We have been living in pandemic times for over a year now. Some of us feel it more, others less, nevertheless this small, malicious creature called Covid-19 affects everyone’s life. Many of us feel quite strongly limited contacts, lack of opportunities to meet and travel. We lack the presence of our loved ones, their touch, smell, just “feeling” them next to us. We are also often accompanied by fear of our health, life, the health of our loved ones, and the uncertainty of tomorrow. We feel that we can really not be sure of anything, that everything is changing very dynamically and at any moment the plans can turn 180 degrees. And what’s more – we have no influence on it.
In one of my favorite books “The gifts of imperfection”, Brene Brown writes that when we are anxious or afraid of something, we also feel impermanent. We are afraid to lose everything we love. Insecurity makes us nervous. Moreover, we then begin to block ourselves from feeling joy and gratitude in order to minimize any possible loss. However, the effect of doing so is the opposite – the lack of gratitude and joy causes us to lose what allows us to survive difficult times.
I remember a year ago when the lockdown started, I had a feeling of big fear. What will it be like now? How long will it take? When will it end? How to function in it? I didn’t know the answer to those questions. Nobody knew. Today I don’t know them either. Nobody knows as well. The one exception for me now is finding the answer to the last question: how to function in this situation? A year of experiences, isolation, physical separation from relatives, friends, and their presence, somehow directed my attention to do more self-care in order to take care more of others. To take care of that joy and gratitude that Brene Brown writes about, that is letting me survive difficult times.
What is self-care?
There are many definitions of what self-care is. However, all of them indicate that it contains anything we need to do to take care of our mental, emotional and physical health. It is taking care of yourself in order to be healthy, feel good, do your job, help, and care for others. And although it may seem quite simple, in practice it is often not. The excess of duties, tasks, and tiredness make us forget about ourselves and our needs. We simply don’t want to listen to ourselves anymore, to what our body and mind tell us. Sometimes our environment does not support us either. When we want to have a “moment for ourselves,” we hear the comment: “What are you doing? Why are you reading the book now? You have to do this and that. There’s no time for rest”. Self-care is not laziness and running away from responsibility for the tasks and people entrusted to us. It is conscious planning of behaviors, a change of thought patterns, that does not affect our well-being in a negative way. For example, saying, “Now I need 10 minutes for myself to be there for you for the next few hours” without feeling guilty.
Self-care is about setting healthy boundaries and communicating your needs. It is daily courage to say what is important to me, what I need, to stand in truth with myself. It is also a vulnerability, because another person may not understand our attitude, our needs. And instead of letting us have a moment for ourselves, he or she will say “oh, come on, you don’t need to rest, you’re strong enough”. Self-care also doesn’t mean disregarding other people and their needs. It’s the same care we offer to others. Think about how often, when you see your partner, parent, or child tired, you say “take a break, you’ve done so much today.” And how often do you talk to yourself like that too? If you feel that you are acting with the last of your strength, instead of saying “I need a moment for myself today” you say: “no problem, I’ll take care of this and that”?
Why practice self-care?
Regular and wise self-care benefits not only ourselves but also those around us. It helps build immunity, increases energy levels, prevents burnout, reduces anxiety, and strengthens relationships with yourself and others. It improves mood, helps build healthier relationships, and increases productivity. When you find time for yourself to rest, to be together, you will feel more energetic and will be able to do more – both for yourself and for those around you. It is also teaching your loved ones, showing them that taking care of yourself and keeping your balance is important and benefits everyone. I have one friend who is very relational, the closeness of others matters to her. And when it is impossible to cuddle with the husband or children, because they’re away, she cuddles herself! She says: “you must love yourself every day, tell yourself and show yourself that you are important and loved. Only in this way you can be better for yourself and others.” That is self-care indeed: if I don’t take enough care of myself, I won’t be able to do it to my loved ones either.
In other words, self-care is checking, asking yourself, “How am I today? What does my mind need? What does my body need? ” Hence, it is clear that self-care is not the same for everyone. It is different because each of us has different needs and different ways to answer them. Moreover, the ways in which we do self-care are not the same all the time. They change because we change, our needs change. However, whatever your definition of self-care and how you do it, important is to engage in it on a regular basis. Build routine, plan activities around it. This regularity of dialogue and being with ourselves allows us to know ourselves, our needs better. Constant dialogue and time with ourselves give us the opportunity to better react to changes and events that occur in life.
How to practice self-care?
So, how to make it your routine? How to keep joy and gratitude in our everyday life?
- To start, think about these activities that bring or were bringing you joy, energy, balance. Those that you could make at least once per week. Make a list of them. If you don’t have any, I’m giving you some ideas here:
- writing daily journal
- listening to playlist with your favorite songs for good mood/reflection/relax
- painting pictures
- listening to your favorite podcast
- reading a book
- dancing to your favorite music
- playing an instrument
- walking outside
- playing with animals
- writing a letter to yourself
- watching art
- writing/drawing your own “recipe” for self-care, putting it in the kitchen/bedroom, and following it. For example three spoons of a deep breath, two pieces of stretching exercise, one cup of herb tea, ten pieces of a book, four spoons of a podcast, half of the cup of call to a loved one
- making and eating good and healthy food
- having enough sleep every day
- taking one picture of something that inspires you / looks beautiful and creating a self-care album
- creating a “no” list, with things you know you don’t like or you no longer want to do. For example: not scrolling Facebook after dinner, not checking emails after 6 p.m., not answering the phone during lunch/dinner.
- Then, according to our philosophy of small steps choose one activity, this one that you’d like to start with.
- Now break your idea into smaller steps. For example – you chose to walk outside. Think, how often you’d like to do it? At what time? To whom you need to talk about it? What do you need to prepare for it (e.g. having clothes and shoes ready to put on, the way you’d like to go)? Do you want to just walk or to take a dog or to listen to music, podcast as well? Do you take water with you? Write each small step of your activity.
- Think about how you want to prepare what you need for a walk (e.g. when you choose a podcast or music, where you put clothes to have them ready, not to look for them). Write it as well.
- Then, decide where you put a reminder of your activity. In your phone, calendar, on a piece of paper on the fridge?
- Think as well about your environment – how others will know about your plan? How can they support you in this?
- What about plan B – e.g. you want to go for a walk, but at this moment your brother is coming to visit or the weather is crazy. What will you do then? Write your plan B.
- Finally, write your own recipe for self-care: what, when, for how long you are gonna do it. Write it using your name, e.g. Ann’s self-care is to walk each Wednesday from 4 till 5 p.m. You can also draw it or make an art-collage. It’s up to you. The most important is that it is your decision and choice about what you want to do, how your self-care is.
What helps in reflecting on yourself, is to have a “self-care tracker”. It means to leave a sign if you did your self-care activity or you didn’t. To write a short comment about what helped you do it or what stopped you from doing it, as well as, how it makes you feel. It can be a note in the calendar, on the phone, in your journal. This can be also connected with developing your gratitude skills – with this note you can write what you are grateful for this day. Thanks to this you’ll be able to know yourself better, to see what helps you, what doesn’t, what feelings and emotions you have. It will help you to implement changes in your plan if needed.
What’s your decision now?
You may think “Oh My God! So many things to think, discuss, prepare”. Well, self-care has a very positive effect on your life, but it requires you to take time. Small steps – big changes. It is your choice in order to take care of your well-being. There’s no doubt that it’s worth the preparation and time you spend. Finally, this is all about the most important relationship in your life – the relationship with you! So, are you gonna start self-care?
P.S. If you want to learn how to make self-care your daily habit step by step, sign up here for the free Tiny Habits Course.