Self-care is such a buzz word but while awareness and desire to engage in it are strong, it can be so hard to do! It is especially difficult for us right now because so many of the ways we would normally look after ourselves are genuinely out of reach. We can’t just enjoy a therapeutic hug or connect in the usual ways and in this time of real worry and uncertainty it can be hard to think of new ways to give ourselves a boost. If you’re find it tricky, go gently. You are not alone and there are very good reasons for it. In a nutshell, we all know what we need to do to feel healthy and happy, but it’s another thing to make it happen. Welcome to being human! Let’s explore why it can be tough, especially in this time of squeeze, and see what we can do to overcome the challenges.
1. Self-care is wishy washy.
One of the reasons it can be hard to commit to self-care is because it feels vague and sometimes a bit indulgent. What exactly is it? Let’s be crystal clear: self-care is health care. It is nourishment for the head, the heart and the body. To further clarify the concept, self-care is an action or skill that nourishes you in the moment AND the person you are becoming, your ‘future self’ if you like. One glass of wine savoured in the evening can be self-care, but if that one turns to two or three and a late night with a thrilling Netflix series, your future self is hardly going to be thanking you the next day. This practical definition will help you to understand self-care better and make the distinction between something genuinely life-giving and crutches. It is common when life gets tough that we turn to caffeine in the morning to get us going, comfort food throughout the day, online shopping for a hit of feel-good hormones and wine to chill us out in the evening. Crutches might help us cope in the moment but they are not a sustainable sources of comfort. Check out my IGTV feed for practical inspiration on self-care practices that you can do in any moment.
2. One size does not fit all.
Another reason it can be hard to get clear on self-care is that what someone else finds nourishing may not float your boat. In fact, what you find nurturing in one moment might not be the tool or strategy you need in the next. We all have different needs, goals and natural preferences and this also changes over time. The solution here is to have a broad toolkit from which to draw, so there is always some kind of boost when you most need it.
3. I don’t have time.
We’re all nodding our heads to this one… No one has spare time just waiting in the wings! The key here is to know that you don’t need extra time for self-care. Many self-care tools don’t take any extra time, think of things you are already doing and ask yourself, how can I imbue this activity with greater tenderness or presence? For example, your morning shower: you can ruminate on your worries or to-do list, or you can make it a meditative experience where you choose to focus on the cleansing properties of the water or the scent of the gel. It is in how you use your time and parcel it out. You’ll find two whole sections of my book ‘The Self-Care Revolution’ dedicated to mood boosters and coping tools – these are all skills and activities that don’t take any added time.
4. I don’t have the energy.
I hear you. I have experienced energetic bankruptcy too. There are times when we feel absolutely floored by life – grief, loss, change, relationship breakdown, parenthood. No one is immune. If you feel like your nervous system is fried or you are burnt out, then you need a specialised self-care toolkit, one that is healing, soothing, restorative, so that it tops you up without any further depletion. Self-care strategies what come to the fore here are Nature, listening to music, eBooks, TED talks or podcasts, or working with the breath, meditation, visualisation, mantra and the relaxing yoga you will find in my book ‘Self-Care for Tough Times’. There are many options to explore, they just need to be the appropriate strategies to meet you where you are at right now.
5. I can’t afford it.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that self-care requires an investment in expensive products or services. Self-care needn’t cost a penny. Gratitude, kindness and compassion cost nothing but are all potent mood boosters. You don’t need to join a gym, just take some shoulder rolls at your desk and savour a walk in Nature at lunch. Connect with a loved one, enjoy a kitchen disco session, stroke the cat. All effective, free and easily accessible.
6. I feel guilty.
Please, please let this one drop away. Well-nourished people are kinder, more compassionate, more resourceful and more resilient. This is what the whole world needs, now more than ever before. When you commit to regular self-care you become a version of yourself you can take pride in. Everyone your life touches benefits and this is the most sensational win win. Engage in self-care and you give yourself the best chance to be the person you aspire to be, to do the things you aspire to do. If guilt still pops up, use the mantra: ‘It’s not me first, it’s me as well’. Just take a moment to think of what self-care facilitates in your life… for me it’s to be the kind of mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend, neighbour and coach I want to be. See that version of you and take the action required to nourish this ‘best self’. Watch those dividends ripple out well beyond you.
7. Self-care turns into self-sabotage.
We’ve all been there, the brain fade on the sofa is more alluring than the run you have planned. Again, this is the nature of being human. The answer is to spend time getting to know who you want your ‘future best self’ to be. Really see them, feel them and hear them. Ask yourself what choices would this ‘future best self’ make? Make the same choices more often than now and you take steps closer to being this version of you. When faced with a choice, check in and be clear on what takes you towards or away from your best self. This often dials down the volume of temptation. And it’s useful to acknowledge too that not every choice has to be ‘self-care’. There is a time for a late night with mates, there’s a time for champagne, there’s a time for a lie in, there’s a time for chocolate cake’. Just pick your timing wisely and if you are trying to engage in self-care to top up your energy bank make sure it fits the definition of nourishing you now and your future self. And if you choose to let your hair down, let the mantra be: If I’m going to indulge, then I will savour it…
So these tips help us get clear on what self-care is but we still need to take further steps to make self-care happen. My best advice here is to use my Vitality Wheel framework set out in all of my books to write out your own self-care toolkit. We need it written down so there is a reminder when we’re feeling stressed out or too fatigued to think straight. If you don’t know where to start, this is something we can do in partnership together. Small incremental change works better than grand sweeping change and there needs to be balance in our self-care pursuits. The Vitality Wheel will help you carve that balance. With one micro moment of nourishment at a time, enjoy creating your future best self!
We’re in it together!
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. It was her life experience of motherhood colliding with the terminal illness of her father that sparked her passion for self-care which she now teaches to her clients, young and old, to cope during periods of stress, loss and change and to boost their resilience in the face of future challenges. Suzy is on the editorial board for Motherdom Magazine, the Psychology Expert for wellbeing brand Neom Organics and is a founding member of the ‘Nourish’ app. She figure-skated her way through her childhood, growing up on the Northern Beaches of Sydney, and now makes her home in hills of Hertfordshire, UK. Her first book ‘The Self-Care Revolution’ published by Aster came out in 2017, 'Stand Tall Like a Mountain: Mindfulness & Self-Care for Children and Parents' and 'The Little Book of Self-Care’ came out in 2019 and her new book ‘Self-Care for Tough Times’ is hot off the press.
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