by Suzy Reading, Author and Psychologist specialising in Self Care
1. When we become parents our need for self-care is at its greatest, right when we become most squeezed for time, energy and finances. We need to get clear on what self-care is so we can effectively get it on our radar.
We’ve all heard of self-care and while there is growing recognition of its importance, the concept remains a little fluffy and the practice is still illusive for many of us. Some clarity around what self-care is and practical tips on how to actually do it helps bring it to life. I’m on a mission to deepen your knowledge of self-care as a practice and to blow those barriers away… No time, no energy, guilt? Stick with me. There is a way!
So what does self-care actually mean? I think of self-care as health care. The simplest definition of self-care is ‘nourishment’ – it’s a life-giving act that restores, sustains or improves your health. By health, we’re not just talking about the physical body, but our emotional, energetic and mental health as well. One of the reasons why it can be hard to define self-care is that everyone’s needs, interests, preferences and goals are different, so what one person finds nourishing differs from another and even our own needs will change over time. The most effective kind of self-care is an individual and proactive approach, a bespoke response to the needs of your head, heart and body, on a daily basis. Having a broad self-care toolkit to turn to in times of need will serve you well.
A concept that helps bring self-care to life is to think of having an ‘energy bank balance’. Just like a car needs petrol to go, we need reserves to get us through our day. Self-care is the means by which we make a deposit into that energy bank. Take a moment to reflect – what are the things that top you up and have you feeling full of zest? How can you factor more of those into your week? It’s worth also reflecting on the things that deplete you. If there are some that you can avoid or minimise, take action. If they’re unavoidable, know that you’ll need to engage in some kind of nurturing act to make up for the shortfall. Proactively keep your energy bank balance healthy and you will be more resilient in the face of life’s inevitable challenges.
2. Before we can wholeheartedly commit to the self-care habit, we need to get clear on our personal WHY. It’s your WHY that will galvanise you when temptation arises or life gets challenging. If nourishing your health is important to you, take a moment to reflect on the following questions.
- Describe yourself when you are well-nourished and energetically topped up. What does this facilitate in your life? What does this allow you to do or be?
- Describe yourself when you are depleted, empty or fatigued. How does this affect your life and the people in it?
- Write out a few statements of why you personally want to commit to taking better care of yourself – for you and anyone your life touches.
3. When do we need self-care? Ponder on these benefits of self-care and see if you can dot some through your day. Build the skill of checking in with yourself and reflecting on ‘what do I need right now’?
- Firstly, self-care helps us cope during times of trauma, stress, loss and change and no one is immune from these experiences.
- Secondly, it helps us heal and recover from these challenging times.
- Thirdly, self-care keeps us energetically topped up, so that we are resilient and resourceful when curveballs hit. Remember, positive events can be seriously depleting too – planning a wedding, holiday, renovation project, moving, scoring a promotion, having children…
- Fourthly, self-care gives us access to our best self. Lovingly tending to yourself with self-care gives you the best possible chance of being the person you aspire to be.
- Lastly, for parents, self-care helps us raise resilient and compassionate kids. We need to be modelling self-care for them and teaching them their own self-care toolkit. Even better, engage in collective self-care and boost health, happiness and wellbeing together.
4. Make a list of your current self-care practices and rituals, from the tiny to the grand. Think about things you used to do to nourish yourself and if they still call to you, jot them down too. Consider new activities or skills you might like to cultivate and make a note of them too. This mind map of nourishment can help you factor more self-care into daily life and also helps you recognise the things that you are already doing. Maybe there are some types of self-care that are inaccessible right now, this is the nature of parenting, but know that it will change. The variables won’t always be like this. Keep them on your self-care mind map and reclaim them when you can. Is there a way you can touch in with them in a different form? I found it hard to get to yoga classes when my little ones were young but I could roll out my mat at home. We just need to think laterally sometimes, hard when you’re frazzled and sleep deprived, I know!
5. Feeling stuck for ideas on self-care? In my experience, when we need self-care the most, it can be really hard to put your finger on something nurturing! For this reason, I created a framework to help us identify some kind of available tonic when we are feeling fried, fatigued and full up. I call this the ‘Vitality Wheel’ (see below) and it has 8 spokes each reflecting a different way we can top up our energy bank. Use these categories to get thinking more broadly about what self-care means for you and you can read more about practices that will bring to life each spoke of the Vitality Wheel in my book ‘The Self-Care Revolution’. Even better, annotate the wheel so you have options at a glance.
6. If you want to really unlock the power of self-care then forming your own list of self-care PRIMER STATEMENTS is the way to go. Spend some time writing out your commitments in the form of ‘If I am feeling X, then I will Y’. These are powerful ways of priming your brain for more life-giving choices. The more time you spend with this, the stronger your self-care muscle becomes and the greater the dividends.
7. No time for self- care? The key is to remember that self-care needn’t be elaborate, grand, or time consuming! Seek out little micro moments of nourishment and that might just have stress bouncing of your shoulders with greater ease. It can as simple as a swoosh of your favourite lippy, repeating a manta or just watching the moving cloudscape for 30 seconds. Follow along on Instragram at @SuzyReading for my #MondayMicroMoment sessions with lots of simple and accessible self-care inspiration.
8. No energy for self-care? Choose soothing and restorative practices that take no effort! Listen to a piece of music to calm or invigorate you. Use a scent that lifts your spirits. Listen to a podcast or TED talk. Try legs up the wall and for at least 5 mins, let the world wait for you!
9. Feel like self-care is too expensive? It needn’t cost a penny:
- Move your Body – the quickest way to change your mind is to move your body. A single yoga pose will do or head out in Nature’s Beauty and blow out the cobwebs.
- Breathe – when you breathe better, you feel better. Take some mountain breaths. Stand tall like a mountain, arms down by your sides. As you breathe in, take your arms out wide to the side, reach them up overhead and look up. As you breathe out, lower your arms back down by your sides and look forwards. 6 reps and it’ll change how you feel.
- This is my all-time favourite self-care tip! Savouring is the ability to suck the life out of a pleasurable moment. So when something joyful is unfolding, give it your full attention, with all your senses and share it! You can savour the past too by reminiscing about a happy memory or you can savour the future by happily anticipating something you have to look forward to. Your kids will love building the savouring muscle with you and it is such a powerful mood alchemist!
So often guilt gets in the way of us engaging in self-care, and it can be a pretty tenacious character! Today, repeat a mantra to blow away the feeling that self-care is somehow indulgent or selfish. We’ve all heard of the oxygen mask analogy (you have to put yours on first before tending to others) and we all get it, but generally we are not applying self-care in life threatening scenarios and it still feels uncomfortable putting ourselves first in everyday life. So use this mantra! It’s not me ‘first’, it’s me ‘as well’. It’s not about putting yourself first, it’s just making sure that your needs and your health get a look in too!
Ultimately I think we need to make peace with guilt rather than trying to stamp it out. Notice when it taps you on the shoulder, greet it with a smile, remember that self-care is health care and take that nourishing action! After all, the people that are in your care need you to keep giving and keep going, so dot your day with some ‘micro moments of nourishment’ and see those dividends ripple out beyond you.
About the Author
Suzy is a mother of two, an author, Chartered Psychologist and Coach. She specialises in self-care, helping people manage their stress, emotions, and energetic bank balance.
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