I have had a lot of people come to me lately with ailments that (on the surface) seem relatively mysterious. Their stomachs hurt, they are noticing an uptick in the amount of migraines they get. They’re constipated. They’re gassy. They have diarrhea. They have no time to cook. Their exercise is falling to the wayside. They’re depressed and they are anxious. They are, essentially both full of guilt and full of physical pain. It’s gotta be a trend right now, something astrological. It suddenly seems like “too busy” is making everyone I know feel literally ill.
And in steps self-care.
Self care is as amorphous and tricky to define as it is necessary to participate in. My good friend Molly is what I would call a self-care whiz, and I was extremely excited when she asked if she could write a little something on treating yourself awesomely for my audience. The below piece resonates with me so deeply (yeah, I need a little self-care, too), and I am seriously hoping it strikes a chord with you, too.
Self-care is vital. We need it. I am giving you permission to go at it like a fucking champion. Below are a bunch of ideas of how to get started:
I’m imagining a world where we all feel unapologetic and unashamed to be who we are, held respect for limits and boundaries of ourselves and others, and believed we were truly worth loving. These ideas seem obvious, right? But I look around and see people completely removed from the simple act of honoring themselves. We need self-care, but oftentimes we don’t know how or where to get it.
The stereotype of self-care is a bunch of things that seem out of reach- expensive spa days, sitting on the beach and meditating, activities that involve money, time, and disruption of the necessary flow of life. We are taught self-care is a luxury afforded by an elite few and I am here to say that this is absolutely not true. Permission, access, and love: These simple guidelines are what you need to take care of yourself in a deep and restorative way. Surprisingly, it’s notoriously difficult to approach ourselves with these intentions. If you’ve ever struggled with feeling selfish, guilty, or lost when it comes to “self-care” and how to do it, you’re not alone.
On some level, showing up for the needs of other people has become more acceptable than showing up for our own needs. But I ask this: If you are really going to be able to give your energy, your thinking, your creativity, and your strength to your projects and communities, is it not essential to recharge and reconnect to yourself? The more you treat yourself well, with love, care, and tenderness, the more you can feel like a whole person who is able to actually make clear decisions for yourself and your life. If we could all do this, and all be whole people meeting other whole people, we would literally transform the world. Self-care enables us to access our minds and to think about why we are in circumstances that deplete us, plus how we can find the energy, consultation, and clarity to change said circumstances.
When I teach people how to practice self-care (and it is very much a practice, starting with 5 minutes a day, all at once or sprinkled throughout), I teach activities that can be done almost anywhere, with any kind of tools or supplies. These things I teach are easy to conceptualize but what seems hard for people is offering themselves permission to actually start. Kindness for yourself around that challenge is also self-care! If you think of something you’d like to do for yourself, but find yourself struggling to begin, offer thanks to yourself for all the protection your stubborn parts are offering. It’s scary to think of opening yourself up to care (even your own). Bodies and brains like homeostasis. And yet, we are always learning and growing. It’s a challenging tension that, if you can recognize it and allow space for that tension to just be, you’ve already offered tender care to the parts of you that are struggling.
With that, here are some inexpensive or free activities you can think about and try- and if you find yourself getting stuck, remember that stuck is a part of your process, too. You’re not trying to get anywhere but to yourself.
Journal about your dreams
Breathe. If you need a template, try breathing in for a count of 4, deep into your diaphragm, thinking “soft”, and out for a count of 4, thinking “belly”. Keep your belly soft, try not to hold tension there. Do this for about 5 minutes, in line at the grocery store, in traffic, when you feel stress, when you need a rest.
Walk slowly mindfully down a street you’re already familiar with, and notice something new
Write and send a postcard to someone you care about, even if you live with them!
Hum to yourself and feel the vibrations in your cheeks
Eat your first bite of food for the day with all of your senses open and aroused. Let it last as long as you can.
Go to a natural place, like a yard, an urban park, or if you can, a wilderness area. Notice the smell of the grass. Touch a tree with both palms and hold yourself there for 30 seconds. Stop and stay a while. You may start to notice some of your physical stressors start to evaporate, as you remember: You are interconnected with the world around you, and your care for yourself extends to caring for this world. Trees are bad-fucking-ass, and you are too.
What do you do to recalibrate, slow down, and recharge your strength and offer care to yourself?
Molly Merson, MFT is a psychotherapist in Berkeley CA who offers relational psychotherapy for people learning how to love and understand themselves. She also hosts a “Self-care Staycation,” a half-day experiential retreat for a small group of folks wanting to kickstart or deepen their self-care opportunities. She makes sure people leave with tools and resources that can be used long after the retreat is over.