I've been in the wellness industry for over 10 years, and it is still hard for me to talk about self-care. The main issue is this: nothing anyone else has to say can answer for the most critical aspect of self-care practices, the self.
Sometimes it can be difficult to differentiate between the commercialized and commodified versions of self-care and what practices will actually help protect our own happiness and well-being. Not to mention how inaccessible this approach makes many potentially helpful self-care resources. Luckily, self-care is less about the activities we’re doing, and more about knowing what is going to work best for you as your individual needs change.
One of the most inspiring discussions I’ve been part of regarding self-care was with Jenn Flaum (LCSW, Executive Director of the HeartLight Center) and I wanted to share some of her suggestions to help you discover exactly what would be right for you.
What is Self-Care About?
At the most essential level, self-care is about you protecting your own wellbeing and happiness. That means learning to be attentive and responsive to our own needs.
That being said, an important caveat must be acknowledged. Most of us can probably identify an area in our lives where we are making concessions to live in situations that are not ultimately supporting our wellbeing. Many of us are up against situations and systems that are draining our energy, and they need to be addressed for us to thrive.
In scenarios like these, self-care may look like advocacy and prioritizing our communities; or sometimes it could mean we have to prioritize ourselves even more. And even when we are dealing with things beyond our control, there are still options to take good care of ourselves. Arguably, these are the instances when we need to show up for ourselves the most.
What to do When You’re in Need of Self-Care
When you are in need of care, many times, the last thing you want to do is more things (e.g., practice yoga, learn meditation, make ourselves a decent meal, etc.). While certain activities can be valuable, helpful, and perhaps ‘should’ be prioritized, this does not help when you are running on empty.
So how do you develop practices that will serve you when you really need them? Initially, it may be most helpful to identify what is nourishing (supporting or protecting our energy) and what is depleting (draining our energy) for you personally. This first step to understanding your own needs and what good support looks like for you gives you insight into what practices you can begin developing to take care of yourself well.
How to Get Started on Self-Care
A great next step is to make a couple of lists. Start with five things that make you feel alive and identify some things that are depleting. How can you minimize the depleting and maximize the nourishing activities?
This is a process and a practice. Give yourself time to check in, notice how you're feeling, be willing to evaluate how you might be able to serve yourself better in difficult moments. Sometimes it can mean the basics, drinking more water, practicing good sleep hygiene, eating well, or establishing a movement practice.
Self-care can also mean taking a nap, enjoying some comfort food, resting, and trying to recoup enough energy to try again tomorrow. What I want to emphasize is that there is no specific way this has to look. Your self-care practice is all about YOU. And the best thing you can do for yourself is learn how to best take care of you.
How to Practice Self-Care in Situations You Cannot Control
When it comes to those situations that you cannot control, if you must continue dealing with those things, what then? These are moments when I feel that it is valuable to assess what mental shifts you can make to carry that load differently.
This does not necessarily mean minimizing any negative feelings or thoughts that you are having. They may have important information for you that you need to respond to (critical aspect of self-care). But changing your perspectives or choosing to view something differently can help you feel more empowered to confront it. Sometimes there are options to let something go for a time and come back to it when you are more well-resourced. Maybe it means noticing if your own thoughts are draining or nourishing.
Changing Your Self-Care to Different Situations
As your situations change, how do you need to shift to make sure that you’re still feeling your best? It can be easy to drift into spaces where you are no longer thriving and that’s where returning to your practice of noticing and responding can get you back on track.
It’s important to be sensitive to the fact that what worked before may not be the right move this time. If you’re feeling really lost, Jenn Flaum, LCSW, recommends reconnecting to your personal ‘why’. I found this exercise particularly valuable for those situations where you are feeling ambivalent or are having a hard time identifying what you need. By reminding yourself of what motivates you in the first place, you may find the energy to discover some next steps.
Drastic Moves to Protect your Self-Care
I will also offer this, sometimes it is appropriate to get drastic. I’ve been especially inspired by a dear friend of mine lately. She has started making some really big changes to protect her wellbeing. She’s started therapy, decided to try medication, and quit a job that was no longer serving her.
While these self-care options may not feel appropriate or accessible for you, there is something to the idea that being willing to take these kinds of risks for ourselves also disrupts larger systems that are depleting for us. Perhaps for you it looks like a radical commitment to setting and maintaining our boundaries in challenging situations.
How to Know if Your Self-Care is Working
How will you know that all of your efforts towards your own self-care are working? What you’re doing here is defining happiness and well-being for yourself. If you feel relief, some restoration, some nourishment, renewed energy, some joy or peace (or however you are defining your wellbeing) that’s probably a good indicator that you are on the right track.
If you are looking for self-care ideas, there are plenty out there, but again the bigger goal is to recognize what is going to be a good fit for you. Get creative, be willing to adapt, meet yourself where you’re at, and stay committed to being sensitive and responsive.
How We Can Help
If you think that talking to someone might be a part of your self-care, we can help
Our therapists are great listeners, compassionate understanders, and experts at self-care.
Follow these simple steps if you are looking for general support, or if you would like to talk to someone more about how we can help you:
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Here at Catalyss Counseling, we want to meet all of your counseling needs in the Denver area. Our supportive therapists provide depression counseling, therapy for caregiver stress, grief and loss therapy, stress management counseling and more. We also have specialists in trauma and PTSD, women's issues, pregnancy and postpartum depression or anxiety, pregnancy loss and miscarriage, and birth trauma. For therapists, we can also provide clinical supervision! We look forward to connecting with you to help support your journey today.
Jessica Carpenter is an intern therapist with Catalyss Counseling who works with adults who have experienced stress or trauma to develop better self-regulation skills. Jessica is also a licensed massage therapist, yoga therapist, and TRE provider. She is passionate about making wellness accessible to everyone. Follow Catalyss Counseling on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.