I talk about self-care all the time to my clients. It’s a staple in the Action Lists I create for each one of them. I recently searched the blog here for an in-depth explanation, and I was surprised that I’ve never visited the subject head on!
Because of the raw, real sh*t we talk about here, self-care is a must-know topic. It’s an essential part of the recovery process from, well, all the things: depression, anxiety, eating disorders, grief, stress, etc.
So here’s my comprehensive round up of self-care: the science behind why it works, what it is, how to do it even if you’re brand new to doting on yourself, and the line you want to be wary of as you get further into your SC practice.
Self-Care? That’s too fluffy-woo-woo for me
When I first heard the term, “Self-Care,” I scoffed at it. It sounded like a frilly, unnecessary, touchy-feely practice that only people with a lot of time on their hands could afford to include in their routine.
Not only did it sound way too corny-woo-woo to me, it also felt selfish. It felt foreign and wrong to spend time on just feeling good.
If you know my story, this reaction might not come as a surprise to you; I was in a world of hurt back then. My life was lack-central; I lived paycheck-to-paycheck, felt unloved and unwanted, and was ruled by a constant state of fear that manifested either as depression or anxiety.
It makes sense that self-care felt wrong to me – it was the opposite of the way I’d been living. I didn’t know what it was like to consciously take loving action for myself. I’d never even considered it. That’s the exact reason why it would have been the most helpful thing for me to have done.
Taking purposeful action to show yourself Love is a huge perspective-shifter. If you want to change the way you interpret your world, this is a straight shot to adopting that mindset.
We are what we put energy into. If we’re always focusing on how little we have or how “not there yet” we are, we are literally living in that world. To change it, all you need to do is shift your focus, but that’s not the most simple thing for a lot of us with depression or anxiety. That’s where behavioral activation comes in.
Behavioral activation is basically working from the outside in. It has been scientifically proven to be an effective treatment for depression (that’s why it’s the foundation for our Strong Inside Out Bootcamp program!).
When we take energy that might have been directed to depression- or anxiety-worsening activities (like sleeping in really late, procrastinating, isolation, etc.), and instead focus it on actions that make us feel good physically and feel good about ourselves, we transform our lives. I speak from experience. It’s part of the cognitive behavioral therapy regimen that got me here.
Self-care IS behavioral activation. There. Does that make it a little less fluffy-sparkly to look at it as proven science? Now, let’s take this knowledge and make some f**king magic happen with it.
Hello, I’m Self-Care
So what actions qualify as self-care? It’s a simple answer: any that give you a sense of pleasure and accomplishment [source]. Here are some of my clients’ and my favorites (y’all ready for this?):
- Reading a book by the window
- Epsom salt baths with a couple drops of lavender essential oil
- Friend dates
- Making sure to get 8 hours of sleep each night
- Cooking for yourself (and maybe others, too)
- Reaching out to a friend
- Watching funny youtube videos for a determined amount of time
- Learning a new language
- 5 deep breaths
- Sex or masturbation
- Stretching right before bed
- Playing with dogs
- Snuggling with cats
- Taking Mindful Moments before eating
- Putting a yummy-smelling lotion on your whole body
- Going to the beach
- Attending a 12-step meetings or group therapy
- Getting into nature
- A loving amount of exercise (bet you had no idea that one was coming ;p)
…those are just a few off the top of my head. When you develop your own self-care list, know that it will be different from anyone else’s. Just ask yourself: “What would feel good and loving to do for myself?”
How much should I do?
Obviously, if your self-care regimen consists of going to the beach every day and you live in the middle of the country, you’re not going to do self-care all that often.
I advise my clients to practice small, accessible acts of self-care daily, then look to add those more luxurious ones when they feel ready. And the definition, “accessible,” is a personal one – an accessible act of self-care for one person might be way too elaborate for another (more on this 2 sections down).
If you can, remove judgment from what’s “enough” self-care. You don’t have to be the “best” self-carer in the world to start (calm it down, perfectionists). Start with what you’re willing and ready to do, then go from there.
