We all know that it’s important to take care of ourselves but often struggle with how to go about doing this. Does self-care mean eating chocolate cake, getting a massage, going for an intense workout or taking a nap? Maybe…sometimes.
Most people worry that self-care is just another chore, another task to take on. But often times self-care means doing less. Maybe it’s time for you to do less caretaking, less intense workouts, less punishing yourself.
Real, meaningful self-care is such a personal process. There is not one recipe to nourish the body, heart, mind and spirit that applies to everyone or even anyone all the time. Self-care means being responsive to your personal needs as they change. At the base of self-care is honoring yourself.
Honoring yourself requires taking a pause to listen to what you really need in that moment. This may be quite different from what you want. Recognizing this difference is the key to really nurturing yourself rather than simply doing what feels good or familiar or safe for the moment. Sometimes what we want is actually self-destructive. It takes wisdom to see through the desire for immediate gratification to discover what we need beneath the surface.
Create Your Own Self-Care Practice
The body. Set aside quiet moments throughout the day to tune in and listen to your physical self. Scan your body for the physical sensations you’re experiencing in this moment. Notice if there is tension, discomfort, imbalance, fatigue, hunger, thirst, pain. See if you can respond to your body’s needs in that moment. This may mean you adjust your posture, take a rest, stretch, drink some water. Take care of your body with loving appreciation.
The heart. Take your emotional temperature. Just as you scan your body for physical sensations we can scan our heart for emotional messages. Notice if there is heaviness, excitement, fear, hurt, joy. Pay particular attention to unmet needs in your heart. Try to notice and accept these feelings without expecting anyone else to change or solve things. Think about what you can do to treat your heart gently. Respond compassionately to your emotional self.
The mind. Notice your repetitive thoughts. Our minds tend to loop through familiar patterns. Recognize the patterns that are most common for you and ask yourself how helpful these are. If these patterns of thinking are not helpful, if they tend to make you feel worse or stuck, challenge them. Would you think such thoughts about anyone else you love? Identify more helpful thoughts. The thoughts that we put energy into become stronger. So choose to nurture thoughts that build you up rather than break you down.
The spirit. Allow yourself to explore the greater meaning in your life. Nurture whatever you find gives your life purpose and meaning. Examine your connection with others and tend to the connections that need strengthening. Creating a practice of meaningful self-care means knowing when to say no and when to ask for help. It means being open to evolving and responding to your ever changing needs with compassion.
Written by Suzanne Smith, Ph.D. for the Lakefront Psychology Blog. If you are interested in more original articles about mental health, postpartum issues, wellness, relationships, and parenting, please subscribe to the blog using the button below. If you are interested in scheduling an appointment with Dr. Smith, please contact Lakefront Psychology at 216-870-9816.