Meditation is a great choice for self-care Sunday!
Self-care Sunday, is that actually a thing? If not, it should be. It's Sunday when I'm writing this, and I need a heaping helping of self-care. I have chronic Lyme. (No, this blog isn't going to be all about my ailments) Chronic Lyme means that I can have a flare-up at any time. Lyme's stinging, burning muscle pain can beat the life out of me. I'm dealing with a flare-up right now. Even though I am exhausted, I am slogging through my day, checking items off my to-do list.
As I did a lit review of why self-care is hard to do, I found as many answers as articles. The one crystal clear thing was that so many of us struggle with doing it. Why is this, and what can we do about it?
What is Self-Care?
Let's start by defining what self-care is. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), self-care is the "ability of individuals, families, and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider."
As I read that definition, I have a hunch that women struggle with self-care because we are programmed from birth to be caretakers. We are caretakers of others, not of ourselves, take care of the kids, care for our partner, care for our elderly parents, and promote health and prevent disease in our loved ones.
The dog-eared adage about self-care; if the oxygen mask drops, put yours on first before you help others, is well known but hard to follow. Why is this?
Why Is Self-Care Hard To Do?
Many women "of a certain age" feel that it is selfish to take care of themselves. They think of self-care as an indulgence, not a necessity. The Puritanical view of indulgence being a sin is alive and well in many parts of the United States.
Ironically, those same women who think it is selfish to "indulge in self-care" bring their car to the shop for routine maintenance, and they take their children in for all of their "child well care" visits. They state that they must keep on top of things so everything runs as it should, and potential problems are headed off at the pass.
The following reason why self-care is hard, I think, is tied into this concept of self-care being selfish. Self-care is often confused with indulgence.
For example, Fran feels anxious about changes at work, so she goes to the bar after work and has a few too many beers to "calm her nerves."
Or, Sally is depressed about her divorce, so she goes home and curls up with a tub of Ben and Jerry's and binges on NetFlix.
Those are both examples of indulgence. Self-care would be Fran talking to her boss about her concerns or Sally talking to a therapist.
If we step away from the idea that self-care is an indulgence and into the mindset of engaging in practices that will improve our physical or mental health, it might become an easier pill to swallow.
Another reason why self-care can be hard to do is that it takes time and effort. We have hectic schedules jammed packed full of things that need to be taken care of, and when we get tired or start to run out of time, we begin slashing stuff off our to-do list. And we all know that exercise, rest, and eating healthy all get slashed off the list first!
Be honest now, how many of you have skipped yoga class, wolfed down a slice of pizza over the sink in the employee kitchen, and spent the evening at your desk writing a report that "had to get done?" Yeah, I see you!
Sheepishly, I am also raising my hand. We've all done it. I can't tell you how many times I made a choice to hit the snooze button instead of getting up and doing my qigong practice. I know which one will set me up for a better day. But it can be hard to follow through, I know.
Why is Self-Care Important
Research shows that taking care of yourself is vital to living a productive and healthy life. Getting enough sleep, eating healthy food, exercising, spending time with loved ones, engaging in pleasurable pastimes such as reading, or being creative, are essential to your physical and mental health.
With everything that we jam into our days, our lives are full of stress.
Elevated stress levels increase the amount of stress hormones in your body. These hormones (e.g., cortisol) can harm your physical health, causing diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and irritable bowel syndrome. Self-care is a vital part of managing stress.
In addition to these physical health concerns caused by stress, stress can cause various mental health issues. Research has shown that the levels of depression and anxiety are steadily rising. The World Health Organization (WHO) says that depression affects women more than men. And in September 2018, Medical News Today stated that anxiety disorders affect almost 1 in 5 people in the United States.
In the article "Chronic Stress Leads to Anxiety and Depression, published by SciMedCentral, it was reported that "stress hormones help a person in responding to an immediate threat. However, if stress remains heightened, it could boost anxiety and lead to mood disorders or, most commonly, major depressive. Repeated or recurrent stress is known to quicken or worsen the mood disorder."
Research shows that stressful lives have adverse effects on our physical and mental health. These negative effects are why self-care is so important. There are things we can do to limit and counteract stress. Let's take a look.
Self-Care Sunday and Every Other Day Also
We've looked at why self-care is hard to do and why it's essential to do it, so let's dive into how to make it a part of your life. I don't think I'm going out on a limb here when I say that we are all intelligent people. We understand that taking care of ourselves is crucial, but we don't have the time to fit one more thing into our jammed-packed schedule. Let's look at how you can make self-care part of your life.
Learn to Say No!
No, this little two-letter word holds a lot of power. It can set you free, help you get back the time you thought you didn't have, and lower stress levels. The hard part is that it can be tough to say.
The actual pronunciation of the word isn't tricky. The mental baggage that we strap onto it makes it difficult. For example, you drop your kid off at school, and the head of the PTO makes a beeline over to you and asks you to make two dozen cookies for the bake sale tomorrow. You are in the middle of a massive project at work, and you are putting together the presentation for the client meeting tomorrow afternoon.
