I wonder if you, like me have been feeling a little tired and run down as of late. Whether it's the changing of the season, the political climate or just the fact that I feel in desperate need of some tropical sunshine, when my energy levels dip, I find myself, more than ever, drawing on the practices that help me regroup and recharge so I can participate in life in the ways I want.
Self care is a big challenge for many of us and the messages we get about it are often steeped in gender role essentialism and commercialization intent. People who are socialized as women can struggle with self-care because they have been taught their value is in caring for others, often to the detriment of their own wellbeing; they fight against the notion that self-care is at best indulgent and at worst deeply selfish. Those socialized as men are taught that self-care is weakness and shows they are unable to handle the daily tasks of life. Hopefully, most of us realize, at least intellectually, that we must put on our own oxygen masks before helping others. Doing that is quite another matter.
When we create systems of self-care for ourselves, we are dismantling the facets of patriarchy that dictate that emotions are weak and tenderness is inferior. These systems cannot be built solely on the popular media’s portrayal of self-care which often comprises manicures, pedicures, and massage. In order to be sustainable, self-care systems need to be more than just a quick-release valve. They require scaffolding your life so that when things get truly awful, you have the structure in place to weather the storm.
A few ways to practice self-care could include:
1. Feeling your feelings without judgement.
When you get practiced at feeling your feelings without judging them, everything your life can begin to improve. So much energy is expended on judging yourself for feeling the wrong thing or worrying about having the inappropriate reaction to something, that you end up getting emotionally stuck. This is exhausting and counterproductive. Feeling your emotions allows you to move through your challenges more efficiently and results in more joy sooner.
Set aside a few moments of silence to reflect and think about what you are feeling. Don't judge, even if you notice yourself judging, don't judge that. Notice it, let it pass. Remind yourself this is a practice and you want progress, not perfection.
2. Be reflective.
Kind self-care practices are things like massages, hot baths, and sleeping in. Reflective self-care activities are things that allow you to reflect on your emotional landscape, like journaling or meditation.
3. Make space to be playful.
Humans of all ages both need and take great pleasure from active play. Even though I think play is a need, play can be hard. In order to play, you often have to let go of a bit of dignity and embrace a
certain amount of vulnerability. Those things are challenging for adults who expect themselves to have it all together all the time. It is, however, necessary for your brain to engage with moments of silliness and imagination, especially in times like these where it can feel like everything is on fire.
Nurturing playfulness is still an area of growth for me. It does not come naturally. I find moments of it, like singing to cheesy 80's pop music while cleaning my house or allowing myself to get stupidly excited about the behaviour of one of my dogs. Try to remind yourself that play is about pleasure and pleasure can be a radical act!
4. Actively discourage unsolicited advice.
There is a (sometimes disastrous) epidemic of fixing in many interpersonal relationships. When one person seeks support from another, often the first thing offered is unsolicited advice about what strategy they should use in their career, how they should handle that inappropriate individual on the internet, or what they should be doing differently in their activism. It becomes about fixing rather than holding space.
This creates a plethora of 'shoulding' in many people’s relationships and this totally leeches the connection right out of them.
You are taught that your value to others is in giving good advice. You are not taught how to feel and give empathy. Advice can be valuable, but in my experience, what people most want from their interpersonal relationships is to be seen, to be heard, and to feel connected. Unsolicited advice does not accomplish any of those things and can work toward the contrary.
In your close relationships, try creating a space where you can ask whether one is searching for you empathy or advice. This question is gold. It gives the person seeking support choice. It lets them feel power when they might otherwise feel disempowered by whatever this situation is bringing up for them.
Am willing to wager that the times one is seeking advice are in the minority and generally occur when the individual has already received all the empathy they require from another source.
5. Respect your time. Demand others do the same.
Self-care requires time. This is one of the many reasons why it becomes so difficult for many people to actually implement it. Finding personal time often requires saying no or not right now to people who ask you for favors, meetings, or tasks.
Saying no can be one of the best (and often most challenging) strategies in your self-care toolbox. One of my favorite time-creating self-care tools is using a auto responder or 'canned response' feature on my email. I get so many emails from people asking for hours of unpaid labor from me. It is often people who find me online or through one of the many sites I write blogs for and want me to fix and solve their health and nutrition concerns. It is, of course, reasonable they want answers to these
questions, but if I responded to all their requests, I would have no time to actually live my life. My solution is a 'canned response' explaining that I do not answer individual questions via email, and directs them to some of my favorite go-to websites which have tons of information on nutrition and health related conditions. I get to support some of the folks I learn from, respect and admire and in my own way I am saying that no, I cannot help you, but here is a trusted means to begin to help yourself. I get to say no and I still get to be helpful. It’s also perfectly okay to just say no without being helpful, but in this instance, it is in alignment with my goals as an educator to help people get the information they need.
Do you find yourself writing some of the same emails over and over? Consider creating some canned responses for yourself. It has truly saved me so many hours so I can have nurturing chats with friends over tea, go to yoga and spend time doing the things I want and choose.
Self-care need not be hard and is not regarded as a chore BUT it is a practice that takes an investment of some time and effort. This will allow you, in small, incremental steps to regain and maintain your mind and your sanity, giving you the time and space to serve and support whomever you want, whenever you choose!