‘Rebranding self-care as simply what it is: self-giving-a-sh**’ ~ Sophie White

I LOVED Sophie White’s column in the Sunday Independent’s Life magazine (22/8/21).

Cliches around self care

In it, she bemoans the ruination of self-care as ‘deeply superficial and privileged’ as so many equate it with spa days and scented candles.

In this incredibly honest piece about the basic self-maintenance that she sometimes finds impossible, White has helped me better understand some of MY frustration with the cliches around self-care.

I know that for me, it was life saving (of course giving a sh** about myself WOULD be when I hadn’t previously).

Let go of any unhelpful ‘shoulds’

I presented on holistic self care for therapists at an international therapy conference (the IACP in Dublin, Holy Cross University in New Orleans and DePaul in Chicago) last Saturday. When I was preparing to share a few of the ideas from the book, 365 Ways to Feel Better: Self-care Ideas for Embodied Wellbeing I asked some therapy colleagues what THEIR biggest blocks to self care were.

SHOULDS were amongst the most popular answers. Several said something along the lines of, ‘I’m a therapist so I should be able to do what I encourage my clients to do.’

My ‘niche’ evolved into self-care because I struggled so much with it myself (and found it so transformative when I began to get enough of a grasp to build on) but am far from perfect. Each day, it can mean something different so takes ongoing mindfulness.

‘For the bad times, the bar needs to be lowered’

As White points out in her column, some of the ‘shoulds’ we have offer guidance, eg, around hygiene. When we notice these basics falling by the wayside, ‘for the bad times, the bar needs to be lowered.’

White talks about friends checking in when she can’t manage a ‘walks and yoga and eating right’. Her friends are her ‘salvation’.

For others, the very idea of ‘reaching out’ when feeling so low can feel impossible. We heal through our connection with others and the world around us and yet, especially with interpersonal trauma survivors (rape, abuse etc v natural disasters) trusting humans – even a therapist – can feel too much.

What’s YOUR biggest self care challenge?

By being curious and compassionate with yourself, seeking the wisdom from the resistance rather than beating yourself up for being a human being, you’re likely to come up with supportive solutions.

Back in April, I made some ENORMOUS changes to my diet and lifestyle to help ease perimenopause and other symptoms. I was highly motivated. And while I still am, the thing I was struggling with most was the earlier nights.

I STILL see myself as a ‘night owl’ and am resistant to do any of the things that would help me evolve this part of my identity in order to put less stress on my system (and make other elements of my self care practices easier). While I’ve brought my sleep time to be much earlier, I’d like to be going to bed that bit earlier.

I’ve been connecting very strongly with my Inner Toddler telling myself I don’t wanna go to bed. Every night. I like being awake. I want to do loads more than one person can feasibly do. AND I know that earlier sleep has many health benefits.

I’ve started setting a BEDTIME alarm

It’s very gentle but tells me, at midnight, that if I’m not already in bed (I’ve been aiming for 11pm since April but having previously considered 2am early and 4am the norm, progress not purrfection) it’s time to simply check in with myself.

Do I WANT to stay up and do _____ and play catch up tomorrow or do I want to begin prepping for a wondrous night’s sleep?

I do love to sleep and am especially appreciative after primary school to mid twenties chronic insomnia.

I press snooze a few times but it’s – so far – a gentler way of reminding myself of the benefits of this new routine and making it more habitual.

When you think about your biggest self care bugbear, how can you – to lower the bar with expectations – make it, if not more enjoyable, then at least that bit more palatable?

How might you lower the bar?

While I TOTALLY understand people thinking that yoga is for better days, it’s been one of MY salvations as it’s body work we can do for ourselves. An instant mood change is possible as we use the body and breath to send signals of safety and wellbeing to our brains.

One of the ways in which I lowered the bar (and developed a daily yoga and meditation practice) several years ago was to recognise what the ‘bare minimum’ (as White rightly suggests) might be.

Some days, my yoga practice is a simple breath practice – yoga – especially trauma informed yoga – isn’t what we might think it is from scrolling social media.

The term comes from the idea of yoking – uniting – body and mind. Yoga is a way of befriending body and mind. Sometimes my morning yoga is just one pose – maybe Child or Tree or Cat / Cow

Again, the connection of each movement to the breath is the important thing. Often, this evolves into a longer practice but by checking in with myself at every step, I’m being especially mindful. Sometimes, doing less is self-care.

As White says, she does one thing from her ‘bare-minimum list. And once you do that one thing, you might break the seal and do some more. You deserve it. And I deserve it. I’m off to brush my teeth.’

Remember the benefits of Self care, too

The upper case S ~ the Self / Higher Self / Miraculous Self / Atma / True Self / Wild Self.

You don’t have to do this alone.

When I started my psychosynthesis training, one of the guided visualisations involved getting a sense of where we were in that moment. I saw myself on the ground in an alley. Broken. Covered in bags and bags of rubbish.

The part of me that was already a coach and complementary therapist began to go into ‘right, clear the rubbish’ mode but I was able to continue listening to the instructions for the meditation and what came next still astonishes me 13 years later.

We were encouraged to get a sense of a next step – I don’t remember the exact instruction but we were encouraged to connect with our Self and any Wise Beings that might offer support.

In my imagination, where I’d been exhausting myself psyching myself up to somehow manoeuvre the rubbish off me and clean myself off so I didn’t bother anyone else with my mess and stench, some friendly angels swept in and effortless lifted the rubbish bags and I was left feeling (temporarily, but enough to start building on) whole.

Anchor your reminder

I drew a little representation of it on a post it note and kept it visible for YEARS to remind me to connect with Nature, Divine Love, Source, the Universe, God, Goddess and the Angels. That I – just like every creature on this phenomenal planet we share – was worthy of healing.

A few months later, I got my first (and so far only) tattoo of a little star to remind me of the instant peace that comes when I trust and surrender. Life has become better than I could have imagined but there are still times when I’m working myself up about something and spot it and remember to breath, let go and be open to that part of me that knows what to do.

I share some of these tools in the Feel Better Every Day online membership programme as well as many being available throughout the site

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With love,

Eve Menezes Cunningham self care coach therapist supervisor

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