Your mouth says, 'sure; I can do that, no problem." Meanwhile, your mind was full of thoughts, such as "if I say no, they are going to think I'm a terrible mother" or, "they will think I don't care about my child and what is going on at school." Perhaps, you were thinking, "it's easier to make the damn cookies than explain why I don't have the time."
I get it; saying no is hard to do, especially when you first start. But learning to say no, and not explaining why you are saying no is a vital life skill. Remember that no is a complete sentence. No explanation is necessary.
Take a moment to think about all the things you said yes to that you didn't want to do and didn't have time to do. Now calculate how much time you would have saved if you had said no. With all that time, how many self-care things could you have done? Could you have gone to a yoga class, taken a walk in nature, taken your dog for a walk down a meandering country road?
Practice saying no. Tell a trusted friend that you are learning to say no. Ask them to regularly ask you to engage in time-consuming tasks that you really wouldn't want to do, and practice saying no. "No, not today." "I'm sorry, no, I can't do that." "No" Make a list of different ways to say no, without explaining yourself, and practice saying them.
Let me make myself clear here; there are times when you can't say no. I'm not advocating that you tell your boss no when she assigns you a big project, but I am saying that you need to practice saying no to unreasonable requests on your time. You know the ones that bring you no joy and suck up hours of your time. In the immortal words of Nancy Reagan, just say no!
By regularly saying no, you will save yourself time in which you can engage in self-care, and secondly, you will lower stress levels, which is self-care all in and of itself!
Put It On The Damn Schedule!
You know as well as I do that if it isn't on your schedule, it isn't going to happen. We may mentally schedule it; I'm going to the yoga studio right after work three days a week. On Monday, something comes up, and we think, oh, I still have four more chances to get there, no problem. Tuesday, the same thing happens. By Wednesday, we're thinking, "f*ck it. I'll do three days next week."
Put your self-care on the calendar, the same as you would a meeting or taking the car to the garage. You are that important! You deserve to schedule what you need to say healthy. Scheduling self-care will look different for everyone, but what's important is that you make it work for you. Be honest with what you are realistically able to do. Maybe you want to do an hour of qigong every morning, but you find you keep missing out on it because you don't have the time. While you'd like to do an hour, would 30 minutes be more realistic? Small does of self-care every day add up and can be powerful.
Layer Your New Habit On Top of an Established Habit
When you start a new practice that you want to make a habit, it can be helpful to layer it on top of an established routine. Let me give you an example; you want to start a gratitude practice (which I highly recommend); if you already have the habit of sitting at your kitchen table while you drink your first cup of coffee, layer your gratitude practice on top of it. This strategy won't work with every self-care practice, but it will for many.
Not having the time is the main excuse for not engaging in self-care, so it would be beneficial for you to start looking for ways to multi-task. Easily layered self-care practices include mindful breathing, meditation, a gratitude practice, simple stretches, or qigong flows. These can be done while on the train, waiting in line, driving to work, etc. Obviously, common sense would need to be used, and you wouldn't meditate while driving,
Do you take the train to work? What do you do during that time, scroll mindlessly through social media? Why not use that time to meditate? Perhaps you spend ten minutes standing on the platform at the train station or five minutes standing in line at Starbucks waiting to order and receive your coffee. Could you practice some breathing routines or simple stretches that would help reduce your stress and get you ready for the day?
Once you open your mind to the possibility of layering tasks, you will see a wide variety of options. Choose one and give it a try. What I don't want you to do is see this as an opportunity to try a bunch of new things simultaneously. While I love your enthusiasm, you will set yourself up for failure, and we don't want that!
Pick the one that is the most appealing to you. Work on making that your priority for the next three months. Get that into a firmly entrenched habit before moving on to the following habit change. You don't want to get yourself into a state of overwhelm because nothing good happens in that state. Be gentle with yourself and remember that old cliché, "Rome wasn't built in a day." Give yourself the time and space needed to make a permanent change.
Making Self-Care Sunday Part of Your Life
Self-care Sunday is a great place to start, but why don't you begin to incorporate self-care into an everyday thing? Now that you know why self-care is essential and have learned ways to make it a regular part of your life, ask yourself, "What keeps me from engaging in regular self-care?" Be honest with yourself, and if you feel that you might need some help with implementation, see if you can get some family members or friends on board to join you in regularly scheduled activities. Perhaps you might resist starting this; if that's the case, let me reassure you that it is normal, this might be a good time to hire a coach. I love working with people on this. Making the changes in your life to include self-care is vital for your well-being.
Take some time and take a look at your life. Ask yourself, what can I start saying no to, and how will that free me up for important things? Look at your schedule and put that yoga class in your calendar as a hard set item, meaning it can't be skipped or changed. Determine what practice you would like to start that can be layered over something you already do regularly. Make self-care a regular part of your life.
Now I am going to call it a night, take a hot bath, and get to bed early to give my body the rest it needs.
Be well, and as always,