As I sit to write this, the world seems to be in a state of turmoil. Hurricanes, floods, wildfires, and talks of nuclear threats dominate the news. And with such chaos comes greater distress in our employees, clients, patients or students – and in us too.
If we, the helpers, parents, teachers, caregivers or leaders, are struggling, we limit our ability to support those we care about, whether in our work, or personal lives… or both.
I want to invite you to consider how you understand and engage in self care. I want to introduce you to an idea I call “Radical Self Care”. The definition of radical is “affecting the fundamental nature of something; far reaching, thorough”. In other words, I invite you to consider engaging in practices of self care that are going to alter your way of being in the world, activities that invite and sustain real change. We need to learn that taking care of ourselves is not a luxury, but rather a necessity.
First a caveat. I am going to list several suggestions below that I believe will contribute to a greater sense of well-being for most people. But self care is a personal endeavor. You will need to try things out. Perhaps it is merely a matter of tweaking your existing routines or behaviours, or it may mean adopting new routines.
The goal is to find practices that support your well-being, not to do something because someone else tells you to. You won’t reap any of the benefits if you commit to engaging in behaviours that don’t feel right for you, or in fact cause you discomfort or distress. So play around with these suggestions, add your own, experiment. The end goal is to support you to feel more present, centered and intentional in your life.
Self care should nourish your body, mind and spirit. In other words, it should provide you with the means to move towards health and good condition. Consider the following:
How do you start your day?
Are you a “hit the snooze button twice, then race around getting ready feeling rushed and unsettled” kind of person? Do you even have time to eat breakfast? Developing a morning routine that allows you time to step into your day with intention sets you up for success.
Some suggest rising an hour earlier than necessary will decrease your stress levels throughout the day. The extra time allows you to wake more slowly and more calmly. It gives you the time to reflect on your goals, time to exercise and even time to eat a healthy meal. Start the day in the way you’d like to live your day.
Are you hydrated?
How much water do you drink in a day? And I do mean water, not mocha pumpkin spiced decaf frappé lattes (a.k.a. cake in a cup) . Not pop, not even juice. I’m talking about water – pure, clean water. Add slices of lemon, lime, cucumber or orange if you need a bit of flavor. Work your way up to two liters (about 8 glasses) a day and notice how much more energy you have, how much lighter you feel and the way your skin and hair feels healthier. In addition, staying hydrated may help you control your appetite, help you to sleep more soundly and improve your overall mood.
What are you consuming?
Junk food, social media, gossip, video games, reality TV – all might feel good going in, but each can negatively impact how we function in the world. Self care is about making better, more purposeful decisions about what we fill our brains and bodies with.
If watching certain shows, reading news stories, eating chips and chocolate bars, or spending time on social media invites feelings of joy, happiness, contentment and overall well-being, then carry on. But if the things you are doing to relax actually make you feel anxious or unsettled, you may want to make different choices.
I know we are all busy. We have jobs that demand our time, energy and attention, after which we go home to busy lives that may include caring for children, or parents, or pets, not to mention our households. Caring for self often falls to the bottom of the list – if it makes the list at all.
Radical self care is about changing your life, eliminating some habits and encouraging the development of new ones. It truly is a necessity; don’t treat it as a luxury.
As an airline passenger, you have no doubt heard the instructions of what to do in the event of cabin depressurization. The oxygen masks will drop from the ceiling, and you are instructed to “Put on your own mask first, before assisting others to get theirs on.” Makes sense – if you’re not breathing oxygen you will quickly become incapacitated and unable to help others.
Consider for a moment that the simple principles of radical self care defined above are in fact an oxygen mask. Put it on. If we don’t care for ourselves, we are unable to care for others.