The world as we know it today is busier, noisier and more competitive than ever. We climb corporate ladders in careers that demand large chunks of our time and most of our energy. We’re expected to raise beautiful, intelligent, well adjusted children and take care of our elderly relatives. We fatigue ourselves keeping up with the latest gadgets, fads, tv series and world news events…all the while we are bombarded with media messages telling us we are not enough, to do more, want more and think differently and if we just have that one more thing, life will be perfect. Is it any wonder, with all this pressure, that our self-care often falls to the wayside?
I know…with all of the everything to do, organise, plan, prepare, deliver, supervise, attend to, and then clean up, pack up and reset so you can do it all over again, self-care can seem like a luxury that you cannot afford. But when you consider the price that you pay for NOT taking care of yourself – stress, burnout, illness and injury to name a few – can you really afford to let your self-care slide?
Beyond the bubble bath
There’s a misconception that self-care is all about manicures, massages and bubble baths, weekend getaways and long drives in the country blasting your favourite tunes. And yes, pampering or treating yourself like this is super important but it’s only part of the story. Self-care ‘events’ like the ones mentioned here are great ways to reward and unwind, giving you a moment to experience the calm you deserve but true self-care is an ongoing, daily effort. Just like you can not expect to get fit and strong from playing a relaxing game of golf every now and then, the benefits of self-care require ongoing attention and maintenance, more like going to the gym regularly. And just like going to the gym, the exercises are not always enjoyable and sometimes you will feel like you just can’t do it. But you can do it and it will be worth it, even when it’s messy. So how do we use our multiple brains to self-care for our multiple brains and our entire life-system?
Multiple Brains Caring for Multiple Brains
We know that self care can be fun stuff like dancing the night away or occasionally staying in bed all day, but it also includes a lot of things that aren’t always fun! mBraining gives us the space for our thoughts, feelings and actions to all have a say in how we live our lives – so it makes sense that the very foundation of good-self care addresses each of these areas. It will take discipline and patience and sometimes it will be uncomfortable – but just like lifting weights in the gym, the more we do it, the easier it gets. Here’s how we can start to build a foundation of good self care by looking after our thoughts, honouring how we feel and doing what’s right for us:
What you think…
We’ve all experienced times when our thoughts run away from us and become…let’s just say, less than useful. We spend a lot of time in our heads, telling stories to ourselves, making up imaginary scenarios to worry about and maybe even putting ourselves down. We’re talking to ourselves in our thoughts all the time and as strange as it might sound, we barely even think about what we’re thinking! The words we use are important, they carry weight – if you’re constantly worrying or telling yourself you can’t do it, it’s too hard or you might as well give up, you will find those things to be true. But guess what? It’s all made up anyway, and it’s made up by you, so you have the power to make up something else! This is not simply about ‘positive thinking’, it is about gently questioning and challenging your thoughts before you get stuck in a rabbit hole of despair. Learn to recognise that you’re simply having a thought and stop and ask yourself ‘what am I thinking?’ ’is it useful?’ ‘is it true?’ ‘what can I do to change this?’ And remember…you don’t have to believe everything you think! It takes some practice, but the more you flex this muscle the easier it will get and the more you will be able to direct your thoughts and internal stories down a kinder path. Practices like meditation and mindfulness can help you to start observing your thoughts without judgment so you can care for yourself in this way.
How you feel…
On any given day, we all feel a range of emotions – and some of them we may be inclined to like a whole lot more than others! The way we feel is closely linked to our thoughts, but unlike our thoughts, which can – and often do – spiral into negativity, we sometimes have a tendency to ‘stuff down’ or push away negative emotions. A lot of us were conditioned from a young age to “put on a happy face” in order to not upset others so we’re used to running away from unpleasant emotions. Emotional self-care is about recognising and honouring how we feel, so we can maximise the time spent in desirable emotional states and take appropriate actions when we don’t feel great. It’s important to recognise that all of our emotions have valuable information and they are all, always valid. Maybe there’s a certain person who you always feel nervous or fearful around – those feelings are simply giving you information, and paying attention to that information can lead you to better decisions. You might choose to have a conversation with that person, even if it’s awkward, about how their behaviour makes you feel, or you might decide to stay away from them completely. Either way, when you honour the way you feel rather than ignoring it, you are allowing yourself to be exactly who you need to be in any given moment. Just like with your thoughts, you can pause and question any emotions that come up, observe them without judgement and then let them pass. Gentle exercise like yoga and stretching plus deep breathing with a hand on your heart are great ways to get out of your head and connect with how you’re feeling.
