Self-Care

When we hear ‘self-care’ we may think of a bubble bath and chocolates.
But real self-care is a practice.

Self-care can be much more than just a treat you give yourself now and then. This section is going to help you build that practice.

Breaking the Cycle

Life is full of struggles: pain, boredom, an aching back, relationship drama…the list goes on.

We often tend to those struggles with band-aids. ‘Self-care’ in popular culture is a band-aid that’s currently trending.

Discomfort visits again, we ‘do’ another self-care activity, offering momentary relief, and the cycle continues. Some of these activities, like a pedicure, may work so well that it actually distracts us from trying to fix a problem long-term.

“It means being the hero of your life, not the victim. It means rewiring what you have until your everyday life isn’t something you need therapy to recover from. It is no longer choosing a life that looks good over a life that feels good. It is giving the hell up on some goals so you can care about others. It is being honest even if that means you aren’t universally liked. It is meeting your own needs so you aren’t anxious and dependent on other people.” – from Brianna Wiest’s article on Thought Catalog

Our suffering is not a way for us to earn treats. It is a call to learn, to act with more acuity and wisdom, and to grow in our capacity to care for ourselves.

We will address Self-Care from a variety of angles, covering a range of techniques. Self-Care is as diverse as is suffering, and there are many ways to talk about its usage. 

As we go forward, one of the keys to remember is that self-care is a skill. You can build habits that will mean greater happiness as you face suffering in the future.

The House

Picture a lovely house.

This house has a  Meditation room, Massage room, Music room, and awesome Bedroom, a chef-grade Kitchen, Theater, media room, Game room, Library, Exercise room – yoga, weights, cardio, flexibility, agility, speed, stamina…
Imagine that this house has nothing wrong with it. In all of its awesomeness, it is immaculate.

Now, this house is built on top of an earthquake fault line.  It may be that you experience no tremors or earthquakes all your life.  Probably, you get tremors from time to time – maybe even in the 5 range on the Richter Scale.   

The Metaphor

Think of the house as a symbol of your external experiences. “You” are not the house. The house is what’s all around you: your physical health, your past, your environment.

You” are a person in this house. The elements/parts/things in the house are experiences.

The fault line is experiences that can disturb you – a new baby, a failing grade, an ended relationship, a lost job, a death, a difficult conversation, financial challenges or ruin, illness in family/yourself, . . . something you don’t want.
You can liken the Richter Scale to the Life Stressor Scale.

When an “earthquake” occurs, you may have limited access to the rooms in your house, and, perhaps no access.  That limitation may last minutes, hours, days, weeks…

Rolling/successive quakes are also common. These are financial challenge, an ill child, an elderly parent living with you, or vanishing vacation dreams.

Say Yes

There was a monk along the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage. He was up at 5am and bed at 10pm, 7 days a week, for years on end.  The monk was caring for the sick and destitute.  One day, a pilgrim asked him how he was so peaceful and joyous after such a schedule for so long. The monk cheerily replied, “Easy!”  “I say yes to everything.  That’s it.”

(Note, saying yes does NOT mean being a Martyr, or “Everybody’s Best Friend.”  See Clean Communication

So What?

Here’s the take-away:
You don’t need the house to be a certain way have happiness, contentment, joy, harmony, fulfillment, presence…

Yes, the house is fantastic. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the house, anything in it, or your use of any of it.

And, the house is not NECESSARY. The house isn’t what makes you.

Is it possible to live like this? Yes.

That yes is critical.  When you know it is possible, and believe that you can exist happily without the house, you buy a freedom that is priceless.  With a “No,” you’ll have an eye looking for something outside yourself, perhaps time in the house, to save you.  

Check with anyone that has known the freedom of “Yes” and ask them if they’d ever give it up.

The Hole

“The hole” is when you’re stuck and/or struggling, your perspective on your situation is limited, as it seems are your possibilities. You’re in Reactive Brain

How to Get Out of the Hole?
The answer is easy to give, and a life-long practice: take 100% Responsibility.
In short, 100% Responsibility is when we take radical ownership over our perspective, taking full power over subjective experience. It is a mindful practice. Learn more about it here:

The Following poem, Portial Nelson’s “There’s a Hole in my Sidewalk: the Romance of Self-Discovery,” paints an important picture:

I.

