I have for a long long time been interested in the concept of self-care and how to practice it. I like the word practice in this context because after meditating for around 20 years, I’d like to reassure those just starting out with meditation that my head still buzzes with thoughts in some sessions, I still sometimes fall asleep at the end and at least one session a week I’m distracted by the alluring thought of the cake in the cupboard.
I believe though that any self-care practice can and should liberate us from the idea that ‘practice makes perfect’. The point of any self-care practice for me is to get comfortable with who we are and our imperfections. In a world that is constantly asking us to strive, self-care is in many ways about letting go and accepting and supporting ourselves for who we are and uncritically, for who we want to be.
Self-care can take any form you fancy, cooking brownies from scratch and enjoying a mindful moment eating them (see I’m back to cake again), stretching on the yoga mat, kicking back to Spotify and releasing your inner rock star. Finding what makes you feel good or the combinations of things that make you feel good is part of the joy of developing a plan for self-care.
If we are not 100% convinced by the notion of self-care, then there is plenty of hard evidence to support its benefits. I like the work of Dr Kristin Neff on self-compassion (www.selfcompassion.org) and its benefits in terms of the reduction of anxiety and our developed sense of connection to others. Self-compassion is, for me, the bedrock of self-care - it is the fundamental way in which we relate to ourselves compassionately that leads us to treat ourselves well through a self-care-practice.
So, what stops us from ruthlessly creating time for ourselves regularly in our busy world? Often it’s about beliefs. There are many, but two seem to be real stumbling blocks for most people. Firstly, the belief, that self-care is an indulgence.
This seems solid and yet think of the times that friends will tell you that they are planning to take a weekend off or to check in to a spa or to take up a new mindfulness practice. Our universal response is usually one of encouragement. We need to be this friendly towards ourselves, self-care is not indulgent, it is a long-term investment in ourselves and those who meet us.
Secondly, the belief that we do not have time. This is probably the most pervasive and understandable in our busy lives but, the only answer to it is to apply the discipline we apply to the other tasks we complete on a weekly and daily basis. Discipline may seem an odd word to use but we do have to be disciplined in self-care - I have to remind myself that the slice of cake cannot become half the cake, at least not too often anyway. We do need a plan for self-care in the same way we do for other good habits we want to develop.
There is a reality about our lives that is unavoidable, that life is characterised by change and many of the external things we cling to will shift whether it be jobs, relationships etc.
Our relationship with ourselves though is lifelong and it will be the thing that takes through us happy and sad times.
The theme of this week’s mental health awareness week is ‘kindness’, and the foundation for any kindness practice is the kindness we show ourselves. What small act of kindness to yourself will you make time for this week? and how, if you haven’t already, will you use it as a catalyst for regular self-support?