I will be hosting a CPD workshop at Network Counselling and Training with my colleague Louise Mill in October, when she will be encouraging us to think about the importance of taking time to care for ourselves.
In preparation for this, I have been thinking about the last couple of months and whether I have actually been taking care of myself or have I just been kidding myself that I am good at it. Probably the latter if I am honest.
When I began as a counsellor I decided that I would take the month of August off every year. It was easy back then as I was working almost full time as a school counsellor and so this break fitted nicely with the school terms and it’s what all school staff do………hang on until the summer break, counting down the days until the most wonderful day of the school calendar arrives – yes the last day of term! Despite, always loving my work as a Counsellor, it was wonderful, I could really scale back on my work and take a good lengthy break, often falling ill within the first few days of the holidays as I allowed my body and mind to rest.
I realise, now, that this is not the healthiest way to manage my health and well-being. I now only work one day a week in school and am not able to afford the luxury of taking a whole month off. I have had to establish a new routine of self-care and it’s not just waiting for the school holidays, I realised this had to be an every-day exercise.
We often forget how important it is to look after ourselves, perhaps because we have received messages over the years that make this difficult to achieve; such as ‘it’s selfish to take time out for ourselves’, ‘resting is lazy’, ‘put others before yourself’ or perhaps we just find it difficult to relax or spend time in our own company.
In many work place situations there is kudos in being busy, we are considered successful if we work long hours or fill every waking hour ‘doing’. In truth this is just a slippery slope to ill health and/or burn out. We have pressure to work hard and earn well, whilst at one level there is nothing wrong this, at another we can be driven to an unhealthy way of living, increased stress, anxiety, depression and physical ill health. We forget that there is more to life than work and striving, we are existing not living.
So what can we do about it?
I have recently read a book called The Self-Care Project by Jayne Hardy. This is a great little book giving lots of practical and easy suggestions for self-care and explores the importance of self-care. This is one of many books, blogs, articles written on self-care so I’m not going to cover the same ground here. My hope is to simplify our self-care practices and help you think about what it is that can you do to take care of yourself without having yet another ‘thing’ to do, perhaps leaving you feeling ‘bad’ when you don’t manage to fit it in to your already busy day.
Self-care does not (and should not) be a burden, self-care is about genuinely looking out for yourself and doing something ‘nice’ for yourself – ideally every day or whenever you can. So my suggestion would be to do one ‘nice’ thing for yourself every day – something you enjoy. It could be reading, TV, running, walking, breathing (yes breathing! Mindfully), smiling, laughing, cuddling your kids, partner, pets, yoga, exercise, this list is endless. Find something that helps you feel warm inside.
Every day I find time to walk, some days just only for half an hour but I walk every day. I have the joy of having two wonderfully entertaining spaniels who need walking every day and so this begins each day for me. A walk watching them chase and run like they never have before. I watch the joy they experience chasing leaves, rolling in wet grass (and sometimes smelly things!), sniffing and just feeling the wind blowing past their nose and it reminds me to embrace the moment and breathe. With this my body and mind relax as I take in the moment, as it is, right there and then and I am glad to be alive enjoying the world around me. I forget the work schedule, I forget my worries – I just ‘am’, and it is wonderful.
My other suggestion for looking after ourselves is to be kind. I always aim to be genuinely kind – to myself and to others. I think this has always come fairly naturally to me, I was lucky that I had parents who encouraged me to be kind and I truly believe I reap the benefits of kindness.
However, I, like many others, can easily get caught up with a fearful inner voice, one that only knows how to keep me from experiencing pain or danger by being mean and critical, but this voice just keeps me down, prevents me from looking after myself, drives me to be the best I can but it isn’t always kind. This inner voice tells me lies and would keep me fearful if I let it. So whenever I catch this inner voice about to verbally bash me, I am gentle and kind to it. I remind this inner part of me how to be kind and compassionate towards myself and others.
In the book ‘The Kindness Project’ by Shahroo Izadi (2018), Shahroo introduces us to the couch analogy. Shahroo suggests we imagine a room with a couch. As we enter the room, someone is sitting lazily across the couch giving us a constant negative narrative, this person says horrible things to us, says we are weak, lazy, tells us to give up, that we are no good. Shahroo asks us how this would feel. Then another person enters the room and despite not having much room, perches on the edge of the couch and in response to the negative commentary, quietly and gradually offers a more positive and gentle voice, encouraging, suggesting that the truth is that we are strong, brave, hard-working, intelligent. Gradually and over time, this voice gets more confident and takes up more space on the couch and eventually will speak more often and louder than the negative voice. I can relate to this analogy, as I am sure many can. Just imagine, being much kinder and fairer with yourselves. How much easier life would be, how much less worry and stress we may experience, if, we could encourage and support ourselves through stressful times rather than add to them by beating ourselves up.
So, I remind myself often, that kindness is something I can offer myself, not just others. Someone today reminded me of the flow of compassion and kindness. Kindness for others, kindness from others and kindness for ourselves. What a wonderful world it would be if we were all able to share in this flow on kindness.
Each day I try to remember:
Do one ‘nice’ or enjoyable thing every day for myself
Be kind to myself and others.
So how do you look after yourself?