Knowing Versus Living
When I ask others how they engage in self-care the response usually focuses on some form of exercise. Physicality is an important piece of self-care, but it is only one small piece. Effective self-care practice needs to encompass social, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual (in what ever form this means to you) aspects as well. Self-care may be going for a bike ride or ski. It may also be ending a negative relationship or advocating for yourself in a difficult situation. It can take the form of saying no when you need a break or working to find more balance in your life. It is found in those moments where you truly connect to another human, take a deep breath of crisp fall air, learn a new skill that challenges your cognitive mindset, or when you wrap your hands around a mug of warm tea. We need to broaden our horizons on what we consider self-care to include a more individualist approach to overall wellness.
We also need to be careful in thinking of self-care as a panacea or quick fix. It is not the treatment for mental health concerns but rather a form of prevention. Dr. Eric Gentry of the Arizona Trauma Institute talks about self-care as revitalization. He says that it often comes in the form of things we initially may not want to do, like exercise or difficult conversations, that lead to fuelling our lives in the long run. We need to be cautious of seeing self-care as indulgence. Yes, a trip to the spa, a great glass of wine, or tasty chocolate can make us feel good in the moment, but true self-care involves the activities that have long lasting impact in our lives long after the action ends. Going for a walk, connecting with friends, making time to lean into our emotions, reading, finding spirituality through traditional or non-traditional means such as nature can help us to regulate the physical, cognitive, and emotional components of who we are.
Most of us can easily list off all the things we need to do in order to take care of ourselves, but are we really doing it? Is the holistic in nature? In my experience we tend to be very good at knowing what to do and struggle with the actual living it part. In fairness there are many barriers that get in the way such as negative thought patterns, low energy and motivation, mental health concerns, or self-doubt. And oddly we sometimes think that if we read enough about a theory it will just magically manifest in our lives without effort. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case, like all self-improvement, self-care requires putting in the work. The next time you reach for a new book or podcast stop and ask yourself how you are living the last great wellness tip that you learned. Then develop this question into a daily habit, “How did I live self-care today?” You may find it helpful to add this inquiry to a previously established activity such as brushing your teeth at the end of the day. If the answer is “I did not do anything,” be kind to yourself, beating yourself up for not doing something is not the best motivator. Instead simply make a plan to do something for yourself the following day. If you develop this habit it is likely that you will redefine what self-care is, what it means to you, and perhaps most importantly how you intentionally live it each and every day.
Now, stop reading about it and go live it.