So what are you doing about self-care? I often ask my clients. It is a common question and one that I can just as easily ask myself, aware that that I can neglect that department too. It’s a word that is bandied about a lot. It goes by other names such as self-love, self-compassion or in Gestalt therapy theory as self-support. The two simple words self-care convey something seemingly very obvious and easy to do. In the ABC of emotional health and wellbeing this is logically one of the first building blocks. Indeed it is so obvious that it can be overlooked. Both by clients and by myself. “Self-care, yes of course I’m practicing self-care”, I might respond. But what does that actually mean?
What is self-care?
The seemingly obvious definition of this word, caring for oneself, translates into what concretely? This is when we realise that what seemed obvious actually has layers of meaning and subtlety. Some of the elements it incorporates are:
- Lack of a critical inner voice
- Healthy food
- Lack of destructive behaviours such as excessive drinking, overspending
- Care of appearance
However it also relates to how much time we carve out for ourselves in our daily lives. It's about how protective and boundaried are we about our rest time, our exercise time, and our social time. It's about how mindful and boundaried are we about creating space and opportunities for fun? Are we choosing an environment for ourselves where we are happy to live?
Do we assert our boundaries when people over step the line? What do we prioritise? Do we allow work or others to take priority over our own needs? Do we guard our need for self-care as fiercely as we would guard a child’s right to that? And if we do, do we do it consistently on a daily basis on sporadically ?
A good way of thinking about this is how we would think about a young child. I imagine many of us would put a lot more energy into thinking about their wellbeing than into our own. Self-care extends beyond caring for the physical and emotional level to the soul. What makes our hearts sing?
Why do we need self-care?
That’s a good question. To feel at peace, balanced, lacking in anxiety and sadness. Many of our anxieties and low moods are because we are not in touch with and honouring ourselves. I often also find that when I do make space for fun and downtime I am actually more productive when back in working mode.
Why do we often struggle to practice self-care on a daily basis?
Do we expect other people to do it for us? Do we expect others to take care of us? Do we expect the glasses of wine after work or the TV to do our self-care for us? It’s not that these things can’t be part of self-care. Coming home to a glass of wine, a warm flat and watching a DVD set can be very comforting. But self-care needs to be a more active and assertive act. The issue here is taking responsibility for ourselves, which is part of growing up.
More often than not a critical voice is also at play. It tells us that we do not deserve to play, that we do not deserve to be happy. Perhaps it makes us feel guilty for being so. Perhaps we do not feel entitled to be happy. Perhaps there was no precedent for that in our up-bringing, our parents didn’t value their own needs for self-care. Maybe we are worried about coming across as lazy or indulgent. Probably those of who do value our own needs for self-care have experienced reactions from others such as envy. ‘Oh, so you’re going to yoga now, lucky you!’. We live in a society where the puritan work ethic is still very much present.
As MD Stuart Brown says in his best-selling book, Play:
“I have gathered and analyzed thousands of case studies that I call play histories. I have found that remembering what play is all about and making it part of our daily lives are probably the most important factors in being a fulfilled human being. The ability to play is critical not only to being happy, but also to sustaining social relationships and being a creative, innovative person.”
So go on, I invite you to do one thing consciously each day, which is an act of self-care. Whether it be taking a luxurious bath, a yoga class, a martial art class, or taking a new way home and scuffing your feet through autumnal leaves. Tell yourself that you are worth the investment. And then see what you reap. Hopefully you will see that investing in yourself has a positive impact on every aspect of your life.