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Self-Care - what does it even mean?

"Self-Care" has become a bit of a trendy "catch phrase" in recent years, but often individuals aren't entirely sure what exactly "self-care" even means. It's a pretty broad-sweeping term and can be confusing since there's so many ideas out there about what it is, and most of them have at least some truth to it. Let's explore this concept further...

What feedback I've heard from others is that self-care feels like a luxury, that it is associated with spa treatments, pedicures, and mimosas. That it's a privilege awarded to those with time and money.

Sometimes people connect self-care to journaling and lighting candles, meditating and yoga retreats, which also sometimes isn't the right fit for individuals. (Surprising to some, journaling isn't for everyone!)

Regardless, the biggest thing I hear in response to the question "what are you doing for self-care?" is "Who has time/money for that kind of thing??"

Yes, spa treatments, shopping sprees and the "treat yo' self!" mentality can be awesome! And for those who enjoy processing through writing, that's excellent! If meditation or yoga is helpful for you, by all means keep doing it! AND that's not all that self-care is or can be. Like many things in our world, self-care is unique to each individual. What self-care looks like for one person often isn't how it looks for another. It can take up lots of time, or just a couple minutes. It can be incredibly expensive, or free of charge. And sure, there are a million reasons that we may not feel like we can engage in self-care - parenting, long work hours, exhaustion, maintaining your home or other responsibilities. But you might be surprised by how much actually fits into the self-care umbrella...

I frequently talk with clients about self-care as being a spectrum, starting with very basic, baseline, fundamental human needs, going all the way up to the grandiose self-spoiling type of care. And so much in between!

In the dictionary, "self care" is defined as:

noun 1. the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one's own health. 2. the practice of taking an active role in protecting one's own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress. Oxford

When we pair it down, self-care can be as basic as eating enough, getting enough sleep, having enough water to drink during the day, personal hygiene like taking a shower or brushing teeth, exercising, taking medicine, scheduling and attending a healthcare appointment (doctor, dentist, optometrist, therapist...). When we are grieving, in a state of trauma, have high stress levels, or are experiencing other distresses, it can be really easy to forget some of these fundamentals for our basic needs. If these baseline needs aren't met, it can make us feel scattered, "catty wompus", insecure, and often more irritable. ("Hangry" is a real thing!)

Take a moment to reflect on your basic needs. Are there things that you are consistently doing for yourself to take care of your fundamental needs? Are there things that you would like to start doing more consistently? What would help? Give it a moment of non-judgmental pondering...



(remember, try to be nonjudgmental in your pondering... put the "Negative Nancy Inner Critic" away for this exercise...)





And we're back! Good pondering!

Another layer of self-care has to do with safety and security. Feeling safe in your home, job, community. Feeling like you have enough resources to sustain yourself and your loved ones. Sitting down and doing your finances may not feel like self-care, but it's definitely part of caring for ourselves. "Adulting" is hard! AND there's self-care in taking care of those "adult" things.

Thanks "Parks and Rec": Good balance in self-care Andy!

Sometimes safety is as simple as checking that the deadbolt is locked on the front door before heading to bed at night or buckling your seat belt when you get in a car. For some, safety is in sobriety or attending a church service, or the comfort of having routine. Right now many feel safer abiding by the current "stay at home" orders and wearing masks when outside. Safety can come in a safe place, or being around safe people, or doing activities that emotionally make us feel calm and subsequently safe.

I've been told that sometimes when people say "just breathe" it can feel irritating. Scientifically speaking, taking a deep breath actually tells our nervous system that we are okay. (Don't believe it? Go ahead and give it a little Google search!) So sometimes even just taking deep, steady breaths, believe it or not, is all we need to feel safer when we're feeling an escalation of anxiety or stress. (But if you're feeling irritated by someone saying it, maybe taking some space from them before going and breathing will be better for you?)

Some individuals struggle with safety and security due to job loss/unemployment, homelessness or limited resources, or things like living with someone who threatens their sense of safety or the death of someone who made them feel safer. Right now there is a lot of fear and anxiety in our world due to COVID-19 that can make us questions our safety/the safety of our world. I bet even if you haven't been feeling it personally you've at least experienced the impact of the anxiety of others (like that strange eerie feeling when going into a grocery store these days, seeing lots of shelves that are still empty and people panic buying food and supplies for example).

