Many of us think of good self care in terms of nurturing strategies, like bubble baths and massages, a "quick fix" technique to undo the stress, worry, and tension that has accumulated. While things like bubble baths and massages might get rid of some immediate effects of stress, worry, and tension, they certainly cannot prevent us from reacting to the day to day events and situations in our lives that overwhelm us.
What is Self Care?
True self care is really more about PREVENTION than INTERVENTION. Let's take a look at intervention first. Intervention has to do with reacting to what has happened. A fight with a loved one, an unrealistic demand from a supervisor, an unexpected expense, etc. We might react by verbally attacking someone else or biting our tongue. We might automatically think the other person is at fault (for this and perhaps everything else going wrong in our lives) or we might think "what's wrong with me" or "why does this always happen?" In order to deal with our reaction, we might turn to stress relieving activities, such as bubble baths and massages. But once the water drains and the last muscle is kneaded, we're still left with the consequences of our reaction. We may have said or done something we regret to someone else or even ourselves. Which leads to other interventions, healthy or not so healthy, and the cycle continues. Some examples of intervention strategies might include:
- Yelling into a pillow (rather than at someone else)
- Treating yourself to decadent dessert
- Taking a long, hot bubble bath
Prevention has to do with setting ourselves up for success and shaping our reaction BEFORE we have it. It involves respecting ourselves enough to make healthy choices more often than we make unhealthy ones. It's about lifestyle, consistency, and commitment. By committing to prevention, we can learn to take care of ourselves (mind, body, and spirit) in ways that helps us take time out before we respond, choose our words and our actions, and deal with stressful situations in ways that honor not only ourselves but others. Ultimately, prevention is about how we treat ourselves - the actions we take to care for ourselves, the thoughts we have, and how we feel about ourselves. Some examples of prevention strategies might include:
- Getting enough sleep each night (7 to 9 hours)
- Moving your body regularly (walking, working out, etc.)
- Saying positive affirmations to yourself daily
While bubble baths, massages, and other nurturing intervention strategies can be part of an overall self care plan, they are only a small part. For true and lasting ways to take better care of ourselves, it's important to incorporate prevention strategies.
What Gets in the Way of Good Self Care?
We know that wanting something (such as better health or relationships or making ourselves a bigger priority in our own lives) and getting it are two very different things. Wanting something just requires a thought, a wish. Getting it requires action. Wanting without action can turn to longing and resentment of dreams unrealized. In order to get what you want, you must either DO SOMETHING or DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT. Seems simple enough. So why do so many of us struggle with it?
It's because taking action is often tied to other things we can't see and sometimes don't even realize are there. Things like attitudes and thoughts. We may put the blame on things we CAN see, like:
It's easy to throw around excuses. And everyone seems to relate. But when you start to look at your attitudes and thoughts, that's when you start to see that you (not others and not your circumstances) have the ultimate power in turning what you want into what you have. Let's take a deeper look.
Think of your attitude as your overall approach to life. Some people have a positive attitude and can see good from the darkest of situations. People with a negative attitude generally discount (or simply cannot see) any positive aspects of a situation. Many people fall somewhere between and depending on the situation may be more inclined to have a positive or negative attitude.
Thoughts include what you think about yourself, others, and the world around you. They are shaped by your underlying beliefs and your overall attitude. When we have recurring types of thoughts, they become thought patterns that drive what we say and do.
We can learn to retrain ourselves to have a more positive attitude by simply starting to notice our reactions to situations as they come up then consciously choosing more positive thoughts. Here's some suggestions on how to do that:
- Write down thoughts you have about yourself and others in reaction to a stressful situation. Once you do this enough, you might start to see some of the patterns you have.
- Ask trusted people around you if they think you generally have a positive or negative attitude. Ask them for examples of things you say and do that leads them to think the way they do. Ask them to notice ways that you react that are both positive and negative. This way, you can gather what having a positive and negative attitude looks like for you.
- Keep a list of positive thoughts with you at all times. Take it out and read it aloud when you notice negative thoughts and a negative attitude creeping in.
How to Practice Better Self Care
The best place to learn what would be a great long-term strategy for maintaining good self care is to take a page out of history. Your history, that is. What has worked for you in the past is more likely to work for you again.
- Take some time to write down ways you have successfully taken good care of your mind, body, and spirit. Keep in mind that successful means that you felt good about yourself and you were better able to deal with stress.
- Once you have a list of successful self care strategies, take another look. Circle the ones that aren't just intervention strategies (a simple "quick fix" to a stressful situation) but rather provide solutions for long-term success. These would include ways you can consistently care for yourself that are not in reaction to stress, but more for the prevention of the effects of stress.
- Pick ONE of your success strategies and make a commitment to follow it every day for a week. Remember to pick something that you can do, that doesn't require a lot of time. Set yourself up for success.
- Get some support. When making changes, it can be helpful to enlist the support of others. This can aid in keeping us accountable and on track. Find one person who can be a good cheerleader as you implement your success strategy.