“Self-care” has become a trending catchphrase that has been discussed on all forms of media. While we have long seen this as a popular topic in self-help books, we are increasingly seeing this trend adopted by companies to market esthetically pleasing and gimmicky products with a “wellness” branding. As enjoyable as a Goop face mask, a jade face roller and a yoga retreat is, these products or activities are certainly not the foundation of a good self-care regime.
To me self-care is about assessing my current needs, reflecting on where there might be an imbalance in my life, and then finding ways to return to balance.
For a lot of us, there is a pressure to balance:
1) Current work/school demands
2) Striving for the next step in our educational/professional future
3) Romantic relationships & caregiving to dependents
4) Social lives
Often we allow one of these domains to be under-supported, while generally prioritizing the work/school domain. This is completely understandable, however, this can leave us feeling burnt out, overwhelmed, anxious, stressed, and irritable. This balance will never be perfect, and certain domains will have to be prioritized over others at specific times. However, we need to more frequently assess our prioritization, if its sustainable and if it is aligned with our values.
Self care needs to be something that is practiced, with time for oneself each day to reflect on these imbalances and practice gratitude. If we don’t take 5 minutes a day to assess this balance how will we know? Each day I try to pick three out of the eight options to prioritize, but mix them up throughout the week.
Trying to be perfect and attend to all eight domains will leave you feeling like a failure, but always choosing to prioritize work and caregiving will leave you drained of energy. It’s important that we stop guilting ourselves from prioritizing our mental and physical well-being out of fear of being selfish. We need to refuel our emotional tank so that we can continue to give to others.
Real change involves baby steps and not leaps. I recognize that I have said that before, but also that some of the small steps I shared may not always seem that small when someone is really struggling with strong emotions. So let’s get even smaller!
You would be amazed at how even a tiny action can have a significant impact on our emotional experience in the moment. These steps may not change your outlook permanently, but they can provide a moment of relief or can compound to help lead to bigger change. Here are five little things you can try today:
Summer is upon us and for many this means it is a time for travel. Whether its a trip with family, friends, a significant other, or a solo trip to overnight summer camp, going away can bring forth a variety of anxiety-laced thoughts and feelings. Often this anxiety stems from trying to accept the unknown and letting go of control. It can be as simple as being in a new setting, an unfamiliar climate, getting on a plane, or not having the comfort of your bed at home. For others it is about the possibility of something going wrong (like losing your luggage) getting lost, or feeling unsafe.
While some travel anxiety is unavoidable (and helpful), there are a few things you can do to retain some control and reduce travel anxiety.
Prepare. For many of us planning, organizing and seeking predictability can help ease tension. Whether this means generating a simple packing list, researching and booking everything in advance, or bringing your favorite comforts from home, preparation helps us to focus on what we can control instead of what we do not have power over.
Appraise Adaptively. Some of us only recognize anxiety at a physiological level. This might be that lump in your throat or the butterflies in your stomach. Sometimes we are actually misinterpreting our body signals. In fact, the physiological reactions we attribute to stress are not unlike those we experiencing during excitement. Interpreting our bodily sensations as a sign of positive anticipation can help us perceive things in a more optimistic manner. Try not to presume that a physiological feature is reflective of worry, instead ask yourself what you are excited about regarding the trip ahead.
Normalize. It is also reasonable to recognize and acknowledge that feeling a bit nervous is normal, no matter how many times we have gone away before. If travelling with someone else, it can help to let them know your worries. Often talking openly about your fears gives your travel buddy an opportunity to help you put things in perspective and put you more at ease.
Positive self talk. Don’t catastrophize, rather remind yourself of previous travel successes and use positive self talk to reassure yourself that the anxiety is just temporary is usually very comforting. When you find yourself going towards the negative, try to identify how you would resolve these situations, rather than locking your thoughts into the idea that failure is inevitable.
Finally, recognize that travel anxiety is usually short lived. How many times have you had these feelings before and things were fine once you got started. Travel is an opportunity to relax, but also evolve. Some of our best travel stories tend to reflect unexpected challenges that we overcame. Ask yourself how this trip may allow you to evolve and have a fantastic voyage.
Everyone reacts differently when sharing their struggles and vulnerabilities. It may momentarily feel overwhelming to share intimate information and this can feel emotionally draining. At the same time, crying can act as a release and may lift some of the emotional weight from your shoulders. Crying can be similar to yawning. Stifling that yawn can extend your fatigue and lead to distraction. Letting it go has actually been shown to perk you up and allow you to focus a little bit longer.
It is not unusual to cry in a treatment session and it does not matter how far along into treatment you are. If you don’t cry that is also completely normal. Your therapist will not judge you either way. Crying will not lead your therapist to feel uncomfortable, that is why they keep tissues in their office. It also does not mean that you are achieving more or less in a session if you do not experience the physical release of tears. Everyone is different and one’s stories and experience of reflection impacts us all differently.
I have had many clients come into my office and cry in the first session, and others never at all. Tears are not a measure of progress or success, nor are they an emotional milestone in therapy. Still, they should not be held in out of fear of making your therapist uncomfortable. What tears do tell us is that something is connecting with us on a deeper level and letting us know that we are hitting something meaningful. Connecting to our experiences in an emotional level can often be a helpful way of processing events in our lives, but tears are not the only way to connect emotionally. It’s about how you connect with your emotional experience and there is no correct or incorrect way to do that.
I recently had the pleasure to read The Ripple Effect by Greg Wells. It was an easy read, which makes it a perfect summer option. The Ripple Effect highlighted the relationships between diet, sleep, exercise, and cognition with health. Learning how these seemingly independent domains overlap to foster health and wellness was eye opening, but also immediately digestible.
I enjoyed how Wells seamlessly integrated research with narrative in a way that didn’t feel like I was digging into a textbook. I really appreciated how he went deeply into each health domain in a manner that leaves the reader feeling increasingly motivated to implement behavioural changes as they progress through each chapter. Importantly, at no point did this process seem daunting or overwhelming.
The Ripple Effect is a great book for any age and individuals of all levels of readiness for change in their wellness journey.
The Ripple Effect is available on Amazon, Indigo and many individual retailers.
Jessica is a member of the clinical wellness and learning support team at FLEX Psychology. Jessica started Wellness Wednesday out of a desire to provide further opportunities for her clients to extend their wellness journey to all avenues of their life. You can learn more about Jessica by clicking here or by learning more about her and the clinical team at FLEX Psychology by clicking here.