an unreasonable level of perfection that it was impossible to achieve.
These days I am much better at being kind to myself. I recognise that when I’m not well, rest is what I need - guilt-free rest.
What matters most is how I feel. If I don’t feel OK then I’m not at my best to help everyone else, whether that is in my personal life with my family or my professional practice.
Self-care can be anything from a big gesture such as a holiday to something small like enjoying a bubble bath. What is important is recognising when you need a little self-care and then being able to enjoy it guilt-free.