By Adrian Fletcher, Psy.D.
What is self-care exactly? Good question right? This is a question many people struggle to answer. I have heard clients say anything from… “It’s selfish to take care of myself”…OR…. “I have to help other people then I will create time for me”… “I’ll get to it, I promise”… so herein lies the problem…we never really get to it unless we are forced too.
There is a lot more to self-care than people realize and here’s the deal— it doesn’t have to be hard, or a pain in the butt, it can be exciting, rewarding, fun and delightful. We could spend our days telling ourselves, maybe next week I will take up that hobby I’ve been dying to try, maybe in 6 months I will take a day off for me, maybe next year I will save enough to take a trip somewhere… and again my question is why not start right now? I know, I know, you’ll want to make up excuses or reasons as to why it cannot happen right now and I know, because I have been there too. I am here to remind you that you deserve to take care of yourself. When we take care of ourselves we open the door to things like…joy, gratitude, rest, play, peace, comfort, fun, and enjoyment and when we close the door on self-care we will get more of the same…fatigue, headaches, interpersonal problems, difficulty in regulating our emotions, perhaps more conflict at work, not wanting to go to work, insomnia, anxiety, depression, physical problems, pain, you get the gist…the list goes on and on and on. I wonder what it would be like if people/ you granted yourself the gift of self-care.
Brené Brown, researcher storyteller, someone I admire and gear a lot work with my clients from, talks about how we must learn to challenge perfectionism, people pleasing and performance. So many of us, whether we are a working professional, an addict in recovery and/or a trauma survivor in recovery, we are working hard, really hard! Recovery is a full-time job, our regular careers are usually full-time jobs, being a parent is a full-time job, etc..etc.. When I work with clients one of the first homework assignments I give them for the week is two self-care related activities, this can look different for each client for one it might be a pedicure and lunch with a friend, another might be to turn the electronics off in the evening/ journal and have playtime with their children. Simple every day things that get lost in the hustle and bustle of life and we lose ourselves to our careers, our relationships, sometimes even recovery, etc and when we lose ourselves we have depleted our emotional capacity to show up for who really matters, OURSELVES.
So why is it that we/so many people feel guilty taking care of ourselves?
Could be cultural, could be old family of origin messages, could be that at heart we like to give rather than to receive, for whatever the reason we/people must challenge the guilt and practice kindness and compassion and treat ourselves how we would want/do treat other people. If you buy flowers for a friend for their birthday, why not buy some flowers for yourself? If you have always wanted to visit another state, country, or town and you would encourage your friend to go, why wouldn’t you? What I am getting at here is that we must be a friend to ourselves. This can be a foreign concept for some; in fact it was for me personally for a really long-time. Growing up in an Italian family, we did everything for everyone within and outside the family. I learned early to be a self-sacrificer and in the last two years that has changed, it has changed my life so dramatically in fact that it inspired me to open my own practice which I named SelfWorks, “Create Your Best Self”.
I am truly passionate about helping people take care of themselves. It’s that old airplane analogy that so many of us therapists use…when the flight attendant says to put your oxygen mask on first before you assist others; this is the same concept regarding self-care. It is okay, to want to help people, to go above and beyond, however; you must do it from a place of a full well. If our well is depleted we are again setting ourselves up for pain, anguish, fatigue, and in the worst of cases, relapse. Relapse back to alcohol and drugs, or relapse back into our old patterns of self-negligence.
The Art of Self-Care requires willingness, courage, acceptance, and curiosity, with these components you’ll /people will likely feel a lot better about who you/they are and challenge yourself to try that new hobby, or pick up a paint brush and just see what happens. Some questions I believe people might want to ask themselves are…
Do I eat regular meals?
Do I make time to exercise?
Do I select healthier food options?
Do I participate in a fun physical activity?
Do I spend time with people I enjoy?
Do I practice SELF affirmations?
Do I allow myself to cry/feel?
Do I find things that make me laugh?
Do I stay connected with important people in my life?
Do I take day trips or mini vacations?
Do I take time to disconnect from technology?
Do I say “NO” to extra responsibilities?
Do I take time to journal/self-reflect?
Do I engage my intellect in new interests?
Have I tried a new hobby in which I am not an expert?
Do I schedule regular dates with my partner/spouse?
Do I make time to spend with my children?
Do I make time to see my friends?
Have I shared my fear/vulnerabilities with a safe person?
Do I ask for help when I need it?
Do I stay in contact with those that live out of the area?
Do I honor my pets by spending time with them?
Do I make time to check-in with relatives that are supportive of me?
Do I create time to connect with my higher power?
Do I spend time in nature?
Do I have a spiritual connection OR community?
Do I make time to meditate?
Do I contribute/volunteer my time to causes that are important to me?
Do I take a lunch break?
Do I take 2 additional 15 minute breaks?
Do I take time to connect/catch up with coworkers?
Do I balance my project/caseload?
Do I have a peer support group?
Is my workspace comfortable?
Do I set self boundaries/limits around working hours?
Do I take time to consult?
Do I make quiet time for complex tasks?
If you/people can start by picking one or two things from one area and move in the direction to create more time for you, you will find that taking care of yourself doesn’t have to be daunting and gives you an idea of what might be lacking and some direction as to where to channel your energy. As a good friend of mine says and teaches to her clients, “You deserve a life of BALANCE, now go Create it”-Shanna Larson-Paola, LMFT Owner/Founder of Creating Balance in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Honoring yourself, taking care of yourself and learning how to meet your own needs is the biggest and most incredible gift you can give yourself. There is no time like the present, my hope is that in reading this article, you have an idea of what areas in your life feel depleted and need watering. Us, our lives, and our experiences cannot grow and blossom without water. “Self-care is not about self-indulgence it is about self-preservation”-Audrey-Lorde
Dr. Fletcher specializes in PTSD/Trauma, anxiety, interpersonal relationships, personal and professional self-care and compassion. 480-448-5547, email [email protected]