Doing what’s right…
The things that we do or don’t do, have a massive impact on our lives. Nothing much changes or even happens without us taking action, but not just any action – action that is right for who we are. A lot of the time when we talk about self-care, we’re taking about the things we do – things like eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly and experiencing new adventures. And the one thing these all have in common is that they require us to know what to say to yes to…and when to say no. Saying no can be tricky at times, we can get a sense that we’re letting someone down or being mean when really what we’re doing is putting ourselves first and enforcing our own personal boundaries – and it doesn’t get much more self caring than that! Personal boundaries keep us safe and give us a greater sense of who we are and what makes us unique – we get to choose who and what “is us” and who and what isn’t. Boundaries do not have to be big and mean, they can be kindly delivered and as simple as ‘I limit myself to one glass of wine with dinner’ or ‘I eat my lunch outside and away from my desk’ or ‘when someone speaks to me disrespectfully, I kindly let them know how I prefer to be treated’. Reflective practices such as journalling and art therapy can help you get clear on your boundaries, and maintaining your physical health in all the usual ways – sleep, diet and exercise – will keep you in top form so you can find it easier to say no when you need to.
Putting it all together…
Self-care is an ongoing, daily, never-ending practice. It requires diligence, discipline and patience, but the rewards far outweigh any discomfort. Just like all of the other people you take into consideration – your partners, your kids, your boss and the community in general – you matter. You deserve to be taken care of as well as treated and who better to do that than you! You get to spend 24/7 with you, so make sure you’re treating yourself well, give yourself kindness and care every day and you will find that the weekend getaways and bubble baths become so much sweeter.
The power of hugs
According to family therapist Virginia Satir, we need 4 hugs a day for survival, 8 hugs a day for maintenance and 12 hugs a day for growth…which sounds like a lot of warm fuzzy fun!
Hugging helps us to feel safe and secure and connected with another person. It builds trust. A good hug can instantly boost oxytocin, the love and bonding hormone, which heals feelings of loneliness, isolation and sadness and lowers cortisol, reducing stress. Hugs flood our bodies with happiness, contentment and ease and give us a moment to be at peace in an often chaotic world. When we hug from the heart we know we are supported and loved – someone has our back and we have theirs.
Hugging someone strengthen the relationship we have with them, showing compassion and understanding and letting them know they are welcome and safe in our space.
In these times of physical distancing and socialising with a safe space between us, we need more hugs than ever. Twelve hugs per day may seem like a lot, especially in the current state of the world with the COVID-19 pandemic, when ironically staying away shows that we care. Really, any hugs per day is better than none at all, but for those of us who live alone or work in environments where it’s simply not possible, we need to get creative. Fortunately, there are a few things we can do for ourselves to increase oxytocin when we can’t get a hug – cuddling or stroking a cat or dog, having warm bath and telling someone you love them even if you can’t be in the same space are all worthy substitutes for a good hug. Even remembering a warm hug will help you to feel calmer and more connected in the moment – as clever as our brains are, they can’t tell the difference between something that is actually happening and something that is vividly imagined – so really relive the moment, see, hear, smell and feel it as if you were really there. While you’re doing this you can give your heart a hug – take your right hand and place your palm flat on your heart as you imagine being in that warm embrace and allow the feelings of gratitude and appreciation to fill your heart space – here is a super quick and easy guided meditation to get your heart feeling hugged whenever you need it: