I’m sure most of us have seen the yoga and meditation retreats the stars take while they promote self-care to the world. I’m happy they are promoting messages of self-care, that it’s okay to do things for yourself, although this presentation of self-care can be really misleading. Self-care does not have to be an extravagant silent retreat in Bali for a month. It also does not have to be something that is done so separately from your daily routine. In fact, the concept and purpose of self-care is meant to be something that can be worked into your regular schedule as a means to sustain energy, regulate emotions, pause and reset, and reduce vulnerability to distress and unwanted emotions. If you have the time and resources to engage in restorative retreats throughout the year, Great! Go for it! Try not to get into the habit, though, of just waiting for those things to come around to take care of yourself. I often have to correct misperceptions with clients who have been introduced to elaborate self-care routines through the media. For some simple ideas on how to begin a regular self-care routine, let’s first set the intention and identify what we need.
WHAT DOES YOUR MIND AND BODY NEED?
Our intention going into situations, into conversations, or even engaging in skill use has a significant impact on our experience. When it comes to self-care, there are usually two different ways to approach it: checking in or checking out. Balancing these two needs is really important as it helps to ensure that when we end a self-care activity, we are fulfilled. When someone has had a really emotional day or week, it can be helpful to actually check out by watching TV, hanging out with friends, cleaning, attending a sporting event, going to a movie, or playing video games. These activities require us to be outside ourselves, participate in the world around us, and help to balance a period of intense emotional experiences. We need to engage in these activities as a way of resetting our barometer for when the next emotional challenge comes. Key point, though: make sure you do come back to the thing that was causing distress if it hadn’t been fully processed yet; otherwise, you’re just avoiding and not actually engaging in self-care.
The other option is to utilize self care as a means to check in with yourself and get in touch with what’s happening internally. This is extremely helpful when you have a busy schedule or if there have been a lot of task-oriented and rationally minded situations on your plate lately. When your intention is to check in, you can carve out some alone time or time with one or two close friends. The goals is to reflect on internal thoughts and experiences, or connect with our physical selves. These activities can include journaling, intimate conversations, meditating, expressing gratitude, practicing yoga, exercising, therapy sessions, or reading books focused on personal growth. It can even be something as simple as saying kind things to yourself in the mirror while you brush your teeth. These activities are necessary to maintain a healthy relationship with yourself amidst an often chaotic and fast-paced world.
BE MINDFUL AND DON'T JUDGE
When engaging in self-care, one of the most important pieces is to do your best to be present and mindful of what you’re doing. For instance, if you’ve had an emotional week and go out with some friends to “check out,” actively participate with them, redirect your attention back to the present reality if your thoughts start to wander, and try to push away (DBT skill) the worries until you’re recharged and ready to tackle them again. Conversely, if you’re trying to “check in” with yourself, redirect thoughts away from your to-do list, children, work, issues of the world, or your partner; this is SELF care, the focus needs to be on YOU. Another key factor, especially when checking in, is to not judge what you experience or what comes up. A lot of people struggle to sit with themselves because they struggle to face what’s inside or they are fearful of what they will unlock. Do not judge your thoughts or feelings as ugly, good, bad, silly, or stupid. Try to just get to know yourself. If you find that you experience things you don’t necessarily know how to handle, reach out to a therapist who can help you untangle and make sense of what’s inside.
SO HOW DO I START?
Starting a new practice like this can be difficult for some people, especially those who have very busy lives, so I suggest starting small.
Carve out short amounts of self-care time
Write self- care activities into your schedule
Plan your day around the time you've set for yourself
If taking care of yourself isn’t a number one priority, it can quickly fall to the wayside. Self-care gives us the energy and emotional reserve to tackle what we encounter on a daily basis, otherwise we are just running on fumes and may not be putting our best foot forward in situations. We can also become overly reactive, impulsive, emotionally driven, or hyper sensitive to unwanted emotions such as anger, sadness, fear, shame, or guilt when we do not engage in regular self-care. Over time, self-care can become routine so that it doesn’t necessarily have to be planned; you’ll be able to listen to your body and mind and know what you need. Like anything else though, it’s a habit best built in small steps.
Start with five minutes twice a week
Set one intention for checking in and one intention for checking out
Try several different activities over a period of time
Make a list of the ones you really like or those you felt truly recharged you
SOME SELF-CARE IDEAS TO GET YOU STARTED
Please note that this has been modified due to limitations on where we can go and what we can do right now
The middle means that the activities can satisfy both checking in and checking out, especially depending on what you're mindful of when engaging in those activities
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