Many things can affect our feelings of safety and security, and self-care within this category is highly important. Take a moment to reflect on this category: What makes you feel safe? And what can you do for your safety and security right now?

Part of our human needs as social creatures include a sense of belonging, having intimate relationships and friendships that are meaningful and supportive. Self-care can include connecting with those loved ones in our lives. Self-care can include honoring the memory of a loved one who has died. Self-care can be connecting with others in a support group setting, being with others who understand your situation in a specific way as peers. Some people find comfort and soothing in writing letters or phone calls. Others find social media, taking and sharing pictures, and other correspondence to be what keeps them attached and connected to their support systems. In the current time of COVID-19 and social-distancing, many of us are experiencing difficulty with feeling connected. The novelty of virtual get-togethers has seemed to wear off a bit... but we are all trying our best. The sense of belonging and connection is important, and can be a big part of self-care as well.

Reflect on your relationships: Who are the people in your life right now who are supportive to you? What are ways you can connect with them right now? Equally important, are there people in your life that you need space from? Are there healthy ways to get some distance?

Our emotional needs are also significant in providing care for ourselves, and we don't always know what to do about our feelings, especially those feelings that seem unstable, scary or overwhelming. Being able to identify what you are feeling and what your emotional needs are can be a huge help to knowing what kind of care you need, from yourself or others. Who is safe to express your emotions to? Do you have a safe way to express frustration and anger? Do you have the option to cry and release when you need to?

Emotions need release and recognition, and knowing what best cares for

your emotions is helpful.

Sometimes our typical ways of tending to our emotional needs are dampened, so we have to think of alternative ways to meet the same need. If you can't cry openly in a specific environment, is there a way to excuse yourself to a private space to cry? If you can't scream, do you have a piece of paper you can rip up, pen and paper to scribble onto aggressively, or someone safe to vent to? If your therapist is out of the office to express panic to, can you call or text the crisis line (Colorado Crisis Services for example) to get some support?

Think about your emotional needs right now. Where are you emotionally? Is there anything coming up for you? Does that emotion need some action/movement/release/processing?

Sometimes a sense of accomplishment can give us just the boost we need. Self-care can come from crossing something off our good ol' "to-do" list! It can feel empowering to get things done, and to acknowledge those accomplishments (even if they seem "small"). This can help bolster our self-esteem and give us a feeling of satisfaction. Similarly engaging in volunteer work can make us feel good. Setting a goal, even something "small", can help us connect with motivation. Take a moment to think about what you've done today, what things have you crossed off the list? Give yourself a high-five!

And then there are the "luxury" care items... and these range in expense, energy, time - ultimately they can get as big, time-consuming and lavish as you may want, or small, simple and intimate. Spa treatments, manicures, trips to the beach, massages, hot springs... Or doing it at home like painting your own nails, taking a long bath or shower, getting a back rub from your partner, lighting candles, running a diffuser with essential oils. All these options offer rest and relaxation; some cost more money and take more time and some really don't. Sometimes self-care is making your favorite meal, treating yourself to ice cream, snuggling with a pet, re-reading your favorite book, listening to your favorite music or podcast, going to the mountains for a hike or spending some time on your patio/in your yard to enjoy the fresh air. Self-care can be "Netflix and Chill," or it can be training for a marathon - or a little of both!

This is the category that gets very individualized. One of the most helpful things with self-care is to get in-tune with what we need in the moment. If we don't have our fundamental needs met, it can be harder for other types of self-care to come into play... For example it is much harder to enjoy a fun painting class when you are starving, and it's hard to focus on quality time with your partner when you are exhausted from not getting enough sleep. If you throw all of your savings into a lavish trip, it might be more stressful than relaxing. Self-care is about balancing your collective needs.

What do you have the time, money and energy for? What suits your needs best right now (regardless of "stay at home" orders/COVID-19)? What might be a good thing to put on the calendar to look forward to? What fits into your daily routine vs what's something that can be a special weekend treat?

What would be something caring that you can do for yourself right now?

Having trouble with your self-care needs? Let me know if I can help you sort through it. I am happy to help in any way I can!

Picture taken by Allison Gary
Mt Falcon Park - a self-care jaunt a few years ago. Cheers!

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