Self-Care For the Rest of Us
The way self-care is presented, it can come off as a marketing ploy from Big Yoga. Feeling overwhelmed? Try a relaxing weekend get away with our therapeutic alpacas!
We work with people all the time who feel they don't have time or energy for massages, hiking, or long soaks in a candle-lit tub and, almost inevitably, they say "I don't have time for self-care." From a purely mechanical perspective, that's like saying you have too far to drive to bother changing your oil or putting gas in your tank.
It is entirely possible that you don't have time for "self-care" but you still need to do something to nurture yourself, take some of the pain out of the day.
Start with self kindness: self-kindness is the first thing that goes out the window during periods of stress. We can be cruel, truly vile to ourselves, allowing our self-critical voices to run unchecked and rattling off our histories of greatest failures as we simply try to navigate a stressful week. Even if you don't have time for a 'self-care' activity, commit to the idea of self-kindness. Still that critical voice and try to recognize it as a function of stress and not accurate or helpful. Speak to yourself like you would speak to a loved friend or respected colleague.
Set boundaries and keep them. This might be stopping answering emails after 6pm or it might be saying no to dinner with the in-laws, but boundaries do exactly what they are supposed to: build a barrier that helps you regulate the flow of demands in and out of your life. A big portion of the work we do with individuals and couples revolves how to identify and develop healthy boundaries that ultimately serve to help relationships thrive.
Know your signals, particularly the early signs of stress. Learn to read yourself like your dashboard: what does your check engine signal look like? How do you know when you are getting low on gas? Think about your body from a mechanical perspective and simply prioritize the fuel and cool down periods you would offer any other machine.
Finally, once you have really started to take care of yourself, recognize that "self-care" can look really different depending on who you are. Some of the things I've seen be remarkably effective self-care: a good meal alone at a good restaurant with a book; screaming into a pillow until hoarse; getting a new tattoo; keeping a kettlebell at work for quick, pumpy swings; calling in sick and going to a matinee by yourself; buying a stack of new towels; duckpin bowling with friends who can reliably not take it seriously; online gaming with friends, make time for a new or old hobby…the list is pretty endless: find something that restores you, or brings you joy, and make time for it.
People come to therapy for any number of reasons. Irrespective of the issue that brings someone in, our clients often learn to value themselves, be kind to themselves, and invest in themselves in a way that helps everything else in life feel more manageable.