Self care isn’t as simple as adopting a blanket approach like, ‘Eat at least 5 portions of fruit and veg each day.’
We need to be able to decide when something is self care and when it isn’t enough or when it might be too much or even punitive.
The same action on different days, could be all three (see Sea Swim below). It’s about getting to know yourself and what’s best for you in any given moment.
I hope my list of daily non-negotiables for my own self care (and some of the modifications I make depending on my schedule, energy levels, a chronic pain condition potentially playing up, time, mood etc etc) will help you create your own list:
I haven’t missed a morning since I head Jon Kabat-Zinn speak in London in March 2013.
For 13 years previously, having learned about it’s importance during my crystal therapy training and that message being compounded on other trainings including the yoga therapy and mindfulness and psychosynthesis, meditation had been one of the self care sticks I’d use to beat myself up with. It felt like I was Never Doing Enough.
Jon Kabat-Zinn’s ease and ‘this works for me. Do what works for you’ approach dissolved that stick. I stuck the little orange dot sticker from admission to his talk on my bedroom light switch so each morning, until it became habitual, I had this little unobtrusive reminder to start each day with some meditation.
If meditation is something you would LIKE to do more of (none of this is compulsory – it’s about finding what helps YOU feel better every day), there are lots of guided meditations you can access throughout the site including some to support you during this time of global pandemic
Personally, my morning meditation became MUCH simpler and sustainable when it dawned on me that it’s not about anyone else but what I need. I feel a gazillion times better for it and often meditate under the duvet before even getting out of bed.
Back when I had loads of ‘shoulds’ around it (dragging myself onto my yoga mat was much easier in the summer but even then, WHY was I putting pressure on myself to be in Half Lotus each time?)
If you WANT to create a sustainable meditation practice for yourself, think about the time of day and options for comfy, enjoyable meditation spots as well as more formal meditation practices…
My morning yoga practice incorporates a lot of mindfulness and sometimes, is just a couple of poses. Personally, I feel better when I do the full sequence but it’s better for me, psychologically, to have done even ONE pose every morning – connecting with what my body and mind need in that moment as I connect with the breath and open up to the day ahead – than to have the yoga mat taunting me all day.
When I do a full sequence, I give myself options with that, too. What does my body need? How do I WANT to move? What kind of mood am I in? Do I want something to energise me or relax me?
This morning I started doing the usual full sequence but halfway through, gave myself permission to stop and that’s fine.
Most nights, I do a little Sleep Yoga before bed, too. This is super simple and done in my pjs on top of the duvet. Often, Rainbow MagnifiCat ‘helps’ and I hold the sleep supporting poses for longer than I’d intended as she’s so comfy herself.
Because I teach yoga, I typically improvise (although the online offerings available these days are brilliant) but you can experiment with a range of options if yoga is something you want to incorporate into your self care routine.
Sometimes, I tap in the morning. Other times, during my walk along the country lane (I no longer care how strange I look, I love the combination of tapping and walking). Other times, throughout the day when I feel a bit grrr.
It’s simply another habitual practice that helps me notice how I’m feeling, what’s bugging me and what I’m grateful for as well as, of course, releasing any energy blocks.
Apart from the days I’m literally floored by pain, I can at least go for a walk.
Yesterday, time and energy meant I did half the usual 4km in the morning and the other half after my last session.
The day before, I cycled 9km and walked 9km.
Because of the endometriosis, I’ve had to learn to listen to my body and KNOW that the more exercise I do (I’ve never been compulsive about it so that’s not an issue for me but if you tend to overdo exercise, you’ll take a different approach here) in advance, the less pain I have.
In the summer, when my sea swims get longer, I’ll be pretending (in my imagination) to be a triathlete with the cycling, walking AND swimming again. And when the pools and steam rooms reopen, I’ll get back to my former usual hour. Having not done that since before lockdown, I have no idea if I’ll have to build up again or if the other exercise has kept up my fitness levels enough.
What I DO know is that being curious about it and kind to myself will help me build up sooner rather than beating myself up for not being able to do what used to be easy.
What kind of/level of exercise is your baseline daily exercise? What do you do when you have more energy? What about when you’re not 100%? How can you give yourself different options so you can modify your workouts to suit your mood, energy levels and health as well as fitness?
My life in Essex was better set up for this (it also meant flatter routes). At one point, I was teaching 6 yoga classes a week so I’d be hopping on my bike to teach, cycling back home to write then cycling back down to my consulting room to see clients and supervisees.
With everything currently online, I need to be more deliberate about giving myself breaks. Sometimes, I walk the Gratitude Grid in the field and say ‘Hi’ to the trees I’ve planted (seriously still pinching myself at how lucky I am to live here).
Other times I walk around the mini trampoline that takes up most of the kitchen floor to grab a packet of crisps (top shelf – it involves some stretching).
Sometimes I actually USE the mini trampoline. Sometimes I do little chores like changing the cat litter (living the dream – she’ll be out for HOURS then run it to use it before running out to play again), bringing in some fuel for the fire, cleaning the bathroom, sweeping out the fireplace, sorting laundry, doing some weeding etc.