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in. I am lost. I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

II.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I still don’t see it. I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place.
It isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

III.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it there, I still fall in.
It’s habit. It’s my fault. I know where I am.
I get out immediately.

IV.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

V.

I walk down a different street.

Sound familiar? Habits are a powerful thing.
We visit the same holes over and over, and we often stay and dig them deeper and deeper.

Stop Digging

Remember, not everyone has the same hole – that’s how you know the hole is yours.
No one put you in the hole.

Stop digging (Reactive Brain); that’s how this hole was created. That’s how this hole gets deeper.

You can “walk down another street” or fill the hole.

Often, it’s fear that keeps us in our holes.
And, often, fear takes the form of comfort, begging us to stay where things are easy, far away from where we learn.
We have a dedicated section to tackling fear and living outside of our comfort zone here.

Asking for Help

We’re all for self-reliance. And, in the many challenges of life, we all fail, fall short, and struggle with ourselves.

So, although you know you can get out of it yourself, sometimes it’s wise to ask for help to do so.There is nothing wrong with that.

Maybe you want some time in your House.

Remember, there are times when external help is not available.  When you strengthen the muscle of helping yourself, you’re far more fit to help yourself out of the hole as well.

Mindfulness. Acceptance. Presence.

One of the most common taglines in modern neuroscience is “What fires together wires together.”
What you resist, persists. Stress begets stress.

And while ‘stress’ in the sense of ‘negative’ stimuli can be good thing, especially in the context of challenge and flow, it also offers an invitation to building resilience and awareness.

“Stress and pain are nearly unavoidable in our daily lives; they are part of the human condition. This stress can often leave us feeling irritable, tense, overwhelmed, and burned-out. The key to maintaining balance is responding to stress not with frustration and self-criticism, but with mindful, nonjudgmental awareness of our bodies and minds. Impossible? Actually, it’s easier than it seems.” – An intro to the MBSR Workbook

To not react to stress so often and easily is a skill, and improving it can have beneficial effects one’s mental and physical health.

Stress = Pain times Resistance, squared.

Every moment holds capacity for peace, compassion, forgiveness.
How is wellness being tied into what you’re doing?

We have several sections devoted to helping you master the moments. Give them a read and see how your life changes.

Time is Finite

The Jar represent a day, which contains 24 hours of finite time.
Know what fits in YOUR jar, and what doesn’t.
If something doesn’t fit, you have a few options:

  1. Re-arrange the pieces
  2. Get rid of some elements
  3. Get support in being able to fit the items in your jar yourself.

The Big Rocks

Put them in the jar first, otherwise they don’t fit later.

  • Sleep
  • Work
  • Long-term goals

The Pebbles 

  • “Necessary” tasks.
  • Chores
  • Administrative life tasks

The Sand

All the extra stuff – Can be smoothing

  • Emails
  • Phone calls
  • Conversations
  • Solo time

The Sand

All the extra stuff – Can also be abrasive

  • Your mind is running
  • Partying
  • “Just” Hanging out

“Time is a created thing.To say ‘I don’t have time,’ is like saying, ‘I don’t want to.’” – Lao Tzu

“Time is a gift, given to you, given to give you the time you need, the time you need to have the time of your life.” – Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth

“I don’t understand people who say they need more “Me Time.” What other time is there? Do these people spend part of their day in someone else’s body?” – Jarod Kintz

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

“Time is a game played beautifully by children.” – Heraclitus, Fragments

On “Work/Life Balance”

“Balance” can be a very unfortunate concept, with how it’s used in our public lexicon; especially “Work/Life Balance.”
There is only one life, with all the activities within it. The healthiest way to live that life is to be the same person in all of the settings, because you are only one person after all.
We’re at our best when we can show up the same way, as the same person, for our employer, our children, our spouses, ourselves, and our family, and not bite the apple in thinking it’s a balancing act. 

“Wellbeing” is standing with both feet on the ground in one place and as one person.
In terms of time in a day, we can apply ‘balance’ as the kinds of things we want in the jar.

