Mind-Body-Spirit Resilience Through Self-Care

Fair warning, I’m on a mission to challenge you to rethink your entire concept of the practice known as “self-care”.

Let’s start with the common perception that self-care is a collection of activities to either pamper you or soothe frayed nerves when you’re tired or experiencing stress in your life.

To easily support this viewpoint, all you need to do is run a quick search online and you’ll find no shortage of advice and lengthy lists of recommended activities that look like this:

  • Get a massage
  • Take a nap
  • Listen to music you enjoy
  • Read an inspirational book
  • Meditate
  • Spend time in nature
  • Breathe

As soothing as these actions and behaviors may be, the issue is that more often than not we rely on them for their short-term coping or self-pampering benefits rather than as part of an authentic self-care regimen.

Re-Defining Self-Care

In order to understand what authentic self-care is, and why it matters, we need to first take a look at the difference between the strategies that are typically lumped together under the banner of self-care.

Coping: Is taking action (reading, spend time in nature, etc.) to serve as a distraction and provide temporary relief from a stressful situation.

Soothing: Undertaking activities that specifically have a gentle calming effect (meditation, bubble bath, etc.).

Self-pampering: Treating yourself to some type of special indulgence, kindness, or care (spa treatment, massage, etc).

Self-Care: Taking intentional actions to care for your long-term physical, mental and emotional health.

The point is, true self-care is not a quick fix, it is a lifestyle choice. This is not an attempt at wordplay, but rather a critical shift in mindset.

Just to be clear, there is nothing wrong with coping, soothing or self-pampering activities, in fact, many people rely on short-term strategies because they take less time and effort.

It also helps to eliminate the guilt and feelings of selfishness that so often accompanies taking “me” time.

The problem is that when repeatedly used over time to mask or avoid dealing with real issues or insecurities this approach actually has the potential to increase your level of stress and anxiety.

Practicing sustainable self-care is becoming aware of what you want and need on the deepest level and then making it a priority to develop and consistently practice the rituals and habits that will nurture your well-being for the long-term.

Not just to get through the day.

The following graph illustrates the true scope of areas affected by an effective self-care program.

Self-Care Attributes - ERL

 

The Benefits of a Self-Care Regimen

Let’s be honest, if you weren’t already thinking of all of the reasons why you don’t have time for this stuff, you surely are now after taking a gander at the graph above, but hang on a little longer because the benefits of committing to a self-care program are enormous.

A self-care regimen:

  • Prevents disease and illness.
  • Shortens recovery time from illness or injury.
  • Enhances your sense of autonomy (control over your life).
  • Improves self-esteem and confidence.
  • Reduces stress and stress-related anxiety.
  • Helps you be more productive, engaged, and connected.
  • Makes it easier to manage your weight.
  • Helps to build stronger more meaningful relationships.
  • Improves both the length and quality of your life.

So, if self-care has the potential to make such a huge positive impact on our lives, why aren’t we doing it?

Taking care of yourself is one of the hardest jobs – don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise. It’s much easier to take care of others.

~Charity Shumway

~

In our hearts, we all know that we need to eat right, drink more water, exercise, get enough sleep, nourish our souls, enrich our minds, build a support system, and set healthy personal boundaries.

How many times have you started the day out with the best intentions but then work, that never-ending task list and those vying for your attention take over.

The next thing you know you’re at the end of another long exhausting day having given your time and energy to everything and everyone except you.

So, you fall back on the go-to excuse for not doing something you know you should, “I just didn’t have time.”

We all have the same 24 hours in a day, what makes the difference is how we use that time. The real issue is that you haven’t made self-care a priority.

More to the point, you haven’t made YOU a priority in your life.

Turning Self-Care into a Habit

The circumstances that trigger meaningful life change will vary for each of us.

It may be the loss of an important relationship or a dire warning that if you don’t begin taking care of yourself you may well end up losing all that you hold near and dear.

For many, it’s a milestone birthday that reminds them that time is ticking away.

Whatever the catalyst for this shift in thinking is, a positive attitude or growth mindset alone doesn’t always lead to new or changed behavior.

You might keep telling yourself that eating lunch slumped over your computer keyboard isn’t good for you (in so many ways), but you’re busy, busy and so you continue to do it anyway.

So what’s the answer?

Create a system to turn the behaviors you desire into habits.

Habit forming is a key aspect of achieving your desired outcome because it breaks down what may feel like an overwhelming change in your life to manageable steps that build momentum.

For example, an easy system to use would look something like this:

  • Identify a behavior you want to change or create.
  • Clarify exactly what you want to have happen, and most importantly, why.
  • Make a commitment to do the work to change or create the new behavior.
  • Take action.
  • Maintenance.
  • Review and adjust as necessary.

The true power of using a system to create your habit(s) really becomes apparent when you recognize these stages are sequential and conditional.

Focusing on reaching the next stage rather than on an invisible goal line will help prevent discouragement.

Embrace the “Something is Better Than Nothing” Strategy

If you’ve made a life of putting others first it’s easy to underestimate how much time and patience it will take to change your own behavior, let alone the behavior of those near and dear to you.

You may be fully prepared to begin focusing on your own well-being, but the people around you will still expect you to behave in the same old ways and will naturally resist as they struggle to understand this new need for occasional quality “me” time.

In fact, it may be that one of your biggest challenges during this transition is going to be learning to effectively communicate your needs to others, but in the meantime, you can still make progress by using the “something is better than nothing” strategy.

The intention here is to not wait until circumstances are “perfect” to begin incorporating self-care into your life, even if it’s only one small step at a time.

  • Put on your calendar 15 minutes a day to meditate, read or simply breathe.
  • Have that difficult conversation you’ve been putting off.
  • Raise your standards in one area, set a boundary and make it stick.

With each step, no matter how small, it’s important to acknowledge that you just did the good and necessary thing to take better care of you, and that means you’ll be in a better place to take care of the people who matter most to you.

And the next step? Once you do this a few times, try expanding your mantra to ‘Something is better than nothing, and more is better than less.’

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