I don’t think I need to outline for anyone all that a busy work, school, and/or family life entails. Time and again I am blown away by the accomplishments of the women I work with, on so many levels. And yet, the struggle still continues…to find time and balance…to find helpful support…to find a reason for self-care. It’s amazing to think how easy it is to put this off until later, when faced with so much to do.
In some of my recent art therapy groups we explored these different aspects of ourselves; the manager side vs the part that needs to be cared for. And while it’s true that yes, accomplishments can make us feel valuable and confident, there remains the part that is quietly suffering behind the scenes, sometimes from neglect, sometimes from hopelessness or a desire to give up – especially when those whom we wish would support us are incapable of doing so. The good news is that even if we are lacking in this area there is still a solution, but as Albert Einstein said, “nothing happens until something moves” or in the words of a wise friend…”action alleviates anxiety.” And of course we know this means not doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results (thank you again Einstein for that one). What I mean is that it’s so important to thread self-care into our daily activity, our network, our foundation and to find the things that actually work for us and not against us.
In any kind of recovery I believe that it’s a necessity to establish some sort of beginner mind – to ignite a curiosity about the world where exploration is filled with child-like joy and play in order to find these things that help us to feel cared for. Why not block out an hour or two in your schedule each week to do this? I get that time management might be one of those hindrances, but did you know that incorporating self-care routines on a regular basis can go a long way in reducing the fight / flight / freeze response? That means less anxiety, fewer panic attacks and an increased ability to be present in work and relationships.
Try this: divide a piece of paper into 6 columns and label each with the following headers – nutritional, physical, mental, emotional, interpersonal and spiritual. Then while keeping in mind the image of yourself that remains uncared for, write down action steps you can try out in each category. For example, under nutritional you might want to outline a number of food options that you can take to work with you and plans to set aside time to actually eat. Or maybe even just identify a new recipe or two that you’d be willing to try at home.
Under physical, I know that at least some of you this means exercise, and sometimes in excess. And while it’s true that exercise can be one way to alleviate anxiety, we know that this can go overboard, tipping its way into unhealthy habits. Maybe just a nice 20 minute walk in the park will suffice. Physical activity doesn’t need to equate with beating yourself up. A massage is physical too – that doesn’t sound too bad does it?
A mental exercise can mean doing a crossword puzzle, or reading a book…or it might mean finding some ways to challenge those unhelpful thoughts in your head and put reframing into practice.
For emotional you get into my favorite category with using your creativity to express yourself in different ways – art of course, or you could also try dance, or writing, drama, music, you name it. Maybe even just start with identifying the emotion you see in others, or relating a song, a color or words to an emotion. I can’t even say enough here about how neglected this aspect of ourselves often gets – it’s quite possible that any attention here will be a boost to awareness. Try to identify how you might feel in your emotion in your body – that’s a big one.
The interpersonal category can help you take action around problem solving in your relationships. Is there someone you might want to reach out to but haven’t yet? Is there someone you can practice saying no to because it will benefit your well-being? Are there people with whom you’d feel comfortable and safe with sharing about your struggles? Can you identify different people to connect with different activities? Are there groups you might consider joining? A meetup?
I know that the idea of spirituality at times might be a big turn off for some…but there’s almost always something to connect to no matter what your religious background. Nature, for one – maybe try sitting in a field on a sunny day and simply take in the beauty of your surroundings. Download a relaxation meditation and see what that’s like. Prayer in any form can be quite powerful.
Try adding to this list as time goes on, I think you’ll find that it can grow quite extensive even if you only begin with just a few suggestions. Be sure not to censor yourself – go with intuition and see what comes up. Then just try one new thing each week and see what happens. I wish you all the best – let me know how it goes!