In client sessions over the last few weeks I have spent quite a bit of time talking about self-care. In these unprecedented times self-care appears to have even more importance than usual. This seems to be partly because people are struggling with being out of their usual routine but in addition some of their usual self-care activities are unavailable. It is also possible that there are things you didn’t necessarily think of as self-care and you may be confused as to why you are struggling so much. As you can see below a trip to the gym or having your nails done may well be one of the ways you support your mental well being.
So, what is self-care?
Someone recently said to me that they didn’t really do self-care as they weren’t into all that deep stuff. There is a perception by some that self-care needs to involve meditation, yoga and other deep-thinking activities. This isn’t actually true. Self-care is actually described as an activity we do deliberately to take care of your mental, emotional or physical wellbeing. More importantly it is not something that we force ourselves to do or don’t enjoy. So, if you don’t enjoy yoga and meditation it wouldn’t be self-care for you.
As with many things about mental well-being, self-care is about what is right for you. Just because a friend swears by playing tennis, attending the gym, walking on a beach or gardening that doesn’t mean it will work for you. This is another thing that you need to explore, maybe try a variety of activities or think back to a time when you felt really together and mentally well, was there something you were doing at that time you no longer do? Obviously in these current times some things are not available, I’ll admit I miss a pedicure but until salons are allowed to open I need to find other ways to look after my mental wellness which leads me on to my next point.
Can self-care be more than one thing?
In my opinion, yes. I have lots of things that I would class as self-care activities. These vary from walks along beaches to having my toenails done to Pilates. Each of my activities work at different times and for different reasons. For example, I do Pilates because you need to think about what you are doing. Anyone who has done it will know you need to think about pulling in your core, moving parts of your body with control and breathing at the same time! Now to some this may not sound helpful my mind (as we said its what works for you) but for me, while I am thinking of all those things there is no room for anything else in my mind. I find I switch off the day to day chatter, no room for the daily stresses, so it works well after a full workday when I need to switch off my mind. However, when I have something that I need to work through in my mind, events or thoughts to process then Pilates will not work, walking on the beach or a lone swim would be a much better choice. So, you see self-care can be different things at different times. In case you’re wondering pedicure is a general top-up, more on that below. If you find you have tried self-care and it’s just not working, it may be that you need a different type of activity so maybe explore other activities.
Should I plan my self-care?
The short answer is yes. Self-care needs to be a conscious choice; it really needs to be in your diary just like any other appointment. Its an appointment with you. You supporting your well-being. In the long run, you being strong helps you to help others be strong. I often use the oxygen mask metaphor with clients. Always put your own mask on first, for if you die helping others with theirs you will be no use to them either. You need to be top of the list not at the bottom.
Just as food and water are the fuel for our physical energy, self-care is the fuel for our emotional energy. Ever just felt that you are emotionally drained and cannot deal with anything else. That you just need to shut down and recover. Emotionally and mentally you were at empty.
It stuck me recently that self-care is a bit like a fuel gauge on a car. You know when its on full, you can cope with life in general and things are OK. The gauge gets to half full and some things are a bit more of a challenge but there is enough in the tank to keep going. Once the gauge gets closer to quarter full you start to worry, can you do your full journey, what if the gauge isn’t as high as it appears and you run out half way. Maybe you need to top up before you reach empty and everything comes to a stop.
Try imagining your own fuel gauge and maybe also work out where your danger point is, the point where if you don’t fill up you may hit empty. Refilling from empty to full will always take longer than topping up on a regular basis. So that’s where my pedicure comes in, regular top ups ensure than we usually don’t get depleted. At times of particular stress we add in other things as well. Not to mention that emotionally working between half full and full usually means life is much easier to handle than when you are working from a place of being half empty, at the back of your mind there may be a worry that one big stress could deplete your tank.
How does counselling fit into self-care?
Counselling has been described as the ultimate in self-care. It is a whole hour just dedicated to you. Counsellors are there to help you to offload and explore what is going on in your world. We are trained to view things from your perspective, we can offer what you need whether it is just a non-judgemental listening ear or someone to offer different perspectives. It is booked in your diary at a set time and is usually at regular intervals that work for you. I do have clients who may have seen me very regularly initially and now come less often because they have recognised the value they gain from time to explore feelings and emotions. It is their regular top up.
To summarise the mains points:
~ Self-care is something we chose to do to take care of our emotional, physical and mental well-being.
~ Find activities that you enjoy and give you what you need. Its not about what works for others.
~ It is OK, and maybe better, to have different things that work at different times.
~ Plan your self-care. Put times in your diary and prioritise you. Its not indulgent its essential, you cannot pour from an empty vessel.
~ Imagine your self-care fuel gauge and keep it topped up. Regular top ups are easier than filling back up from empty.
~ Counselling is the ultimate self-care.