I recently stayed with some of my extended family and was interested to watch my uncle embrace every day with energy, enthusiasm and vigour. He charged from task to task, rarely taking a break or giving himself permission to stop. He challenged himself further by setting himself the goal of getting up early one morning to go rowing to try and beat his best time. When I suggested he have a lie in instead he looked at me like I was a crazy woman.
For many of us when we feel like we are beginning to run on empty we are often told by well-meaning friends and family to slow down, have an early night or take up yoga or mindfulness. And yet there are so many different ways to think about how we can look after ourselves. Finding ways to rest and re-charge is just one approach. Choosing what is right for what we need and the type of person we are is important in making sure self-care becomes something that we want to do rather than something that we feel we should do.
Now don’t get me wrong, I quite like a bit of Yoga with Adriene on You Tube and although I am not an avid practitioner of mindfulness in its traditional sense, I also enjoy a mindful walk or spending 10 minutes alone in the morning with a cup of coffee listening to the birds and taking a few deep breaths. The importance of a good night’s sleep is also not to be underestimated but the point I am trying to make is that rest and relaxation is different for everyone. Advising someone to take things at your pace or do things that don’t feel right to them is like asking them to suck a worm – they don’t want to do it.
This was highlighted to me recently with a client who was asking for help in finding ways to manage being the parent of teenagers. As she described their life and daily routines I was struck by how busy she was and what a lot of energy she had to keep up with all the demands on her time. However, for her it was what she enjoyed, she didn’t feel like it was too much to cope with and couldn’t imagine life any other way. Her need around rest was not to find ways to relax more but was to find time to play more and inject some fun and spontaneity into their life. Had I suggested she take a yoga class or a spa day I am sure she would have cancelled any further coaching sessions!
So, when it comes to self-care don’t box yourself in by thinking you just need a certain type of rest and relaxation. Self-care means to look after yourself and looking after yourself involves looking after your human needs which are more complex than just booking a yoga class. So next time you are thinking about self-care ask,
“What do I need to do to help myself feel at my best?”
One problem some of my clients have though is that they have spent so long looking after everyone else’s needs they have forgotten about their own and are not used to doing things for themselves. I often start by asking them to imagine their perfect day and see what kinds of things come up. If your perfect day would involve going to a spa with a friend then it may be there is a need for connection, health, rest, play, space and wholeness. You can then explore how else you might be able to fulfil these needs on a day-to-day basis that doesn’t require the time or expense involved in going to a spa.
It may be a trip to an art gallery, a coffee with a friend, a walk in the hills or some time alone. It also could be some dedicated time with family or a loved one without the distractions of technology or work. You can often fulfil many needs with one activity. For example, a trip to the theatre or cinema with a friend will fulfil your need for connection, play and belonging. It doesn’t have to be hard or complicated and often small changes in mindset or habits can create transformational results. This is where coaching can help you find new ways to break old habits and support you with encouragement, accountability and an increased sense of self awareness and control. For one of my clients just learning to say no was a major step in achieving her goal of worrying less about what other people thought of her and working out what she wanted from life. She said after our final session, “I used to walk around with a feeling in my stomach like a knot but now that has gone and I know that nothing bad is going to happen if I ask for help or what I need.”
So, as you can see, self-care doesn’t have to involve mindfulness, yoga or a Sunday morning lie in. It does require you though to become more mindful and self aware about what you need to feel better. It may be rest but it may also be connection with another human being, connection with nature, creative expression, a feeling of purpose or a need for love, space, play or mental and emotional peace. Once you know what need you can start trying out new ways of looking after yourself. If this includes meditation and yoga then great, these can certainly be helpful activities to calm the mind and help you gain a sense of focus and flow. For me though I will walk the dog, listen to the birds and observe nature in all its glory throughout the seasons to fulfil my need for space, beauty, presence, meaning and wonder. Understanding your needs and how to fulfil these is truly the secret to creating self-care that is in alignment with who you are and what you need to create a more satisfying and fulfilling life.
If you are struggling with balancing the demands of work, family, relationships and health and would like help to create a life with less stress and more joy then follow me on Facebook and Instagram or book a free virtual coffee and chat.