Self-Care: The Basics

Welcome to March! I hope you enjoyed Love Yourself Month. I really enjoyed sharing my favorite songs with you all.

Welcome to March! I hope you enjoyed Love Yourself Month. I really enjoyed sharing my favorite songs with you all.

Timing is always a concern when working on a series. Like, what comes first the chicken or the egg? I’ve been pondering, what comes first self-love or self-care. Well, I have thoughts on that, but the one thing I do know is that we need both to stay in balance.

I, for one, have tons of love for myself, but I am terrible at caring for myself. So, then the question arises, if you are not caring for yourself properly, do you really love yourself? Really? Think about it. A parent who claims to love their child but opts out of caring for him is deemed neglectful, and their love of the child is questioned. So, by that line of thinking, shouldn’t self-love be questioned if someone lacks self-care and vice versa?

I’m not sure. That’s something for me to journal about later. Stay tuned, I’m sure I’ll come to some conclusion.

As I said, I made the decision to tackle the ability to love and forgive oneself before I discussed self-care, but the month is winding down, and it is time.

What is self-care?

Self-care is essential and deliberate. It is any activity used to enhance well-being. This means that activities should be chosen and practiced because they restore your energy reserves.

Self-care is NOT selfish, indulgent, or an emergency response to stress. Let me say that again for the Cece type characters. It is NOT and should NOT be an emergency response to stress. This means it should be consistent and a conscious effort on your part. Self-care is not just candle-lit bubble baths with champagne and soft music. It is not a luxury; it is a necessity. It is simply taking care of oneself. Self-care should not be reactive because regular self-care is required for balance and well-being.

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What are the types of self-care?

Depending on the resource, there are between four and eight dimensions or types of self-care. The six main dimensions are physical, emotional, psychological, intellectual, social, and spiritual. Other sources include financial and professional/occupational aspects.

The physical dimension includes eating well, getting enough sleep and physical activity, and tending to your overall health. Tending to your emotional dimension means having good coping mechanisms, allowing oneself to feel the full range of emotions without judgment, and paying attention to emotional needs. The psychological dimension speaks to cultivating self-awareness and having good mental health practices. The intellectual dimension means you seek to strike a balance between being mentally/intellectually challenged and overwhelmed. And the social dimension is about creating a sense of belonging, or more plainly, having a strong, mutually beneficial social structure. The financial dimension speaks to taking time to focus on your finances but also making sure you cultivate positive feelings around money. Lastly, professional self-care is related to work, and how well you balance work, aspirations included, with your overall life and well-being. This is basically work-life balance.

Notice two things. One, you can substitute the words self-care and dimension for health. Two, the crux of all the dimensions is balance and setting limits. To simplify self-care down to its most basic premise, self-care is all about creating boundaries and balance.

What are the signs of needing more self-care?

While engaging in self-care should not be reactive, there is a multitude of signs that a person requires some TLC. Stress is a common sign of imbalance. Chronic stress can lead to burnout, ineffective coping mechanisms, health problems, etc.

I want to focus on the ineffective coping mechanisms for a second because the signs are lesser-known. People who are coping but nearing the breaking point may begin to exhibit ineffective coping mechanisms. Yes, for some, this is a chronic problem. For others, this is a sign to get back in balance.

The three main types of ineffective coping mechanisms are avoidance, attack, and self-harm mechanisms. Self-harm is destructive behavior including, but not limited to, abuse of substances. Attack mechanisms are exactly what they sound like. The wall is up, and the person is on the defensive. This includes aggression toward others, passive aggression, and projection. Finally, avoidance mechanisms include denial, rationalization, avoidance, possibly to the point of immobilization.

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Self-care Quick Guide

The quick and easy guide to self-care is have a hobby, set boundaries, find a venting buddy, take advantage of silence, try new things, sleep, drink water. It can be difficult but it is really quite simple.

The Not-so-quick Guide

The first task of creating a self-care routine is to quit apologizing for making yourself a priority.

We had a staff party a few years ago, and one of my coworkers was explaining that she got into it with her husband because he comes home and instantly goes into decompress mode while she comes home and has to do a million and one things. The women all agreed with great enthusiasm. My other coworker, an older gentleman who had been married for years, asked two simple questions. The first was, why does your husbands’ need to decompress upset you when you have the same need? The second was, what stops you from taking just a few minutes to relax before you start your nightly routine?

Every woman looked dumbfounded. None of us had an answer. Young children, older children, no children, every woman had the same grip about the male compulsion to decompress once home. Yet, none of us could explain why we believed a five to twenty-minute personal break would destroy life as we know it.

Stop apologizing for needing time to recharge.

The second task is just as challenging. Figure out your limits and set boundaries. In my last year of grad school, I went to bed no sooner than two in the morning from Monday to Saturday…and Sunday if a paper was due. I tried that crap after I graduated and quickly learned that my body was having none of it. I learned rather quickly that I need at least six hours of sleep to function. And guess what? The medical community still considers that borderline sleep deprivation for adults. Adults need seven to nine hours of sleep a night.

 Learn your limits for all the dimensions and set boundaries.

The next task is more fun. List the things that make you feel happy and light. Make sure to include activities that you enjoy, as well as things you find relaxing, energizing, motivating, and challenging. Once you make the list, you must do something with it. Meaning, you need to include these things in your life.

A word of caution. Do not overdo it. For example, I enjoy reading. However, at one point, I was realized I felt stressed out by the thought of reading, which made me confused and worried. While talking to a friend, I realized I had somehow made reading a job instead of a hobby. I had seven books in rotation at one time and had been doing the pile-on game with books for months. This was more stressful because they were library books, and I had three weeks to read them all. The lesson was clear. I could still be a voracious reader; I just had to add books to a to-read list and read one book at a time.

Once you have your lists, it is time to put that calendar to good use and block out some Me Time. Set aside time every month for an activity you enjoy and set aside time every day to decompress. Now comes another hard task. Make it a habit. The calendar helps, but if you are like me, you may find other things that seem more important. For this, I suggest going back to your boundaries. What is worth interrupting your self-care time, and what isn’t?

Here’s a pro-tip. A car is an excellent place for quality time with yourself. If you crave quiet, turn off the radio and put your phone on silent. If you crave adventure, put on a good audiobook. If you love to rock out, create a playlist of your favorite music, and blast it. Yes, you look crazy singing your heart out, gesturing wildly, but you are also the happiest person on the road. Ask me how I know.

Now, a little homework. Determine which dimension(s) of self-care you need to pay more attention to, and list activities you will do in the near future to tend to that dimension.

Feel free to share!

Photo by Natasha Fernandez