Self-care is about creating a life that you don’t need to escape from
At a recent health retreat, I attended an intimate workshop all about self-care. The first thing we were asked to do was share with the group our perfect day. I found myself wistfully remembering elements of perfect days from the past – a peaceful kind of flow filled with nature views, gentle exercise and animated conversations around a table of delicious food. At first, I was a little shy about describing such small maybe even mundane elements, thinking perhaps I was not dreaming big enough!
Yet, as we went around the class I witnessed a group of highly intelligent, motivated and successful people share their stories, not of luxurious lunches on yachts or extravagant soirees and whirlwind shopping trips – in fact, what they share were tales of days filled with little luxuries that reflected, like my own, the simple joys in life. We heard about perfect moments like waking without an alarm, walking the dog somewhere pretty, a favourite coffee spot, delicious food, a catch up with loved ones, working on something productive, or time channelling a glorious creative outlet. Not one of these descriptions contained anything that was so lofty in its ideals that it was impossible to achieve regularly – at least on a weekly basis, and it highlighted our innate capacity to gracefully care for ourselves.
So the question begged: If these moments of joy, ease, grace and fulfilment were all such simple and achievable, why are we all burnt out, drained and stressed? Why were we on retreat in the first place? What are we doing wrong, and why do we sabotage our best practices?
The next part of the exercise answered some of this as we were asked to reflect on the outputs, the actual energy expenditure that allowed our self-care cups to be drained.
For many of us, these outputs were the hallmarks of modern living. Multi-tasking, eating on the run and not digesting our food properly, trying to please too many people and not pleasing ourselves, winding down with wine and not exercise. Working far too hard in businesses that saw exhaustion as a status symbol. Carrying expectations of ourselves and those around us that were not reasonable or realistic.
It was confronting to see that the things we thought were supporting us to keep up with our busy lives, were the very things that were in the way of a balanced, nourishing, connected and juicy creative life that we all aspire to.
Sometimes we don’t actually need to fix ourselves, but we can start taking care of ourselves and choosing real comfort over instant gratification?
Maybe true self-care is about looking our failures in the eye and making new plans?
Could it be about having the courage to face the truths instead of distracting ourselves from our lives with bubble baths and chocolate cake?
What emotions, beliefs and fears are we hanging onto that are the perfect excuse for us to stay in the same patterns that are trapping us?
My invitation is to anyone reading this article to do an honest self-care inventory.
Get a pen and paper and reflect honestly on three things that fill your cup, your “inputs”.
Then ruthlessly evaluate where you are out of balance and what is draining you, “your out-puts”
It is here you can be aware of the people, activities and responsibilities that no longer serve you. Your time, energy, and emotional capital are valuable and should be used with intention. Every time you are able to establish boundaries you reinforce healthy self-esteem.
The next part is to reflect on their people in your life to keep you accountable. To remind you to engage in the honest, raw and sometimes rather boring activities that equate to truly looking after yourself, the things that keep us connected to actual self-care and not the shiny consumer version of the practice.
This may not be the people we think. For example, your best friend may indulge your desire to be comforted, but it’s your sister that can call us out on neglecting the parts of lives that fill our cup and keep us nourished, balanced and operating optimally. We may need to look outside our friends and family and engage in the wisdom and support of a therapist or naturopath for example.
Re-visit this list regularly.
And what you may discover as you continue to create a life that you are proud of, that you don’t need to escape, that the problems you were trying to distract yourself from may just not be there anymore….
Rebecca Eather. Clinical Hypnotherapist and Counsellor at Shift. Rebecca can help you redefine what true self-care is for you. She works gently and cooperatively with people needing help with anxiety, depression, stress management, addiction, grief and loss, life transitions, low self-esteem and healthier relationships.