It’s the phrase of 2018, and, thanks to many brave and inspirational people, it’s becoming more present in my newsfeed than selfies. ‘Self-care’ has officially become mainstream. It’s more than a fad for the rich and famous and no longer just something mental health professionals suggest. It can cost nothing, while being incredibly effective in the way that we feel about ourselves and, in turn, how we live our lives.
When we’re troubled, often the first thing to go out of the window is caring for ourselves. As we focus on any source of sadness and anxiety, many of us stop taking care of ourselves and start to run on empty, at a time when the tank needs to be full.
At the heart of this blog, the message is 100% self-care. The road to accepting and loving myself came hand in hand with it. However, it’s not all about turmeric, yoga and walks in the park – although those are all very helpful.
For me the change came through the cornerstones of self-care: boundary setting, acknowledging my needs and learning how to meet them (a revelation!). In discovering these foundations, I learned that I matter and this became the start of a monumental journey for me.
I had spent most of my life focusing on being liked and meeting the needs of others, without ever really looking inward. For years, I had no real sense of identity and the way that I felt about myself came from what was reflected back at me, by my parents, friends, colleagues and partners. I would be whoever you wanted me to be, which inevitably left me lost and wandering in a hall of mirrors, constantly seeking favourable images of myself from others.
I take responsibility for my decisions and my own mistakes- but living your life with the focus on the fear of disappointing others and being rejected means that in reality, you’re not living with your authentic self or caring for it.
Back in the day, the concept of ‘me time’ seemed selfish. So whenever I encountered a tricky time and went down the old favourite self-help aisle in Waterstones, my toes curled at what I saw as Americanisms that just felt alien and a bit hocus pocus to me. The first time I tried a recommended ‘bath night with luxurious oils’ while repeating the mantra of ‘I am whole and I am loved’, I felt hot, sweaty and ridiculous, knowing that it would take more than some Jo Malone Pomegranate Noir to fix the issue.
Fast forward and in the past five years, I’ve taken a gazillion oily baths. Call me Cleopatra, I LOVE THEM. I’ve also travelled far and wide in search anything that I felt could give me light, including but not limited to: meditating on my vagina ; speaking to people from my past life; revisiting my seven-year-old self; having an egg and a feather rolled over me in the jungle; being beaten with sticks and feathers and chanting with a Shamen.
So, I hope it’s clear that I’ve wholly embraced the concept of self-care, but despite some of the more ‘experimental’ things I’ve done and still do, a movie night at home has often been the most restorative and necessary thing vs a night whizzing through Soho like a whirling dervish when things aren’t so good on the inside. For me, all of the little luxuries are nothing without the simple knowledge of my fundamental needs.
With this knowledge firmly under my belt, dedicating time to myself and enjoying treats daily or weekly is the icing on the cake.
1. Acknowledge your needs
This took me some time. If you’d have asked me what I needed five years ago, I simply could not have found the words. Therapy was a very useful tool for me. To be able to work with someone impartial was invaluable. I felt that I had exhausted my friends with the same conversation and I was in such a bad place that I knew that I needed professional help. Rachel (my therapist / lifebuoy) helped me to see myself clearly and to identify what I needed. From that position I was able to create boundaries with people and self-care routines that would help me.
There are a few ways to check in with your needs through exercises but the basic principles of self-care suggest that you ask yourself:
1- What you need physically
2- What you need spiritually
3- What you need emotionally
Through exploring these, you then have something to refer to as you make a plan to meet the needs you’ve defined for yourself.
Another useful tool I like is simply ‘HALT’. Although being a simple reminder to just stop and acknowledge your needs, the acronym itself asks you what you need when you’re feeling down and struggling to put a finger on what you need- This tool can help you identify that, although there are some days when the most you can do for yourself is a shower because you have so little energy or enthusiasm to do anything and that's fine too.
Are you HUNGRY?
Are you ANGRY?
Are you LONELY?
Are you TIRED?
If so, meet your need/s and do one thing to meet it/them.
HUNGRY? Eat. Starving yourself is a form of self-harm – the opposite of self-care. Nourish your precious body. If you can only muster up the energy to order deliveroo -with greens! or microwave some soup ( Heinz tomato is my eternal comfort blanket -always in stock for rainy days), feed yourself and wrap up until you have the energy to fill yourself with as many colours of the rainbow as you can. The more carotenoids you can take (carrots, red peppers, tomatoes), the more you can boost your energy and immune system.
I prep for duvet days by freezing chopped banana or fruits so that I have an instant milkshake with some milk and honey if getting to the shops is beyond me. This means I’ve had something good that day, until I feel better to do more for myself.
ANGRY? LET IT OUT! Scream your heart out/go nuts on your pillows/ get to a boxing class/ run and sweat it out listening to whatever relieves that feeling.
When my stepfather died, I felt a lot of rage about unrelated things. Getting to work was an exercise in not throwing myself on the floor and screaming like a 3 year old as people shoved past me. I remember stubbing my toe and wanting to launch the table out of the window and I also had a fair few ‘drangry’ drunk/angry moments with my poor friends at that time. Therapy and mindfulness allowed me to locate the roots of the feeling, but bizarrely spinning class gave me a dark room, with loud music and lots of people whooping and high fiving each other which sounds irritating (it is when you’re not looking inward believe me), but this allowed me to feel hidden- I’d be spinning as fast as my little legs could take me, often crying or screaming my heart out as I let the feeling out and inevitably felt much better after.
LONELY? Phone a friend. Social media can leave you feeling so much more isolated and comparable with those ‘living their best life’. Phone/Facetime/meet a friend if you can – and if this is not available to you, go outside and connect with someone face to face. Even chatting to the guy behind the bar in my local pub for five minutes helps me affirm that I’m here, alive and kicking and worthy of a conversation. There are also a number of support groups you can access .
TIRED? Allow yourself to cancel plans or to take a duvet / sick day if you need it from work and sleep. You would most likely do the same thing if you had the flu and when you are depressed, believe me you are ill and fatigue is an external symptom of this. I was always exhausted when at my lowest. I learned that it's ok to cancel plans when you need to rest and that you are always better to your employer and your friends in good shape. The 'watch out' here is balancing your 'bed time' because staying in bed and oversleeping for continued periods can also leave you isolated and make you feel worse if you aren't connecting with people.
Sometimes a conversation with your doctor can result in some breathing time from work to rest if holiday days are not an option.
So, pop your phone on airplane mode, use whatever tool you need (I use a 10-minute relax app), wrap up warm and snooze for as long as your body tells you it needs. Eating well and trying some breathing exercises can also help with energy levels, along with natural supplements.
2. Make a self-care plan
I’m old school: I have a calendar on my wall, and I sit with it and a cuppa on a Sunday morning. Notes in your phone might be your thing. I take time to add a moment or two in the week or sometimes months ahead. This isn’t for everyone and in fact planning can feel quite stressful for some, so perhaps just taking time to consider things that might make you feel good, means they’re safely stored when rough times come.
When putting this blog together, the main thing I hoped to do was to be able to share simple ideas for self-care that have worked for me and the ones I love. Hopefully they’ll spark inspiration for your own self-care plan.
You’ll find them marked as follows:
- Quickies: hopefully to encourage you when you’re short on time or think you can’t face anyone or anything
- Power hour: up to 60 minutes of magic
- Downtime: for when you have a little bit (or a lot) longer
We’d love to hear what’s worked for you say firstname.lastname@example.org