I am sure you know the importance of self-care. At its core, it is emotional care. It is paramount to dedicate time to it, but especially so if you have an active autoimmune illness or are looking to keep in remission. You also know all the things you should do to have a good self-care routine, like exercise, meditation, journaling, etc. This usually takes a back seat to all the other things we do in a day, which often makes us feel guilty about not doing it, or ends up feeling like a chore, like another thing you have to tick off your list. All of this defeats the purpose, and it doesn’t make you feel cared for, but overwhelmed and tired. Finding what feels like true self-care can be a challenge. I’ve been there, trying so hard to care for myself that I was creating way more stress than care, and it left me feeling more like a failure than like a queen. So what should you do?
KEEP IT REAL
Be honest with yourself about the things you truly enjoy or don’t. Just because everyone seems to be journaling, it doesn’t mean you particularly find it enjoyable. Find things that are true to you, whatever they are. You may find moving meditation like yoga or walking meditation much more enjoyable than sitting. Maybe you enjoy prayer or affirmations, but not breath meditation, that is fine. Keep an open mind, you may have preconceived notions about certain things or feel they are not for you, but try them a few times, anyway. Allow yourself to change your mind. Maybe you felt an activity was not for you, but suddenly it feels like it might be, or the other way around, leaves you unimpressed. Allow yourself to be wrong about things, to change your point of view, and be open to that change all the time. It is liberating!
SMALL TIME PLAYER
The number one complaint I hear is “there is no time”. However, we can always create time. Instead of setting large goals, like setting aside half an hour or more, trying to fit your self-care into your already full schedule, look at restructuring, and how you can introduce small doses of the ever-elusive self-care.
Take time and look at your life as a schedule. What is your routine? What are the things you do daily? Use paper and pen to make this more clear.
Separate these things into things that you have to do (like work, grocery shopping, paying bills, etc) and things that are optional but you do daily, (don’t include your “self-care” in this) optional things like—watching tv, browsing the internet, reading, talking on the phone, etc.
Next, look at the optional part, and be honest, what could you do just a few minutes less of? Can you create some time before or after the activity?
Now insert any self-care activity into the gaps you created from the optional list. Don’t substitute the activity, but just shorten it for a few minutes and do the self-care activity in that time. For example, before you get into the shower, set aside three, yes three, minutes and meditate, or journal, pray or maybe do a nice yoga stretch, and then take a shower. Before you are ready to get into bed, set aside another three minutes and do another or the same activity. Insert only a few minutes each day. It is important to always keep it at the same time of day, before something else you do daily at approximately the same time, and do the same activity at the same time. I picked shower time and bedtime because we usually do these things at around the same time each day, and we do both daily for sure. Do this for a month, but commit to it, six minutes a day.
If you are thinking that six minutes can’t possibly make a difference, I challenge you to try it and see for yourself what six minutes can do and grow into!
What you are doing is creating a new habit, a new behaviour pattern. By scheduling your activity, you don’t have to feel like doing it, think about it, change your schedule or miss out on anything else; it is just a few minutes that you have dedicated to a certain activity, a decision that is already made. By keeping it short, it motivates you to do it; it seems easy enough, manageable, and therefore gives the results you want.
REFLECTING AND EXTENDING
Once you do this, pay attention. Do you like the activity? How is it making you feel? Can you see yourself doing it longer? If you are feeling you’d like to continue for longer than three minutes do so, but don’t force it at all, keep it short, create another three minutes later in the day and repeat the same or another activity. The activity should make you feel peaceful and connected to yourself, reflecting on your feelings, whatever feelings come up, whether it is grief, sorrow, happiness, joy, be at peace with that. Permit yourself to feel. Whatever comes up, accept you are feeling this way, be with that feeling for the three minutes, and disconnected from everything else. Whatever you may have going on in your life can wait three minutes. Once the three minutes are up, go about your regular day, and do whatever you want or need to. If you have experienced a great sense of peace, joy, or any feeling you enjoy during your three minutes look for ways to extend that feeling into your next action, whatever it may be. If you have experienced sorrow or hurt, be kind and accepting toward yourself.
Keep up your three-minute routine for as long as you feel you need to, when you feel you would like to extend the time, do so in increments. Extend to six minutes, then ten, and so on. You will feel you want to extend the time if you truly commit to the three minutes at a time. You will also feel you have enough time to do all the things you want to. Your self-care will feel manageable and pleasant instead of just another chore. It will also give you a glimpse into what true self-care is for you, what is the care your body and soul desires, you will learn what to incorporate and what to drop, and it will teach you how to create time for the things you want to do.
WE DON’T ALWAYS HAVE TO BE PRODUCTIVE
Another point to remember is that self-care isn’t only doing something, it is also not doing. We need time where we are just doing absolutely nothing productive! Schedule a day or two to just relax. A day where you don’t have to meditate or read a “deep” book, do laundry, plan meals or any of that, just relax, go for a walk, call a friend, take a nap, bake a cake, watch a romantic movie, and otherwise just hang about. That is also self-care, it is not lazy, it is not procrastination, it is not a waste of time. We don’t always have to be doing something “productive” and be always ON. Our nervous system needs this shut-off time, desperately. If you take the time to separate from all of it, it will feel more natural and you will be more productive when you return to doing things. I highly suggest making this a habit, do it on purpose, not when you are falling apart already, overwhelmed and burned out (although that is a good time too!) but when you feel you have had a good productive period of doing, have a nice period of not doing, without guilt but with absolute pleasure!