Earlier this week I walked into the house early in the morning. My wife, Pam, was already off to work and my teenage son, Ben, was coming down the stairs. “Good morning, father. How was your spin class this morning?” He cracks me up sometimes the way that he addresses me. I told him that I had a great class and then he remarked. “You know, dad, you’re a whole lot nicer when you exercise. You’re not so grumpy.” My son has never been one to mince words in expressing exactly how he feels. I love him for it.
Four weeks ago I broke my neck falling off my bike. It sounds worse than it really was but I have had to wear a neck brace since then and have four more weeks until it comes off. The first couple weeks I had a good, positive attitude. The third week I was discouraged and miffed that two additional weeks had been tacked on to time I would be in the brace. Sometime after that I began to get depressed. This was the road I feared that I would eventually head down. My self-care plan was out of sync and needed to be adjusted.
What happens if we don’t address the fact that we are neglecting ourselves when it comes to self-care? There are many paths that we can take. One is that we will surely take on more stress in our lives. If we work harder and harder, filling our days with our job, duties, errands, etc it will eventually increase the level of stress in our lives. We can do this for a while but how long can we sustain it? Neglecting ourselves can also lead to fatigue, burnout, depression, resentment of situations and damaged relationships.
Primarily, time is the biggest obstacle most of us face. Go back to the exercise from the previous day. Develop a strategy in which you have different self-care practices for different amounts of time. If you had more time, like Travis commented on, you might do something like go for a bike ride, run or other form of exercise. But I think we all have smaller blocks of time that slip away during the day. With only a few minutes we can choose to do something beneficial or something non-beneficial. In today’s world I think one of the least beneficial things we do is grab a phone and text or surf the web. And I am as guilty of that as anybody. If you ever have the chance to look around in a restaurant or public place you know what I mean!
Let’s look at the smallest block of time, ten minutes, and think of easy ways to turn that into self-care.
- Plan your meal for dinner that night – A person can stop at the grocery store and be in and out with fresh vegetables, rice and a chicken breast in just a few minutes on the way home from work. This is great self-care! You’re creating something nutritious and solving the dinner issue.
- Look out a window and daydream. The world is continually passing us by. Daydreaming can be a great thing. Think about what you’ll do that evening or over the weekend.
- Close your eyes and participate in a breathing exercise. A few weeks ago I created a guided meditation to help folks get back to sleep. There are many tools like this available online that you can download onto your phone that are great, or you can just focus on breathing and relaxing.
- Keep a little notebook which you can pull out anytime and makes notes of what is happening around you. This can be great fun! What do you see, feel, hear or smell? Use your senses!
- People watch. Face it, people are highly entertaining. The world’s biggest reality show is happening right before your eyes.
These are just a few things that I would consider self-care. It is good to think outside the box. Simple things can bring great pleasure and joy. This fuels us to get through the day, the week or the month. Little chunks of time connect the dots in our lives.
With more time we can pause and reflect, or take inventory of how we feel. But reflection can be pretty scary at times. Take a look at the following progression. Time for self > Reflection > Sorting and acknowledgement of thoughts and feelings > Discerning between perception and reality > Caring for self > Renewal. This can get a little deeper and requires more time to process. For me, discerning between perception of what I think is happening in the world around me and the reality of what is really going on in the world around me is a key component to my mental health. This kind of exercise can be especially helpful if you’re just getting toward the end of your rope. When life gets too busy and overwhelming this can typically indicate that it is time to step back and make some adjustments.
One thing about self-care is that it is not easy. It requires commitment, some time and accountability. It is not a new year’s resolution that is thrown out the window after two weeks. It can take on many forms as we see from the examples above. Here are three simple steps to begin to create your self-care plan.
- Set goals
- Daily, weekly and monthly activities you can do that rejuvenate you.
- Make a plan
- Make a plan to achieve your self-care plan.
- Have an accountability partner
- Tell someone else about your plan. Ask them to check in with you and objectively and honestly assess how things are going. Re-evaluate your plan regularly and make adjustments as life changes.