'How to' Self-Care
1. External circumstances
In our lives, there will always be internal and external adapatations we can make. Much spiritual thought concentrates on the importance of internal changes – spiritual growth is an ‘inside job’ – but sometimes there are situations and circumstances in our lives that require a little attention.
Can we ask
- Is there a situation I’m in that is now outdated? Something ever present that is sapping my spirit?
- Is there a way of moving away?
One theory holds that we are the sum of the five people we spend most time with – (Jim Rohn).
How does this feel in your body to consider this? Soothing and reassuring, or frightening and alarming?
Who we spend time with is important. The people around us unavoidably have an effect on our nervous system, so it’s worth considering if our immediate influences make us feel calm or make us feel activated. This is self-care in action.
We can ask ourelves:
- Are the relationships in my life nourishing – do I feel energised, met where I am, seen, heard? Or do I feel drained and under-nourished?
- Is there reciprocity and spaciousness within these dynamics, or a sense of squashing and impatience?
- Are we breathing love into each others quirks and shortcomings, or is there derision and judgment?
The way in which we speak to ourselves has an even greater effect on our wellbeing than we may realise.
Self-kindness literally increase our oxytocin levels, leading to feelings of warmth, compassion and tenderness. (Kristin Neff).
Self-criticism sends our systems into the fight/flight response, increasing adrenaline and cortisol levels and therefore our stress and anxiety levels
Questions to consider would therefore be –
- How am I speaking to myself?
- Is my languaging low-toned and tender, or abrasive and unkind?
- What happens if instead of self-criticism I practise self-cheering, metaphorical pom-pom shaking at my own efforts?
All humans are wired with a negativity bias. Our brains are designed to focus on threats and problems so that we can find solutions necessary for our survival.
When we don’t practise gratitude, our experience of ‘negativity’ will often be heightened.
Sometimes we can struggle where to focus our lens of gratitude, sometimes we focus purely on external things, but it can also be extremely nurturing to direct that lens inwards.
We can ask ourselves what am I grateful for?
- Things I’ve had no control over (God/ Higher Power things)
- Things other people have done
- Things ABOUT MYSELF.
The invitation to feeling our feelings is not always the most appealing, but perpetual and consistent avoidance can lead to build up and blockages. Without feeling our feelings we are more likely to get stuck in patterns of anxiety, depression and other addictive behaviours (whether that be substances, work, food or scrolling).
What we resist persists. If we keep running, we will be forever chased.
Questions for self-inquiry:
- Do I dissolve into addictions, perpetually seeking escape hatches from my feelings?
- How might I start to welcome the unwelcome?
6. Seeking Validation
Whilst it’s entirely natural and very human to desire the love and approval of those around us, it’s a delicate line to tread.
If I’m subjugating my own needs and suppressing my own voice in order to please others, then the immediate relief of these behaviours will often be outweighed by the long term detriment to our nervous systems and wellbeing.
Questions for self-inquiry:
- Am I relying on externals to pacify an internal malady?
- Am I seeking love and validation outside myself?
- If that were the elixir, wouldn’t I feel satiated by now?
I believe deeply that life is about balance. Everything about ourselves, about our brains, about our energies, needs to come into balance. It is our ‘job’ to integrate the polarities, to find a way to come to centre.
We will invariably swing from one end of the pendulum to the other at different times in our lives, at different times of our internal cycles, at different times of the year, but if we place conscious attention on the fluctuations we can experience more softness and more flow.
- What is out of balance?
- Do I need more routine, or do I need less?
- Am I inflexibly clinging to structure as self-protection, or am I evading responsibility by being too fluid?
8. Comfort Zones
Our comfort zones are elastic – sometimes they need some gentle stretching. Comfort is essential, but too much comfort is detrimental. If we’re not interpersing our cocooning with growth, we risk shrinking and stagnation.
But if we’re stretching ourselves too much, we risk emotional, energetic and physical exhaustion. As well as resentment and physical/ emotional illness.
- Am I pushing myself too much or not enough?
- Do I need more self-soothing or do I need more fire?
There is a clear distinction between merely enduring our days or experiencing and enjoying them, and sometimes it’s easy to forget the extent to which we can influence this.
More fun and more play will lead to more open-heartedness, more flow and a deeper sense of connection with ourselves and others. Increased levels of joy will enable us to hold space more readily for the other side of our humanity – the sorrow, the grief and the discomfort.
- Am I having any fun?
- Where might I invite more play and more joy into my days?
- Where might I discover a sense of awe and enchantment to keep me excited and my heart open?
- How might I employ my creativity to support my thriving?
Human beings aren’t supposed to do this alone.
“…the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.” – Kurt Vonnegut
There is such a strong tendency for us to isolate when we’re struggling. The voices in our heads can get really loud when we’re in fear, justifying our solitude and separation.
In these times it’s extra important to reach out and allow those around us to reflect our light, when we’re not able to see it for ourselves.
- Where am I needing more support, more community, more connection?
- Am I suffocating with self-sufficiency, or am I overly depending on others?
- Where do I need to ask for help and support, or where might I exercise some independence?
When we can really illuminate what needs uncovering, unpeeling, unfurling, then we get to experience what self-care really looks like and feels like.