But I don’t have time for that!
I’ll tell you what you don’t have time for: being drained of all energy and motivation from depression, or the paralyzation and procrastination that anxiety provokes.
You don’t have time to have your life sucked out of you by debilitating depression or anxiety.
When I first started using self-care, it made it more do-able to start slow. Like everything else that stuck for a long time, I started by just committing to a short amount of time doing an activity I really wanted to do.
For instance, if you’re planning to go on a walk outside, start by just walking around the block. Putting loving time boundaries around the activity you’re planning silences the naysayer that argues for why you don’t have time to do it.
Any self-care you can add is more beneficial than none at all. Try just a little bit at first and – as you feel the effects of all this lovin’ – you may find time for more and more!
It feels too weird
I hear you. I do. It’s weird to go from all self-loathing or even ignoring your needs to suddenly spending time directly on loving yourself. For you, I’d also recommend what I recommended to the “not enough time”-ers: start slow.
If you have trouble going full “loving,” choose something just slightly more pleasurable than you’re used to. If a bubble bath feels too silly or forced, start with something a little less luxurious.
Reading a book you’re into, sitting outside in nature for a few minutes, or even just taking 5 deep breaths could be a great start for your daily self-care regimen. The more you get used to these small acts of kindness to yourself, the wider the door opens to other possibilities.
If you’re looking for some movement, but getting up and at ’em is too difficult right now, try this video. It’s my favorite “workout” I’ve ever made for SIO.
When Self-Care turns into avoidance
If you’re just discovering self-care now, I wouldn’t worry too much about this part right now.
There reaches a point when even self-care can serve instead as a way to avoid things we don’t want to deal with.
Any activity – even self-care – can become a distraction. When we go to our “self-care” and use it to avoid discomfort, we get into trouble.
Distractions and long self-care breaks aren’t always to our detriment, though, and that’s what makes this balance tricky.
Here’s an example of self-care used as avoidance:
Jason comes home from a long stressful day at work. He had a run-in with his supervisor and he can’t let it go. To help him unwind he plays video games for a while. He really likes focusing on something outside of his workplace issue (even though the game he’s playing heightens his anxiety), so he keeps playing until he realizes it’s 12:30 and he hasn’t eaten dinner yet. Finally, he puts down the video games, eats a bowl of cereal all-the-while thinking about the situation at work, then falls on his face asleep with all that pent-up energy from work still inside. He sleeps horribly and not enough, and feels like sh** in the morning when he has to go back to work and deal with his supervisor again.
Jason used video games to help him unwind which isn’t bad. What isn’t the healthiest, however, is the fact that he continued to play the game while ignoring other needs like working through the stress he has from work, eating a real meal and going to bed at a decent time.
What might have helped Jason more would have been to come home and put a loving boundary around the time he spent playing his game, then either journal through what he was thinking and feeling or allow himself some time to feel it all. Video games would have helped him lower his stress a bit while also doing something pleasurable, then journaling or giving himself space to feel what he was going through would have helped him acknowledge and release the energy from the workplace encounter, instead of just distracting himself from it.
To ensure that your amount of self-care doesn’t turn into avoidance, put loving boundaries around the amount of it that you do. Take the example from my latest post: while grieving the loss of my Grandma, my therapist advised that I take self-care breaks in between every 2 hours of TV watching to make sure I was still connecting to my feelings.
Again, if you’re brand new to self-carin’, don’t worry too much about this part of it right now. This is for anyone who feels like they’re starting to feel constricted or trapped by their self-care. If that’s you, revisit what really, honestly feels good to you.
Self-care isn’t fluffy-woo-woo unless you prefer it to be that way. I prefer to look at self-care as a freaking revolution.
When we show ourselves we’re worth loving, we energetically declare it to the whole fu*king world.
If you’re after confidence and respect, let it start here with the way you treat yourself. Let it start with the Love within. Soon, you’ll even believe it.