Self-care has a variety of definitions. However, the common denominator amongst all of them is that self-care is all about nourishing ourselves—and is undeniably vital.
As psychotherapist Emily Griffiths, LPC, said, “The opposite of self-care is self-neglect.” And “neglecting our emotional and physical health leads to increased anxiety, depression, and physical illness.”
She noted that self-care is about recognizing our limits and being wary of depleting our nervous system. “When we lose sight of our self-care practices, we can experience burn-out,” which “sets ourselves up for getting sick, overwhelmed, and exhausted.”
“Self-care is representative of two of the most important pillars of psychological health: the relationship you have with yourself and the relationships you have with others,” said Griffiths, who specializes in the treatment of anxiety, depression, and trauma in Austin, Texas.
Below, therapists reveal some favorite self-care tips.
“Generally, we prioritize everything and everyone else above our self-care. There’s always something to do or someone to do for. This is the reason that it is essential to conceptualize self-care as another of your important activities,” said psychotherapist Ariella Cook-Shonkoff, a marriage and family therapist who specializes in treating low self-esteem in kids, teens, and adults in Northern California.
Check in with yourself on a regular basis. Griffiths stressed the necessity of engaging yourself in honest conversations throughout the day to determine what you truly need and how you intend to meet those needs. Ask questions like, ”How are you feeling? Is there tension anywhere? Are you feeling depleted? Is anything bothering you?”
Psychologist Ryan Howes, Ph.D. stresses the importance of self-care that doesn’t detract significantly from your daily routine. As an example, he suggests taking advantage of your commute (if you still have one in the Age of Covid). Instead of keeping busy with stressful news or mindless music, he advocates finding three things you’re grateful for, practicing productive relaxation, or setting goals for the day.
Kirsten Brunner, MA, LPC, a perinatal mental health and relationship expert suggested practicing 5-5-5 deep breathing four or five times in a row in the mornings and evenings. This is especially effective when you’re stressed out or rushing around — times prone to hyperventilation. What you do is inhale for five seconds, hold the breath for five seconds, and then exhale for five seconds.
Howes noted that seeing our day as awful and overwhelming can be inadvertently undermining our health. “Try to get in touch with the reasons you joined this relationship or accepted this job in the first place, and try to view the obstacles as opportunities for growth instead of harbingers of the death of the relationship or job,” he said.
Howes further asserts that even frustrating and aggravating experiences can be turned into opportunities to engage in self-care. He suggests that, for instance,” when you’re stuck in traffic, call a close friend to catch up. When you’re bored, make a plan for the future. When you can’t sleep, practice a meditation you just learned.”
“Many of us spend more time and energy complaining about what is than using our resources to make a positive change,” Howes said. How can you turn an irritating experience into a time for self-care?
Cook-Shonkoff once heard about a quite unconventional self-care practice. “Every weekday, a man would walk up the steps to his home, and touch the branches of a certain tree in his yard. He’d imagine leaving all his worries from that day inside the tree. This way when he went inside his house, he’d be ready to give his family his undivided attention.”
“The next day he’d gather his worries from the same tree—and find that they didn’t seem as heavy as the day before.” Any ideas as to how you can get creative about your self-care routine?
Howes believes that above all else, therapy is the ultimate form of self-care, because of its potentially profound and transformative impact that evolves from insight and modified behavior. He laments that many people avoid therapy “because they feel like therapy is a selfish indulgence they don’t deserve. If you hold this belief, maybe you can view therapy as something that helps you to help others even more, as you’re working through your issues,” he said.
Howes has discovered that people who are lax about practicing self-care are those who generally have lower self-worth. “They deeply believe other people are more important than they are and devote time to others out of devaluation of themselves.”
Often these ingrained beliefs originate in our childhoods. It can be extremely worthwhile to write your autobiography, to witness how powerful that impact has been. And, as Howes emphasized, “It also helps you see yourself as part of an ongoing journey—your story is still being written.”
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