Do you get fatigued by all the trite talk about self-care?
I know I do.
But let’s not chuck out the baby with the bubble bathwater.
It’s easy to get lost in work and responsibilities, and to get bone tired.
Self-care is a way to reconnect with yourself by doing restorative things that feed your mental, emotional and physical wellbeing.
Life coaching isn't all about goal setting and accountability. Or it shouldn't be.
When life coaching is most effective it helps you connect to who you are and what you want.
Which means that self-care is an excellent tool in a life coach's arsenal. Self-care re-connects you with who you are and what you love.
What is Self Care and Why Should I do it?
I want to lay this out in concrete terms, because very often media messages oversimplify important tools.
I first learned about self-care when I was having intensive therapy. I was talking to my therapist about what I did to show myself kindness and compassion. There wasn't much to be honest.
My husband was working away from home every week, and while he was gone I sort of put myself on hold.
I worked. Of course. But I wouldn't light the log burner because it seemed wasteful to do that just for me. I wasn't cooking for myself, because what would be the point? I saw friends out of obligation not desire. I went through the motions of life.
I was neglecting my wellbeing in important ways.
The point of self-care was to nurture and care for myself the same way I would nurture and care for other people.
What I learned about self-care is that it is a conscious gift to yourself that helps you connect to the things that you love, and it is as much an attitude as an action. It's not a one-off grand gesture, but daily consideration that you deserve a bit of tlc too.
The by-product is improved self-worth, better coping strategies, and greater enjoyment of life.
When as a coach I recommend self-care it isn’t something else for a client to add to a to do list, it’s not a luxury that only some people can afford, it’s about developing a self-compassionate mindset. It’s a tool. Not a magic bullet.
In my all-time-favourite TV series Twin Peaks, Agent Cooper tells Sheriff Truman “Harry, I'm going to let you in on a little secret: Every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don't plan it, don't wait for it, just let it happen. It could be a new shirt in a men's store, a cat nap in your office chair, or two cups of good, hot, black coffee”.
So, you see, self-care is not about lemon water, or healthy habits, or improving your mind. Self-care is about having the mindset that you are worthy of a present every single day. And amongst the busy, and the doing, and the hustle there are always five minutes to give yourself a present.
Practice self-care. It’s more than bubble baths. But if bubble baths help you with coping, stress reduction, making decisions, and enjoying life, then it’s all good.
If you are like me, periods of stress are when self-care takes a back seat.
Ironic, since this is also when you need it most.
To counter this tendency, have a plan.
When you are stressed you might have to be more regimental and strategic. Keep a list handy with suggestions for activities that take different lengths of time, and support you in different ways, that you can use as a pic’n’mix.
Start responding to feelings of distress, low mood, unease, boredom with self-caring activities rather than self-criticism.
Get into the habit of supporting your wellbeing through self-care when you feel good. This will help you to build your coping skills, and to be less prone to things like burnout in the first place.
Findings suggest that self-care is most effective when practiced proactively, as a pre-emptive measure aimed at reducing stress and thereby avoiding the progression to negative outcomes such as burnout and enhancing good outcomes such as life satisfaction. Rupert, P. A., & Dorociak, K. E. (2019)
Figure out what makes you feel nurtured, rather than going off what works for someone else.
Keep it simple: it’s much easier to do what’s good for you if it doesn’t require extensive planning or set up. And if it’s free, all the better. We’re not talking spa weekends, or completing a triathlon. We’re talking about savouring an apple, reading a couple of pages of a book, dancing to your favourite song, singing, texting a friend.
August is my toughest month
Now that I am double vaxxed, it’s nice to finally start doing things where there are other people. Last week Steve and I left captivity and did things in the wild for only the third time since the start of the first UK lockdown.
Being in the wild involved visiting a garden, and going to a farmer’s market, so not all that wild. But very much welcome.
My focus has been on work for months, and I haven’t been doing a lot of the things that help me to feel positive and confident.
On top of that August is a hard month for me full of difficult and upsetting anniversaries of hard life events.
I have a tendency to think that because these things are in the past now, I shouldn’t be so affected by them. Which is obviously wishful thinking. I can be quite dismissive. If they were part of someone else’s story, I would be beyond sympathetic, but I can fail to offer myself the same kindness.
Many of us tend to dismiss our own needs to some extent, while being excellent at taking care of the needs of others.
Anniversaries are notorious for bringing up feelings and memories associated with grief. And I haven’t been mindful enough of supporting myself this month. So I had to take a step back, start to make the load feel lighter, and buoy my mood.
Just as I was starting to feel overwhelmed and sad, I caught myself, and decided to up my self-care game.
Self-care is very personal and should respond to what makes you feel valued and valuable.
If you want to build a self-care habit, there are some key areas in which you should focus your energy. In 2018 psychology researchers Ayala, E. E., & Almond, A. L. carried out a self-care mapping exercise that identified the following clusters of self-care activities: physical wellness, relaxation and stress management, hobbies, interpersonal relations, self-compassion, and outdoor recreation.
Try mind mapping possible activities in each self care category. And pick one off the list once a day.
This article from Very Well Mind here also provides good insight and suggestions.
My self-care activities this month
In case it helps to see how someone else goes about it here’s what I’ve done this month.
When my work days are shorter I am much more inclined to enjoy time in the kitchen. At the market I bought some exciting culinary ingredients like wild mushrooms, kimchi, and fresh crab. So I’ve been getting creative, and cooking for fun rather than for function.
Obviously the pandemic has had a pretty profound effect on social interactions so I enjoyed the casual chats with stall holders. The mushroom woman who told me how to pronounce “eryngi”, but said that “the big buggers” was easier to remember. The candle lady I’d met ages ago at a Manchester market whose card I’d kept for almost two years. The delightful and smiley woman that makes kimchi who I’ve been following on Instagram for a while and was the catalyst for the market visit. And can we just take a moment to meditate on kimchi – is there any better food? (the answer must surely be no!).
I read a book on my PhD topic (the relationship between Luck, Justice and Responsibility in case you’re interested). Occupying my brain in a different way was like a warm hug from an old friend. I felt so excited to revisit philosophical thinking. And I was relieved that I have not forgotten how!
I researched places to go and things to do in Staffordshire. I’m on a mission to get to know my new home-town. Because let’s face it. I’ve moved. I (almost) live here now! So Project Staffordshire is under-way. I’m going to embrace what the county has to offer. There’s so much beautiful landscape here, gorgeous country pubs, walks, and nature reserves. I’ve made a list and have my binoculars at the ready (fellow bird-watchers, I see you!).
Finally, colouring. Such a cliché. But it's very soothing.
And yes, I’ve had some baths. Because is there anything so glorious as a long bath with a good book? I’ll challenge anyone with the nerve to say not to a duel!
So if you are in desperate need of a break, remember that self-care is about restoring your sense of self, clearing away the cobwebs, and showing yourself the consideration you’d show to others. It’s not merely a hackneyed social media slogan.
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Ayala, E. E., & Almond, A. L. (2018). Self-care of women enrolled in health service psychology programs: A concept mapping approach. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 49(3), 177–184.
Rupert, P. A., & Dorociak, K. E. (2019). Self-care, stress, and well-being among practicing psychologists. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 50(5), 343–350. https://doi.org/10.1037/pro0000251
Zahniser, Evan,Rupert, Patricia A.,Dorociak, Katherine E. Self-care in clinical psychology graduate training. Training and Education in Professional Psychology, Vol 11(4), Nov 2017, 283-289