Knowing that it’s good to move throughout the day, I no longer attempt to get everything done in one go and then collapse in a heap. My environment feels cleaner and more organised AND I’m not putting unnecessary pressure on myself.
What kind of movement do you need or want to do anyway to help your home feel like a sanctuary that supports you instead of something that makes you cringe to think of everything you haven’t yet done? How might you spread chores out so they help you avoid being too sedentary?
Having batches of smoothies, oatmilk shakes and soups ready to go makes life much easier. Similarly, batch cooking pilau rice or mashed potato etc. Whatever helps makes reaching for a proper meal quicker.
I used to give myself a hard time about all the crisps but while, at some point, I’ll make more of an effort to cut back, we’re in a global pandemic. I’ve been sober since 2001. I’m not going to bludgeon myself for the delicious accidentally vegan crisps which taste great alone and in culinary combinations.
Now, as long as I’m eating three ‘proper’ meals a day, I (generally) don’t care how many crisps I have. The days where I have crisps INSTEAD of dinner are the days I’ve put too much pressure on myself in other ways so, again, that’s information.
What might you cut yourself some slack around? It sounds counter intuitive but the more accepting we can be of ourselves, the less we’re triggering the stress response and as a result, we’re more likely to make better choices. While a nutritionist (I used to write about nutrition for national magazines) might wince at my staples, the focus on getting more nutrients through eating the better stuff means the crisps are less of an issue.
You’re likely to have lots of dishes and snacks that you enjoy cooking or preparing and that help you keep your blood sugars steady and your body and brain to access essential nutrients.
What about vitamins and other supplements? What might help you remember to take them more frequently?
Having been an insomniac from primary school until my mid-twenties, sleep is very important to me and I appreciate it a lot. But even though it’s one of my specialisms, it’s only recently that I gave myself a bedtime.
This, for me, really illustrates the need for structure and routine in ways that support and empower rather than yet more restrictions. Having resisted for YEARS, it actually feels good to be (roughly) going to bed and waking up (around) the same time each day.
Setting and maintaining healthy boundaries
[Note: As I was drafting this paragraph, I suddenly had several boundary testing incidents which made me laugh – progress not perfection]
When our self care is frayed, it’s harder to set and maintain healthy boundaries. But this is one of the most important elements of self care.
At the moment, we’re getting a bit of a masterclass in boundaries as differing viewpoints on public health guidelines etc mean it’s pretty easy to see who values their and others’ wellbeing.
Of course this doesn’t mean that it’s easy to tell someone that you can’t give them what they want, whatever that might be.
Still, learning to speak up for yourself and recognising that YOU and your wants and needs are just as valid as others’ is one of the best things you can do for self care.
Personally, I find the somatic (working with the body) approach especially helpful. Two simple self care tools that can be really empowering are:
Bath or shower?
The bubble bath as self care is such a cliche, it makes me laugh to include it but we all need to wash and this choice (for those of us fortunate to have hot running water etc) offers a simple mindfulness practice:
What do you FEEL like? The convenience of a quick shower or a decadent, candle lit bath?
I have tips around adding colour for an extra boost in the book if you’re interested.
For some, the bath isn’t something they enjoy but a longer shower can be a treat. For others, even if the bath takes longer to run, it’s worth it.
I used to feel like this even when water pressure meant the bath took 30 minutes minimum to run. I’d read in case I forgot about it and flooded the flat so that was part of the indulgence, too.
I’m so happy to still be swimming at least once a week most weeks. It’s my first winter doing it and it sets me up for the whole week.
AND, even in the summer, I’m fully prepared to change my mind and get out or not go in.
I’m not going to force myself against my body’s wisdom. I’m not going to endanger my or rescue services’ lives by ignoring storms and other conditions that scream, ‘Not today.’
If you’re addicted to Vitamin Sea like me, you know what I’m talking about.
If not, you might think that it sounds hellish and the opposite to self care. If that’s the case, you’re likely to have your own equivalent. It might be riding roller-coasters or something else entirely but again, how can you make more time for it?
If you love reading, you know the indulgence of losing yourself in a good book or glossy magazine. For a long time, I was using the increasing stacks of books on the go as pressure instead of the gifts they are. I’ve started going to bed a little earlier in order to make more space for regularly reading and it feels soooo indulgent.
If you don’t like reading, it may be about creating time and space to actively enjoy whatever you’re choosing to watch or games etc.
What are you adding to YOUR list?
This list is far from exhaustive. Even the 366 ideas in 365 Ways to Feel Better: Self-care Ideas for Embodied Wellbeing is far from exhaustive. We can take almost ANY moment and use it to check in with ourselves about the options available to us and which is a greater act of self care.
What are your non-negotiables?
How might you offer yourself modifications so you can keep them up at different levels while still being kind to yourself?
If you’d like more support around this, there are links to several free and almost free resources in this blog post.
You might also benefit from the Feel Better Every Day online membership programme (currently with a very special offer).
You KNOW what’s right for you
But while I hope this post has offered some food for thought, you don’t need me or anyone else to tell you what you need and want. You simply need to decide to ask yourself what’s the most caring thing you can do for your Self in any given moment.