Self-Compassion

A good friend of your comes to you crying. They’ve made a mistake. Maybe they failed at something important to them. What do you do? What kind of advice do you share? How do you treat them?
Now, answer this: as you make mistakes, deal with loss, and face life’s challenges, do you treat yourself the same way?

What if you started to treat yourself like you treat a good friend?

We have a helpful section devoted to self-compassion within our chapter on Self Love. Please go check it out if you feel Self-Care has been a growth area for you so far.

Some Physical Tips

These simple tips can change your life. Foster these habits one day at a time, and you will see improvement in almost all areas of your life.

As you read through them, remember: The Jar = The “What” — The House / Hole / Present Moment = “How” you’re holding the “What”

  • Breathe – Breath with a full belly. Practice awareness while you breathe. Be mindful. Be present.
  • Eat – Fruits, veggies, avoid all sugar, eat to 80% full, get healthy proteins, and drink lots of water
  • Move – Get 15000 steps a day and some cardio.
  • Sleep – Most healthy adults need 7-9 hours of sleep/night for optimal health. See this article for more.

We have a page going into more detail on this and other aspects of health in our Adulting section of the site. Check it out:

“While many corporations assume that younger workers have more energy, and are therefore more productive, more people under the age of 45 (43 percent) say they are exhausted at work than those over 45 (35 percent). The least exhausted workers are those over 60.” – Harvard Business Review

Exercises

Each of these exercises are easy to do. They won’t require equipment or expertise, and can be done in just a few minutes.

They will each incorporate body, breath, and mind. When you finish them, you feel better.

Do your best to create these as habits. Not intended as ‘band-aids,’ these exercises will help you naturally become more familiar with what feels nourishing for you. As you do them, you will learn how to be more caring, both as a person and toward yourself, and your self-care practice will grow.

Loving-Kindness

Sit quietly and close your eyes. Take a moment to breathe and listen. Notice what you hear. Notice your bodily sensations. Try not to qualify or judge any of them. Just notice.

Now, say each of these expressions to yourself:

May I be happy.
May I be healthy.
May I be safe.
May I live with ease.

Repeat these mantras at least 5 times. Let the good intention, care, and peace wash over you. Feel the energy and positive transformation from the inside out.
Again, notice what is coming to mind as you recite these. Whatever you notice is welcomed as a curious, acceptable thing.

Focused Breath

This is for getting out of your head and into your body.
Sitting or standing, pretty much any time, close your eyes and tune in to your breath. What do you notice?

Slowly begin to lengthen your inhalation and exhalation, bit by bit for 10-20 breathes. As you do so, imagine all of the pieces of your mind, your worries for the day, your stresses of the last week or month, gathering around the edges of your nostrils. Each inhale gathers these pieces of your mind. Each exhale blows them away, letting them peacefully pass, as all things, into the air.

We have a practical approach to breathing practice in our chapter on Presence. You check that out with the button below.

Gratitude Stretching

Do you have a practice that involves stretching? Yoga? Even if it’s a stretching warmup you like to do before physical activity, it will work.

Do you typical stretching practice, with big, relaxed breaths as you stretch. As you feel the muscles that are being stretched, bring all of your attention there. Welcome the tingling feeling, and as you do so, welcome gratitude. Let the little sensations remind you of the gift of life.

Use this area of stretching as a nucleus to scan your body. Radiating out from where you feel the stretch, notice other parts of your body, welcoming gratitude over the possession of a physical body, full of nerves, depth, and experience. What a vast, complex machine you live in. There is so much about it for which to be thankful.

More Tips

The following 30 tips are from Paula Bellostas Muguerza’s article “From Burnout to Balance” on Huffington Post.

