What is self-care?
The idea of self-care is a profound one. Unfortunately, the phrase is used so often that the meaning has become lost. Let me tell you how I've learnt to take care of myself.
Build a life you love. I am well aware that most people aren't in a position to suddenly leave their full time job to pursue a career of meditation and pyjama wearing (the pyjamas aren't mandatory I just like to work comfy). I recognise my privilege. I have always been in the fortunate position that I have parents who can support me if things get dicey. My Dad advised me not to leave the NHS and start teaching mindfulness, he said I would end up working more for less money. Turns out he was right!! - Dad, if you're reading this . . . I'm joking, he doesn't read my blog. My Dad is great at giving advice, which I largely ignore, and then supporting me anyway. I'm very lucky.
I knew my parents wouldn't let me become homeless, therefore it was relatively easy for me to throw caution to the wind and do what the hell I wanted. (I'm going to talk more about the wellbeing biz and what I've learnt in another blog post). So I changed my career in order to have more freedom. Firstly: the freedom to help other people in the way I think is most effective. Secondly: the freedom to control my own workload which is the self-care element. I love being a mental health nurse, however working on a rota that was designed by somebody else was not making me happy. The rigidity and lack of autonomy left me stressed, anxious and discontent. Now I have almost no money, I usually work at least six days a week and I have never been happier.
I came to this realisation relatively recently; my business involves helping people, in order to help people as best I can, I have to be happy and healthy. It's the best excuse for taking care of myself! Whether I take time off to go on a retreat or schedule time to see a friend, it all benefits my business, because it benefits me. Every week I organise my schedule around what I think will make me feel good and what will most help my clients. Again, I know not everyone is in the same fortunate position as me, but do give a thought for the work you're doing. Does it bring you joy? Can you make a change? Five days out of seven is a lot to be doing something that doesn't make you happy.
Spend your leisure time doing what makes you feel good. We all take breaks. Whether you're a stay-at-home parent of four catching a minute here and there, or you have few responsibilities and plenty of free time, we need to be careful of the way we spend it. If we do lots of 'relaxing' things but are often overwhelmed and anxious then perhaps we need to re-evaluate. I've made two lists of various self-care activities (see picture below). If we do lots of things in the left hand column then we may wonder why our stress levels remain high. Taking time to prioritise the self-care activities on the right-hand side can have a greater impact on our stress levels in a shorter period of time. I'm not bashing the activities in the left-hand column. Eating crisps in the bath while watching Netflix (one of my favourite things) is more immediately pleasurable than sitting down to do a mindfulness practice, however the long term benefits of the latter are far greater.
There are a few things in the right-hand column that I feel need to be expanded on. Doing exercise, especially exercise outside, is fantastic for our mental and physical health. But it's really important that we don't exercise because we dislike our bodies and have a desire to change them. If we do something as a result of disliking ourselves then it's bound to end in disaster. You cannot hate yourself into loving yourself (lots more on this in a future blog). If we build a habit from a place of self-compassion then it is far more sustainable and pleasurable.
I know that many people will read this and think, 'meditation? being creative? Reading? I don't have time for that!'. Perhaps you don't have time for that. In fact maybe you have no free time at all - in that case, I have one piece of advice for you. Download a self-help audio book (recommendations below). Then you can multi-task. I listen to audio books while I drive, clean, tidy and while working (if the work I'm doing doesn't require much concentration). Some people have a real issue with anything that describes itself as self-help. The way I look at it is, if I wanted to speak another language, I would seek to educate myself in that field, so I would read/listen to something or join a class. So if you're unhappy, discontent or stressed, why should it be any different? Learn from people who have been there and done it.
True self care isn't taking baths... it's making a choice to build a life you don't need to escape from - Brianna Wiest
Being kind: How do you talk to yourself in your head? If something goes wrong in your life, is your immediate reaction 'how could I be so stupid?', 'how did I let this happen?', 'what's wrong with me?', 'why can't I get my shit together?'. Often when challenges arise we turn on ourselves, as though anything inconvenient or painful must be our own doing. But why on earth would that be the case? Life is tough and painful and difficulties often happen randomly and without warning. When we are most in need of comfort and reassurance, we criticise and punish ourselves. This is very common. And we deserve better. I encourage my clients to think of themselves as their own best friends. Forgive your imperfections. Make peace with yourself. You are the only person you have to spend the rest of your life with.
Meditation not only saved my life at sixteen and changed the way my brain worked forever, but it continues to save me. Every day. The big and small, the personal and business decisions I make are because I practise mindfulness. It is everything to me. The place I have learnt the most about myself is Samye Ling; a Buddhist monastery where I have been on many retreats. Although the mindfulness I teach is non-religious, the Buddhist community at Samye Ling allow the mindfulness association to teach courses from there. It's a special place, created for such pure and generous reasons; with the aim of making people happy and helping them find peace.
So actually, my ultimate self-care tip is to book a retreat at Samye Ling. Enter a world of mediation and become more intimately acquainted with yourself then you ever thought was possible. But if that is not for you, then refer to my list above. And remember to be kind to yourself.
Peace is every step by Thich Nhat Hanh
Self Compassion by Kristin Neff
Body Positive Power by Megan Jayne Crabbe. I cannot recommend this book highly enough; If you have ever had issues with body-image read this NOW.
Over and out.