'SelfCare' is suddenly all over the wellbeing press, such a simple concept, but the tricky bit is making it work for you. I define SelfCare as ‘achieving your full potential by choosing actions to balance your physical and emotional health’. It was important for me to keep it simple but encompass the holistic and diverse theory surrounding it.
Practising or ‘doing’ SelfCare is a lifestyle, not a crisis intervention. Its proactive, it’s a choice, and its fairly important if we are to look after ourselves. If we do it is thought we can use it to support working towards being as emotionally and physically healthy as we can be. But let’s keep the expectation ‘real’ from the start!
Expectations can play a big part in our lives. We compare and contrast ourselves to others, and many of us are slaves to what we think we should, could or ought to be.
In order to be realistic about SelfCare, let’s just consider being good enough. Not the ‘Best Self Carer’, but someone who is able to practice, or do it ‘enough’. Not to please or meet the family, neighbour’s, friends or colleague’s criteria, just doing enough to meet your criteria.
My interest in SelfCare comes from working and researching around practitioners who are professionally supporting others through trauma and difficult phases in their lives. This work can take a dramatic toll on us physically and emotionally. Burnout, compassion fatigue vicarious trauma and secondary trauma are all linked to supporting others. This is in addition to the stresses and strains of life many of us cope with on a daily basis.
The value of SelfCare, is that it can provide a buffer against stress and burnout no matter what our role in life. If we don’t find ways of looking after ourselves, we can break, physically and emotionally
My research has also shone a spot light on a culture that seems to ‘look down’ upon the concept of looking after ourselves rather than embrace and encourage something that has a positive value and long term benefits. We don’t seem to encourage those around us to practice SelfCare. It seems we are ‘selfish’ ‘self-centred’ or ‘indulgent’ if we prioritise our own needs. Yet how are we to support and actively take part in life if we have literally broken down by ignoring our own essential requirements?
To further confuse things, SelfCare looks different to everybody. Just like we have different tastes in clothes food music etc we also have to find different ways to look after ourselves. We all realise there are different actions that make us smile. In my book, if you find yourself smiling, you’re probably doing something that soothes your soul or revitalises your mood and body, so what are we waiting for?
Like any changes we make, its takes time and effort. No, I’m sorry, lighting one scented candle is not a holistically a healthy lifestyle in a sweet-scented lump of wax. However, if we start to do things that regularly, actively enable us take time out, by lighting the candle, smelling it and enjoying the flicker of it as it send shadows around the room, even for five minutes every day, then it’s a great start!
SelfCare by its very definition also starts to cultivate the idea of caring for yourself, and this is not something many of us appear to be able to do very naturally or easily. We might have been brought up with messages such as ‘pull your socks up’ ‘think of others first’ ‘just get on with it’ ‘head down’ and similar. These messages have firmly cemented how hard it is to consider ourselves naturally as a priority, and these thoughts needs to change as a part of the process to kinder, more compassionate thoughts about our self and our worth.
The good news is, we can change thoughts and we can change habits, and we can start to do this in order to recharge our batteries, refill the empty vessel or pop fuel in our tanks, all analogies that essentially suggest the same thing. If we don’t take care of our basic human needs, we will break down.
If our minds and bodies are an engine, then we must ask ourselves what do we need to keep running efficiently without fear of imminent break down? What is our fuel, and there are some really basic fuelling foundations that can help with making a start?
2. Food & Water
These are such basic elements aren’t they, but they are very very necessary elements if we are to start and practice looking after ourselves.
* Without sleep we are unable to function effectively, just ask a new parent!
* Without food we quite literally starve, we don’t provide ourselves with the hydration or energy our bodies and brains need to live.
* Without exercise we will seize up, maybe not immediately but in time, and all those other organs, our hearts for a start, will struggle to function as best they can.
So, let’s keep SelfCare really basic to start off with. Try thinking about one small change that you can make that will support these three basic needs, sleep, food and exercise. The challenge is these activities need to make you smile too.
This may be a scented candle at bed time, or it might mean drifting off to some music.
It maybe the smell of a freshly brewed coffee or increasing your water intake.
It might also mean walking to the shops as opposed to a 30-minute run.
We need to start somewhere, and we need to start small. Learning how to look after ourselves with balance, deciphering what makes us smile with what is good for us, is a fascinating consideration.
My final message has to be encouraging you to keep it simple. Yes, a basic SelfCare plan can help with organisation and motivation, but maybe not to the point of obsession.
How are we ever going to nurture the simple concept of SelfCare and pass on the baton, if we’re too busy wrapping ourselves up in an overly timetabled stressful and complicated SelfCare programme not to notice those around us?
Top tips for Self Care
1. Take responsibility for your own SelfCare
2. Choose actions that balance your physical and emotional health
3. Start small
4. Keep it simple
5. Pass it on
Sass Boucher is a counsellor and psychotherapist registered with the BACP, working in private practice. Her MSc research focussed on how Social Workers, Counsellors and Specialist Domestic Violence Workers experience working with clients living with or leaving domestic abuse. Sass is also a trainer encouraging the practice of self care. You can get in touch with Sass via Twitter or her website.