When your personal resources are low and you take the time to replenish them rather than to continue depleting them - you are practicing self-care. It involves being gentle with yourself and finding ways to help you feel good.
However, certain activities that make you feel good, like using drugs and getting drunk, binge-eating, or engaging in risk-taking behaviors are not necessarily healthy or helpful. They may help you manage your challenging emotions, but the relief is temporary. True self-care benefits your mind, your body, and your spirit.
Articles on the web suggest that taking a bubble bath, drinking tea, writing in a journal, or going for a walk are ways to care for the self. The fact that such ideas are being mentioned is promising and they may be soothing for some people but not everyone.
In other words, these ideas may not work for you; so, find ones that do. Two ideas that I found helpful were monitoring my self talk and keeping a gratitude journal.
Self-talk is the ongoing internal conversation you have with yourself. It influences how you feel and behave.
The website Psychology Today explains self-talk this way:
Making deliberate shifts in your self-talk is one of the most meaningful ways you can care for yourself, especially if you tend to speak to yourself unkindly. The first step toward turning self-talk into self-care is to develop mindful awareness of your thoughts, noticing how you speak to yourself on a regular basis. Most people are pretty unaware of the kinds of things they say to themselves. They’re either too distracted to pay attention or have grown so used to it that they don’t recognize the negative effect it’s having on them. Start to take an inventory of your self-talk. Recognize the way you treat yourself, and practice stopping unhelpful thoughts in their tracks. By becoming more aware of the tone of your self-talk, you’ll be well on your way to positively shifting your inner experience.
The way you talk to yourself can help or harm you. Negative self-talk can be the root of stress, depression, and anxiety. Positive self-talk can contribute to a happier frame of mind.
Negative self-talk is often referred to as your inner critic - the voice in your head that judges you, doubts you, belittles you, and constantly says you aren’t good enough. It says negative hurtful things to you that you would never say to someone else.
Like it or not, everything you say to yourself matters. The inner critic inhibits you, limits you, and stops you from pursuing the life you want to live. It robs you of peace of mind and emotional well-being.
Let me introduce you to a friendlier voice – your inner coach. This voice provides you with encouragement about the need to get started, to worry less about the outcome, and to believe in yourself. This inner coach reminds you to be gentle and compassionate with yourself. It says “you did the best you could at the time, which is good enough.”
Dr. Kristine Neff, a widely recognized expert on self-compassion, explains being compassionate with yourself this way:
Self-compassion involves acting the same way towards yourself when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself. Instead of just ignoring your pain with a “stiff upper lip” mentality, you stop to tell yourself “this is really difficult right now,” how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment.
Click on this link to view a short video showing the difference between your inner critic and your inner coach.
Gratitude journaling is the regular reflection on and recording of things for which you are grateful. In essence, you are rewiring your brain to focus more on the positive aspects of your life and building a resilience to negative situations.
Keeping a gratitude journal is a popular practice, also known as “counting your blessings” or “three good things.”
Click on this link to learn more!
Let’s look at how Frank practiced self-care. He was recently diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); the group of diseases that cause airflow blockage and breathing-related problems.
55-year-old, Frank was already worn out with the discomfort and struggle of having asthma for years, but his condition was worse. Smoking cigarettes and fighting fires probably played a major role in that decline. He was frustrated, tired, and discouraged.
Frank ate nutritiously and exercised on his good days. His doctor prescribed medications, breathing exercises, and relaxation techniques which he used faithfully. Even so, lifting fire hoses and playing with his two-year-old grandsons was becoming difficult. He still wanted to be a fire-fighter and he definitely wanted to continue playing with his grandsons. Something had to change.
After reading numerous online articles, Frank decided that it was time to make himself a priority and practice a little self-care. The old adage “You can’t pour from an empty glass” was a great reminder. With that in mind, he developed a plan: a thoughtful guide to better promote his health and well being. His plan included four steps.
The first step in Frank’s plan was to make another appointment with the doctor for a complete checkup. He wanted to make sure he was on the right track and to see if there were other medications that might help. He also wanted to stop smoking and to lose 15 pounds.
He planned to follow the doctor’s recommendations rigorously and he enlisted his wife’s support. His goal was to be as physically and mentally healthy as possible for the rest of life.
The second step in his plan was to stop listening to his inner critic and to start supporting himself with positive self-talk. Rather than berating himself for smoking, he praised himself each time he didn’t smoke a cigarette. He also decided to focus on the good he did each day and what he accomplished.
The third step Frank took was to keep a gratitude journal because he really did have a lot to be thankful for; their lovely home, his family, and being able to do work that he loved.
The fourth step in his plan was to make a list of activities that gave him pleasure and do four of them daily. His list included getting up early, having a cup of coffee and reading the news before everyone got up, chatting online with a group of fire-fighter friends, taking an afternoon nap when he could, and daily identifying a positive experience, a kind deed, and something he was grateful for, which he recorded in his journal.
He began his plan immediately with the commitment to a) be accountable to his wife who was most supportive and b) to review the plan in three months and adjust it accordingly.
The person who neglects to put self-care as a high priority is not in a position to age well.