I'm fortunate that I have a lot of people in my life who are willing and able to help me. Just today a friend ran some errands for me and brought (and made!) me lunch, another messaged me to see if I needed anything and other friends got in touch to see how I was feeling. This is just wonderful and truly helps me cope with my current challenges, however one thing I do know is that no matter how much support I get from others, I too need to take care of myself.
Self-care can be hard for a number of different reasons and it's something I often struggle with. For me, it's certainly something I've had to consciously focus on to help myself get through the last year of bad health and every now and then I realise I've stopped self-caring and I can see the impact it has on me and my health.
Even if you don't have health issues, self-care is an important practice. You'll have seen the safety card on planes showing that you need to put the oxygen mask on yourself first before helping others and you'll have no doubt heard something along the lines of "if you don't look after yourself then you won't be any use to anyone else". Well it's true. Self-care is important for everyone and after really focusing on it for a while now and getting to understand what's made it tricky for me, here are my self-care lessons.
As always, remember that I can only share my own experience. there will no doubt be things I struggle with that some will find easy and others where it's an easy solution for me and a much bigger challenge for them. I hope that somewhere in this post you'll find something that will help you, even if it's nothing more than knowing you deserve self-care and that you are not alone in struggling with it.
Self-care is not selfish
Self-care is not the same as being selfish. For some (including myself) self-care can come with feelings of guilt or worries that it's somehow wrong to prioritise yourself. Especially if there are other people in your life you also take care of. Self-care can involve you making time for you and sometimes spending money on yourself. This can be hard to justify to yourself for some but it's important to remember why you are doing this and to differentiate between really needing something and just wanting something (not that there's necessarily anything wrong with that either of course). I booked myself an at home hot stone treatment with Relax and Refresh Massage this week. Yes it cost money and to some it could feel slightly decadent but for the first time in a week I slept all the way through the night, I managed to quieten my head and truly rest and the pains in my body were eased for a while. Oh and while we are at it, there's nothing wrong with doing something a little decadent. I felt wonderful after my massage and valuing yourself is not a bad thing. Remember one of the few positive messages from an advert now...you're worth it! ;)
Understand what it is you need
A massage is an easy thing to understand when it comes to self-care. Who doesn't want to be pampered after all! For me though it had specific benefits and met what I need from self-care. I've realised it is really worth taking time to think through what it is you really need, what feels missing, challenged or weakened and focusing on that. That exercise itself is a wonderful piece of self-care. An afternoon to yourself with a good book and peace and quiet might be exactly what one person needs if they are struggling to relax, switch off and rest. But for someone else who is feeling isolated or lonely this might not bring the same feeling of relief or happiness. For me I'm aware that my needs in terms of my health and my mental/emotional state are changing right now and I'm trying to find new ways of making sure I look after myself properly. I've recognised I need more interaction with other people and am beginning to spend more time with friends and family (health-dependent of course!) and that's really making a difference.
Despite the name, self-care isn't about you doing it all yourself. Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is to share with others. So whether it's a need for relaxation, social interaction, improved health or something else, where you feel comfortable, tell those around you what you are trying to work on how they can help you achieve this. I've been very open with my friends about my health issues and some bad habits of mine which get in the way of my self-care goals, particularly the fact that when I start to feel well I can get carried away and easily over do it. Part of my self-care is to be aware of this and manage it but by telling others they can keep an eye out for those times I don't notice I'm over doing it.....like this afternoon when my friend came round for lunch. I was all ready to put the kettle on afterwards and have another blether but she (very sensibly) said no, I had done enough and she would leave me to rest. I actually thought she might be being overly cautious....aaaannd then I promptly fell asleep on the sofa for an hour!
I am rubbish at saying no. I feel so guilty saying I can't go to things or can't do things, especially when they seem really small or I've managed something else just before it but I need to learn that if that 'thing', whatever it might be, goes against my self-care plan of action* it's okay to say no. This doesn't mean you always have to say no but it's important to get in the habit of recognising the impact things have on you and choosing which you do and where you draw the line, and if you do say yes, how you will manage the impact on yourself after.
*I don't actually have a plan written down but think I might consider doing this now!
I'm also pretty rubbish at saying yes. A friend invited me to her house and said she would come and pick me up and bring me back afterwards. Having more interaction with others and getting out of the house are definitely something I want to do more of but I know I can struggle to do that myself as often I've used up all my energy at work, so this was a perfect offer of help and saying yes would have been a great bit of self-care but instead, my initial reaction was to say no. Why? because I felt weird about not being able to do a relatively easy thing and that someone else was going to have to drive an extra hour or so on their weekend so I could have a cuppa and a blether in a room that wasn't my livingroom. It felt selfish, it felt lazy, it felt over the top. Luckily I didn't reply straight away and managed to challenge those negative inner-thoughts before going back to my friend and saying, YES!
Remember, everyone is facing different challenges and have different needs so don't compare yourself to others. Easier said than done of course but just because someone else is coping fine with the thing in life that is causing you stress, worry or pain, that doesn't mean you are doing something wrong or that they don't have half a dozen other things they are challenged by that you can't see. Self-care is about understanding what you need, what your unique situation requires and no matter how silly it might feel, if you know it's right for you then go for it! I haven't been able to get out other than to work for quite some time now so I don't see friends or family as much. One of things I miss a lot is crafting with friends. I used to go to a weekly knitting group and loved seeing what everyone was working on and sharing new ideas. I can't do that at the moment but I still needed that creative interaction and positivity so I set up the Happy Barnet Craft Challenge. I now have a Facebook group where I can chat and share ideas with other crafters and it's honestly one of the best things I've done in terms of looking after myself.
Give yourself a break
I am incredibly hard on myself at times and one of the big changes I'm working on is giving myself a break. Knowing that somethings really don't matter, or at least don't matter as much as my initial reaction would suggest, has been so important for me as I learn to balance my life better. Don't get me wrong, I still do it sometimes, just ask my craft group about my panic at SLIGHTLY misinterpreting the pattern I was working on! But overall I am much better at recognising when I'm being hard on myself and listening out for others telling me it's okay when something isn't perfect...and most importantly, believing them!
That's it for me right now, I hope you take the time to understand what you need and start to find ways to take care of yourself. It might not happen overnight and you won't get it right every time but that's okay. We aren't built to be perfect and forgiving yourself for feeling like you are "getting it wrong" is a big part of self-care....or at least it is in my case! So good luck and look after yourself.
love as always