Understanding Me - Self Care
Self-care is the foundation stone of being healthy. Deep down we all know this, we often automatically embed it as part of saying goodbye…
‘Take care of yourself’
‘All the best’
‘Make sure you take care of yourself’
‘Look after yourself’
So why don’t we?
Perhaps because we think it doesn’t really matter, or it can wait until later. Maybe someone caused us to feel that it was selfish to spend time looking after ourselves.
Maybe we really believe that we can keep going forever with no maintenance.
Or maybe we just don’t know what to do.
If right now you feel that your self-care should be better, take notice of that feeling!
Lack of self-care leads to a higher risk of nearly all the significant health issues that we fear but instead of fearing them, we can begin to do something about it.
From the minute you start focusing on caring for yourself, you will improve your quality of life both now and in the future. And if you think that’s selfish, look at it this way - when you care for yourself you are happier, calmer, more attractive and therefore better for other people to be around!
We are all different as people, but there are some things that are fundamentally important for everyone.
Take time to yourself -
Taking time away from your duties and other people can seem like an impossible challenge sometimes. We are often pressured or expected to always be ‘on it’, working, looking after kids and dependants, daily household tasks, organising leisure activities, socialising/talking with friends and family.
It can seem as if these are the only important things in life both in terms of what you feel gives value and what you are valued for.
But for our health, this is wrong thinking! We need to keep a balance between involvement with life and taking the time to withdraw. We need to be alone with ourselves and re-group, if we don’t do this we can experience burn out.
So make it a priority to take that bit of time and find your way to relax and be alone. You might find that the first thing you need to do is simply make a plan for when you can take your ‘me’ time.
You will very quickly find that you gain back what you feared you would lose by pausing for a moment - you will discover a clearer mind and a rested body with renewed energy. The tasks that were making you feel weighed down will seem easier and less stressful. This alone time can be anything that makes you feel better.
Taking a long bath
Reading a book you really enjoy
Going for a walk
Spending time just enjoying a garden/park
Just plain sitting in a comfy chair, savouring doing nothing
Anything else that you know, deep down, fulfils this purpose
Time connecting with people and animals
Quality time with friends and family, or pets, can work wonders for your mood.
When you enjoy a game or play with a dog/cat, meet friends for a catch-up, or any activity that involves laughter, connection, or kindness, your body releases mood-boosting hormones and other body chemicals that help you both mentally and physically. It’s not only you that feels these benefits, but the people you are spending time with (and your pets!) also get the same rewarding chemicals.
Give your body a chance to move
We are talking about self-care here, so this doesn’t mean punishing routines (unless those happen to give you pleasure). Your body was made to stretch, bend, flow and step. It loves to move, and you can’t tick the self-care box unless you have enjoyable and frequent movement in your life.
Look after it with simple movements and routines. Yoga is great, or just yoga-like exercise. Simple stretches and tests of strength are just as good. If you like to move to music, find a quiet room and just move to the sounds with no-one watching. Perhaps easiest of all and among the best is walking, especially out in the fresh air. Read more about Movement
Recognise also that many people with busy lives get lots of movement just living those lives. Care for yourself by allowing that to count. If you have been rushing around all day, walking, running, bending, lifting etc there is no need to ‘do’ exercise as well - you are done and can put your self-care efforts into resting.
Eat in ways that truly feed your body
We’ll be writing lots more on food in Turtle Zone, but for now, just remember that self-care means ensuring you put into your body what cares for it and nourishes it most.
Asking your body to deal with high loads of unhealthy processed foods is not self-care.
Of course, you can treat yourself and enjoy the pleasure of intense tastes and sweetness now and again, but we all know really that self-care means a balance of protein/healthy fats/natural carbohydrates and a moderation of alcohol and sugar - Remember, diet doesn’t just mean losing weight, it doesn’t mean restricting what you eat, it doesn’t mean going without. Diet just means ‘what you eat’ and YOU are what you eat - not so much self-care as self-creation!
Create a safe and pleasant environment for yourself
We are more influenced by our environment than we might think. We all have a need for a space to call our own. If you are lucky this could be a room you can retreat to (for some it’s a shed or a greenhouse).
This isn’t always possible but perhaps there is an armchair that is your ‘space’ which you can surround with your things. Look around you in your home and try to increase the number of things that make you feel safe and uplifted when you look at them.
Objects that reflect who you are, reminders of things you’ve achieved, photographs of people and places you love, or of happy events. You might get used to these things and not really notice them, but your unconscious mind notices them and these familiar things and memory joggers help make you feel safe and that life is good.
Likewise, if you look around and there are things you are living with that depress or offend you, or irritate you, make changes to reduce their influence. Our minds are ‘triggered’ by what we see, hear, smell and touch - take control of what you want your mind to focus on.
Focus on helping other people
A sure-fire way to feel good about yourself, boost your confidence and self-esteem is to help someone else.
Giving your time to other people is the kindest thing a human can do because time is the one thing we give away forever.
If you give money away you can always earn more in the future, if you give ‘things’ away you can replace them, but you cannot have the moments of your life again... That is why we value people who freely give their time to help us so highly.
It’s not all one-way though. When we reach out to help and give to others we feel good ourselves, which is where self-care comes in. We need that good feeling to experience balance.
The good feeling actually comes from chemicals the body produces, almost like a reward for what we achieve in helping others. These chemicals include serotonin which can control how happy, calm and content we feel, and oxytocin, a hormone which makes us feel bonded, connected and loving towards others.
Physical contact, hugs and cuddles
We also produce these powerful body chemicals when we are in close physical contact with others. We have a natural need for bonding and intimacy. This can be in the context of a loving pair relationship, which may or may not be sexual, a close friendship, close connections with children/parents or a deep love for animals. When we are taking care of ourselves, this can mean making sure we have a way of cuddling up or bonding where we have this warm, pleasurable experience of physical closeness to another being.
Make sure you have something to work towards
One of the basic human needs we often forget is our need to have a sense of purpose, a feeling that we are useful and have value. Our sense of purpose (what we believe we are for, our role in life, our contribution) drives us to feel motivated. When we are motivated we achieve, and when we achieve we release mood-boosting chemicals that make us feel good.
Some people have a powerful, world-changing sense of purpose, for others, it is more focused around everyday life and being a provider or a creator. Whether you believe your mission in life is to have a huge impact or to be the go-to person for the people you love or to be an artist, gardener, model employee or whatever else, the important thing is that you know this and feel it. Quite often unhappiness stems from having lost a sense of purpose and identity. If you feel you have lost yours then it should be part of your self-care plan to set aside the time to rediscover what it is.
Talk to yourself kindly
Self-care isn’t all about what we ‘give’ ourselves. Part of it is how we are within ourselves, in our innermost self.
Sometimes people do all the right things with diet, environment, work and play but ignore the fact that they can be very unkind to themselves. They make harsh internal judgments about themselves and have an inner voice in their head that is critical and unforgiving.
Listen in to how you think about yourself. If you notice thoughts running in the background like: ‘I’m no good at’... or ’You stupid idiot’... or ‘You are too fat/ugly/greedy…’ or ‘I am not as good at...‘ try to divert those thoughts into kinder more positive things to say to yourself.
You might think these thoughts don’t matter, or that they are ‘just you’, but the fact is that these types of thoughts, which are often secret and therefore go unchallenged, are an incredibly powerful influence on how we feel, what we achieve, and ultimately who we are.
Finally, do something! If this has made you feel that perhaps self-care should be higher up your priority list, then resolve to take one small action now. It’s easy to put it off until another day but YOU, your precious, unique self deserves better than that.