Eat Well

  1. Start your day off right: eat a balanced breakfast high in complex carbs, fibre, protein and good fats
  2. Be careful with stimulants: don’t rely on too much coffee to keep you going
  3. Carry a water bottle with you: drinking 2l per day will keep you hydrated and you may need less coffee
  4. Cut the cr*p: decrease (or eliminate if you can handle it!) packaged and refined foods
  5. Eat out the smart way: check the menu ahead and look for protein and greens based dishes
  6. Step away from the Sauv: limit alcohol intake or if you’re brave, stop drinking altogether!
  7. Carry healthy snacks with you: this will help you avoid the vending machine!
  8. Watch how much and when you eat: don’t overeat and avoid eating late
  9. Green up your plate: load up on fruit and veg – 10 portions a day is the latest advice
  10. Supplement your diet: chances are you’re not getting everything you need

Move Well

  1. Turn your commute into a workout: run, cycle or get off a stop early and ALWAYS take the stairs
  2. Sneak in a lunch break workout: loads of gyms do 30’ sessions now or just walk to a Pret that is a little bit further out!
  3. Work out at work: sounds stupid but you can run some of your meetings while walking outside or even do 4-5 squats every time you hit the toilet cubicle! And use the stand-up desk every once in a while if there is one
  4. Build the weights in: this is when a PT can make all the difference. Aerobic exercise is great but research shows that weight training improves bone density and brain performance, decreases body fat and increases the strength of connective tissue, muscles and tendons which leads to improved motor performance and decreased injury risk. Hit the squat rack and think of the #gains
  5. Make it a date: if you’re accountable to a gym buddy you are over 50% more likely to go if you struggle with motivation
  6. Listen to your body: if you are stressed and frazzled a HIIT class may just add to your adrenal overload so hit the mat for some yoga or go for a gentle run. Similarly, if you’re feeling sluggish something more intense may get you re-energised

Rest Well

  1. Find your optimum and stick to it: it’s 8h for some and 4h for others but whatever it is, try and stick to it including at the weekend. Binge sleeping doesn’t work!
  2. Practice sleep hygiene: try to go to bed and wake up at the same time, avoid screens 1h before bedtime and have a little bedtime ritual – our brains love routine so they will make connections between what you do and feeling sleepy
  3. Help yourself wind down: avoid caffeine in the afternoon and don’t do stressful work just before bedtime
    Recovery is not just about sleep though! Make sure that you’re also recharging in other ways:
  4. Don’t skip holiday: no matter how busy you are, take time out. Benefits of holiday like reduced stress levels and improved mood have been proven to last for 5 weeks after you return – that’s more than your holiday pics will stay at the top of your friends’ Insta feeds!
  5. Take breaks: research shows that taking 2×2 min breaks every working hour will keep you more focused and productive and less frazzled by the end of the day

Think Well

  1. Meditate: proven to have positive effects on all sorts of things from blood pressure to fertility, with just 10 minutes of sitting and watching your breath you can go a long way in reducing the overwhelm for your poor mind
  2. Practice acceptance & compassion: you’re not perfect so don’t set unrealistic expectations for yourself and then proceed to beat yourself up!
  3. Set boundaries: learn to say no and to explain what is and isn’t ok – don’t become everyone’s saviour!
  4. Plan, plan & plan: look ahead at the week and identify those ‘crunch’ moments and see if you can do anything to deal with them ahead of time

Bringing It All Together

It can be quite daunting to make changes to your life to achieve balance. So much advice out there and so many things to potentially modify in your day to day. My advice to you is to keep it simple and go little by little until you find something that works for you:

  1. Pick 2-3 goals: don’t go for a major overhaul, find a few things you’d like to change and write some goals down. Be specific (statements like ‘I want to be more balanced’ won’t cut it) and write down why you want to achieve this. If you have an emotional connection with a goal, you’re more likely to achieve it
  2. Find a buddy: if you’re accountable to someone, you double your chances of sticking to your goal
  3. Be patient and kind to yourself: it takes anything between 28 to 60 days to form a new habit so you will mess up along the way but do not beat yourself up – guilt and negative self-talk is not the fuel for sustainable change
  4. Have a blow out once in a while: you’re not Gwyneth Paltrow!!!
  5. Laugh along the way: humour will help you A LOT while you’re trying to make changes. Laugh at yourself and the ridiculousness of having spinach at breakfast, doing squats in the toilet and whatever other ridiculous things you’ll get up to and the journey to balance will be easier!

Resources

Now go check out our resources page on the topic of Self-Care.
There, you’ll find helpful links, videos, quotes, and books.