Self-Care is for Every Day, by Kayla Walker, LMFT
"Self-care is not selfish.
You cannot serve from an empty vessel." - Eleanor Brownn
I have a confession to make: I struggle with self-care. It’s ironic really, since the importance of self-care is one of the first things I usually talk with my clients about. I even use the “fuel in the car” metaphor: you know, “Life is like a road trip, and you (your body, your life) are the car. You can’t keep going without fuel. Self care is the fuel. You have to regularly refuel yourself to keep going in life.”
And all of that is true, of course. I know it, and I believe it — truly, I do. It’s just that with so many things on my plate, juggling multiple roles and responsibilities throughout the day, carving out time to focus on myself just seems so...minor, tedious and relatively unimportant, yet somehow overwhelming at the same time. You see, at the end of a long day of managing toddler meltdowns, potty training, nursing, laundry, making multiple meals (for the toddler), and trying to stay on top of work emails, all I really want to do is tune out and turn off. I’ll just binge watch Friends and pass out on the couch, thank you very much.
Most of us are aware that chronic stress can have negative long-term effects on our health. While it’s easy to point to high-pressure, high-stress situations as the source of chronic stress; far more often, chronic stress stems from lots of smaller stressors built up over a longer period of time. These smaller stressors may fly under the radar as simple day-to-day problems, but the physiological responses they produce are the same as in any high-stress situation: blood pressure increases, breathing becomes more rapid, digestive system shuts down, and our bodies get boosts of adrenaline that keep us alert and ready to respond to whatever comes our way. These fight-or-flight responses are designed to help us deal with short bursts of high stress, but living in this fight-or-flight mode day after day can do lasting harm to your body and your mind. Self-care is critical to helping us manage everyday stressors and preventing the build up of chronic stress.
But the thing is, my Friends-induced couch coma isn't really self-care; its numbing. Numbing is about avoidance; it feels great to turn off the exhaustion and tune out the mind racing over the million things I need to do tomorrow. It even feels like self-care sometimes, because it stops the flood of stress I feel after a hectic day. But it’s not self-care because it’s not refueling. Binge-watching Netflix and passing out on the couch doesn’t help me feel like myself again. It doesn’t inspire me or energize me or help me burn off excess stress hormones. It may numb the stress I’ve felt all day, but it also numbs any positive feelings I may have been able to reflect on or enjoy at the end of the day. It doesn’t really relieve the stress; it just sets it aside to be picked up again tomorrow. And that stress that gets set aside and picked up again and again day after day begins to build into a powder keg of stress and pressure ready to explode. And then, (if I may use the car metaphor again), your car isn’t just out of fuel. It’s on fire. Its important to find activities that actually re-energize you, restore you, or allow you to burn off the stress of the day, rather than just numb it out.
Two things that regularly come up when I talk to clients about self care are:
1) The last thing I need is to add one more thing to my day.
2) What if I don’t know what relaxes or refuels me?
Honestly, these two things are my biggest challenges as well. But the good news is that self-care doesn’t have to be some elaborate plan, and it doesn’t have to take much effort. It starts with identifying activities that refuel you, that help you feel relaxed or soothed or give you energy or life. True self care can be as simple as listening to music you enjoy or wearing your favorite comfy socks or sweater. You don’t have to diffuse the perfect essential oil blend (unless you’re into that sort of thing); any scented candle you enjoy can be relaxing. And going for a brisk walk outside can be just as stress-relieving as a full-on gym workout. The point is to keep it simple, keep it do-able, so you’re more likely to actually do it. Just start with a simple activity that seems do-able and try it for a week. If, at the end of the week, you don’t feel better, try something else. Keep trying new things each week until you find something that works for you.
So, in this new year I’m making a renewed commitment to self-care. Won’t you join me? This week, I’ll be dancing to 80s music in my living room. What will you choose?
Need help finding a self care activity? Here are some more ideas:
Go out in the sun and notice its warmth on your skin.
Take a warm bath.
Cuddle with a pet.
Sit outside and listen to nature.
Go for a hike.
Visit a museum or tourist attraction.
Try a new restaurant.
Do a craft project.
Go for a drive.
Work on a puzzle.
List things for which you are grateful.
Journal your feelings.
Allow yourself to cry.
Do something that makes you laugh.
Dance around your living room.
Take a nap
Call or hang out with a friend.
Join a support group.
See a therapist.
The author, Kayla Walker, is currently accepting new clients in our Banker's Hill location and can
be reached by calling 619-272-6858 x708 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org