Self-care is essential
With all of the havoc wreaked on our lives by this pandemic, many are finding that they are experiencing symptoms such as frequent fatigue, irritability, loss of motivation, and difficulty concentrating, amongst other things. There is good reason for this too – our brains and bodies are overwhelmed. We covered the mechanics of this response a bit in last week’s post, but it’s really important to normalize these responses and understand why this is happening. Basically, the ongoing levels of stress and anxiety keep us in a state of hypervigilance because our brains register this as a constant threat. This is part of why it is difficult to stay focused on school or work tasks because your brain is also on alert for danger. Even if you’re safely in your home. Being in this state takes more energy, and this is part of why people are feeling exhausted – even if they are less active than they previously were. And this can make folks naturally kind of irritable. All of this is to be expected.
Now, nature is pretty brilliant and our bodies are designed to protect us. (Whether or not we listen to them is another story!) Some of the sluggishness, the loss of motivation, the desire to sleep more….is a protective measure. During times of stress, our nervous systems need to be able to reset to baseline/non-stress levels, and if we ignore this need long enough, our body starts to respond by trying to force you to relax. While this may be irritating when there are goals and tasks to accomplish, it is still a pretty neat safety mechanism. This is also where self-care becomes critical, and has been arguably overlooked for too long if you are at the point that your body is trying to force you to slow down and relax.
Have you heard of the term “self-care” before now? It’s okay if you haven’t, many people have no frame of reference for this term. If you have ever spoken with a counselor though, there’s a good chance you’ve been asked about what activities you do for self-care. Often when I ask people this, the response is either “what’s that?” or something along the lines of “does cleaning my house count?” Self-care is basically what we do that is relaxing and enjoyable, things we do for fun, and what we do to relieve stress. But it is so much more than that as well! And no, cleaning your house does not count as a self-care activity although it is still an important task to do regularly.
Self-care is such an integral aspect of our overall wellness and yet so often neglected, in part because of our hurried lifestyles and focus on productivity. I tend to encourage people to spend a small amount of time each day – around 20 minutes is fine – doing something that is just for themselves. Additionally, doing a larger activity at least once monthly is vital as well. However, I cannot stress this enough – self care is not another task! Some people choose to schedule in self-care time and that is fine, but it should not be viewed as another box to check off on a to-do list. Self-care can be as simple as turning off the constant stream of news which is incessantly filling our feeds and adding to the sense of anxiety and overwhelm. It can be reading a good book in a bubble bath at the end of the day (cliché I know…but this genuinely helps to relax the muscles and the nervous system!). Ensuring that you have regular time for exercise is another option. Even taking a break to have a fun family game night and spend some time laughing. Self-care is something that you enjoy that is neither work nor tasks nor other obligations, which makes you feel more rejuvenated. That’s really key.
There are several aspects to self-care though, it isn’t just the physical aspect of it. There is emotional self-care, which often looks like setting healthy boundaries with people and being gentle with the words said to and expectations placed upon yourself and others. Psychological self-care can look like scheduling therapy appointments, but it can also be journalling or reading self-help books on something you feel will improve your life. Spirituality is another important aspect, and this does not only include faith or religion. Activities such as being nature or practicing meditation fall under this category as well. One aspect that people sometimes forget to consider is professional and financial self-care. This looks like having realistic expectations of what you are able to handle and ensuring that you do not take on too many projects at once, asking for help when needed, and spending money judiciously or setting aside some savings if possible.
Of course, there is a visual tool to help decide what activities might be beneficial for you. Take a look at this wheel (sometimes I think we have visual wheels for everything!) created by Olga Phoenix and see if anything here resonates with you.
Now that you have a few ideas to get started, take a blank sheet of paper and draw your own wheel with activities that you enjoy. You can also print a blank version of the above wheel from here. This can be an excellent activity for kids too! It is so important to learn how to engage in self-care, because it really is a life skill. Self-care is should be a regular part of your daily life, not a sporadic event that occurs when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Regular self-care helps to prevent feeling overwhelmed. In our modern society, there is such a focus on productivity and meeting goals and always accomplishing another task, that there is little room to focus on caring for ourselves. It’s exhausting! There is also an unfortunate tendency to view relaxation as lazy or entitled, which is really unfortunate because life quite frankly is not just about an accumulation of goals. When viewed from this achievement perspective which has been socialized into us from a very young age, starting regular self-care activities can feel selfish, so I encourage you to spend some time in reflection if you have these feelings arise. Be mindful to remember that these activities are necessary for your overall health and wellness, and there is nothing selfish about ensuring you are well.
Taking time to prioritize yourself ensures that you are able to manage the difficult things that life throws your way, reduces feelings or resentment for the tasks which you do have to complete, and leads to a generally happier version of you! It can also reduce the risk of turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as substance use to try to cope with feeling overwhelmed, so there is a bit of a safety aspect to self-care as well. Incorporating regular self-care into your life can help reduce anxiety, improve mood, aide with more restful sleep, and increase feelings of fulfillment. Self-care is an essential part of life! So, what will you do for yourself today?