Self-care isn’t rocket science.
Eating food that will nourish and fuel us, being active, connecting with loved ones, getting enough sleep and rest, keeping things organised enough that we don’t waste time and energy looking for things, living within our means and saving for our future, taking time to reflect and connect with something bigger than ourselves whether that’s a walk or swim in nature or something else, going to the doctor or dentist when needed… the things that support us are not exactly exciting but, when we have good self-care routines, it’s pretty easy.
But, of course, being human, balance is temporary. There will be times when we feel anything but. When even the simplest self-care actions feel overwhelming. Washing up or laundry piles up, bills cause stress, we may overwork figuring we can push ourselves to the limit to meet the deadlines and then relax later, family demands may take their toll…
How many times have you worked flat out to meet that deadline only to get ill the next day? How many holiday days have you ended up sick on? How many nights have you eventually gone to bed only to lie awake with your mind whirring so much that sleep feels impossible? How often have you skipped meals or filled up on foods that don’t nourish you? How many times have you ‘cheered yourself up’ by spending money you didn’t intend to spend on something you didn’t need (or until that moment even want)?
This isn’t about bludgeoning ourselves for being human but getting better at noticing our triggers and putting supports in place so, no matter how hectic life gets, we can take a little down time.
My work days vary a lot. Some days, between clients and writing, I’m also teaching a yoga class, cycling 4 to 6 miles, swimming for an hour and feeling pretty on top of things. Other days, like today, I don’t have to go anywhere. Today’s clients are for online counselling so I could (and have in the past) spend the whole day, after my morning yoga, hunched over my laptop work work working.
Since starting to draft this blog post, I’ve taken my bike outside to remind me to go for a 3 or 4 mile bike ride at some point today. Right now, I don’t wanna. But I know I’ll feel much better for it. Doctors are warning about sitting being as bad for us as smoking if we don’t get enough activity in.
Future Imaginary Me knows that I’ll be far more motivated to get out on my bike or for a walk (or sea swim!) daily once ensconced in my new home in Westport, Co. Mayo, Ireland. Even in rain, sleet and snow. Those views! So much in my future home town is cycle friendly and geared towards wellbeing, I am beaming typing this. Wherever I end up living (it will be in town as I don’t yet drive), I’ll be motivated to head to the Quay daily to drink in that stunning sight of sea and mountains. My soul needs it. And the rest of me, mind, body and heart, will benefit from increased fitness levels from steeper hills.
There’s no point ignoring the wonders my current hometown has to offer. I live just five minutes from the River Walk. Yes, I routinely get eaten alive by gnats but my little bike ride later will be a pleasure as I drink in the sights of big skies and trees and water and ducks with my eyes. There’s that part of me that argues with myself, that I have too much work to do. That I don’t have time. Even though I know that I’ll be far more productive for getting out in the fresh air and moving.
What is it for you? When you think about something small that could make a big difference to your wellbeing, what simple step could you take today to make it more routine?
I encourage my yoga students to make time for Savasana every day even if they do no other physical yoga practice. Taking a few minutes or even moments in this rest pose, imagining the stresses, strains and worries being released into the earth and recycled for the benefit of the planet allows the heart rate and breath rate to come back down. If you don’t have time for a fuller yoga practice (even if you do no other yoga at all), you can benefit from Savasana after a run or vacuuming or any kind of exertion.
This video can help you if it appeals.
Savasana helps bring the body back into balance. By making time for pockets of downtime throughout our day, it’s then far easier to relax enough to sleep at bedtime. It’s allowing the rest/digest response of the parasympathetic nervous system instead of the constant fight/flight/freeze we can get hooked into with the sympathetic branch being overactivated by our exciting and sometimes stressful lives.
Savasana may feel too big a step if you need to ease into your relaxation. I know, personally, it used to make me sob as I was so hypervigilant and unable to relax. Inhaling as you tense the thighs and exhaling as you release them can help if you want to relax while keeping some movement, honouring the body’s natural fight/flight impulse when stressed by the idea of relaxation (instead of judging yourself for it). Forward Folds can be an option if this is the case (see the video below).
There’s enough input from the muscles at the back of the legs to keep us alert and present in our bodies rather than minds wandering into stressful, fearful thoughts. If you find them relaxing, holding for 3 minutes or longer, while imagining yourself breathing in a quality you’d like more of (maybe relaxation, maybe something completely different) and breathing that same quality out again can help trigger the Relaxation Response cardiologist and mind body medicine pioneer Dr Herbert Benson discovered and wrote about back in 1975.
Typically done lying or sitting comfortably, doing it in a Forward Fold may help you relax more deeply. As with everything, experiment and adapt to do what feels best for you in any given moment.
This antidote to the stress response (discovered in the same Harvard lab Walter B Cannon had discovered the fight/flight response decades earlier) is something that communities worldwide replicate in different ways, through prayer and meditation.
If your mind is whirring but you’re able to lie (or sit) still, yoga nidra (click HERE for access to a free short nidra I recorded) can be wonderful for enabling deeper relaxation and calm.
Experiment with what works for you. Journalling or even keeping a little log will help you get to know yourself and put supports in place.
Breath practices like the mindful breathing, calming breath, conscious breathing one I wrote about last week (HERE) can also help.
If you’d like some support from me (self-care coaching, therapy or supervision for your mind, body, heart and soul) to help you manage stress and more, you can find out more HERE.
Often, a trauma history can lead to some of the issues I’ve mentioned below (fear of relaxing, hypervigilance etc). If you’d like to learn some gentle tools to support yourself, you can find out more about working with me HERE.
And there are lots of ideas (366 – one for every day of the year) in my book, 365 Ways to Feel Better: Self-care Ideas for Embodied Wellbeing (White Owl, 2017 – click HERE).