When clients come in to my office, struggling with anxiety, depression, or any of life’s complexities, I have many questions I ask to gain a better understanding of their woes. Of course I want to know about the problem; when did it start? How has it impacted their life? What kind of coping has helped? I also want to know about their life in general; Who is in it? When has it been easiest? When has it been most difficult? These questions are usually expected and most clients answer without much effort. There is one question; however, that few clients seem to get past without difficulty and that is… What do you do for Self Care? “Self Care?” They usually ask me, with a look of confusion, “What do you mean?”
And this is where the healing begins…
What is Self Care??
The idea of self care typically conjures up images of an afternoon at the spa, a little (or a lot) of “retail therapy”, or some other indulgence designed to make us feel good in the moment. It is usually paired with the idea of treating one’s self with something “special” or in a positive way that they usually would not. While no one will argue with how good it can feel to treat yourself, periodic indulgences don’t always fit with self care.
Self Care is about acknowledging and valuing oneself as an individual. It is about being able to identify and explore your personal needs and connect with the things that are meaningful to you. In a world where our attention is pulled in so many directions, we are left with very little time and energy to focus on ourselves. And so, as we go about our busy lives, our self care fades away…
Why is Self Care important?
Think of your overall capacity to deal with life as a cup of energy, mental energy so to speak. When that cup is full, everything seems easier and you feel pretty positive about life. You go to work. You take care of your family. You enjoy time with our friends and loved ones. You might even feel good enough to take on new challenges, professional or personal. Overall everything is ok and when problems pop up, you aren’t thrilled but feel like you can manage.
Now fast forward to a cup that is nearing empty. We are feeling tired and everything is more difficult. The simplest tasks make you feel anxious and tired. Problems seem to come out of nowhere and feel insurmountable no matter how small you tell yourself they are. You begin to feel depressed and start to pull away from your friends and family. Everything seems different and you can’t figure out why.
One of the most common differences in the two scenarios is Self Care. When our personal needs are met and we are feeling fulfilled as individuals (eg. We are happy with ourselves, we feel rested and physically well, and we feel connected to others) our cup is full and our capacity is high. When the individual part of ourselves becomes lost in all of the other hats we wear (parent, chauffeur, worker, cook, family accountant, problem solver etc) our needs go unmet and our cup runs low…. So does our capacity.
How do I start my Self Care Journey?
Step 1. Start with great questions
A bit of personal inquiry can help you identify how you are doing and what might be lacking. Here are a few guiding questions to get you started…
- – Who am I as an individual?
- – How do I feel I am doing in my life?
- – What do I like? What do I dislike?
- – What is meaningful to me? What fills my cup?
- – What do I feel like I need more of? Less of?
- – What want to do differently? What stops me?
Step 2. Be kind.
- – Try not to let any negative responses or “I don’t knows” be a reason to be hard on yourself. It is a struggle for any of us to compete with the noise of life around us, no matter how good it is. Instead, recognize this is as a starting point and focus a bit more on yourself every day. The best self care is consistent self care. It doesn’t have to cost anything except a little bit of time and focus.
Step 3. Take small steps.
- – Start with identifying one small change that would make you feel better about yourself and your life. Make it a goal and break it down into small, actionable steps then get started. Don’t wait for the right time or perfect moment. Just start. Focus on progress, not perfection!
Self care is the most important tool in the healing journey. It helps us build our resilience and capacity and face the world a little more ready. We spend our mental resources every day taking care of those around us… but to stay healthy we have to learn to take care of ourselves too!
- – Bonnie J. Skinner MEd, RP, CCC