NURTURING SELF-CARE: THE FOUNDATION OF MENTAL HEALTH
“It’s important to love someone, and it’s important to start with yourself.”
— JOHN DAVIDSON
Many of us go mindlessly about our daily routines filled with duty and responsibility. We feel stressed and unappreciated while wondering why we are not feeling good anymore. Other people seem to manage just fine, so what is wrong with us?
“How well do you look after yourself?”
When you let self-care and healthy habits slip, you start to feel worse. It won’t be so noticeable at first but things will gradually get worse and feel worse. When you feel low, your self-care further decreases, which leaves you feeling even worse – because now who is looking after you?!
Self-care is something that needs to be taught to children for them to form healthy habits early on in their lives. Once a habit is formed, the effort that goes into that behaviour becomes minimal. So if you were taught to brush your teeth every morning, it is likely to be something that you will continue to do throughout your life. You don’t question it, you don’t ruminate about it, you don’t analyse it – you just do it because you have always done it (and it is good for you). This works with healthy and unhealthy habits so it is important to make more mindful choices while learning to take better care of yourself.
“Where do I start?”
Looking after your physical health is really important, but you already know that. And yet, it seems like a huge effort to eat healthily, sleep well and exercise.
If you take on too much, if you set goals that deviate too much from your current routine, you are likely to overwhelm yourself and possibly even set yourself up for failure. Just remember all those New Year’s resolutions that have been abandoned by February …
So to get yourself started in a self-compassionate way set mini-goals and gradually build upon them as your new routine becomes more established.
Instead of telling yourself that you must go to the gym an hour a day, do 5 push-ups every morning at home or go for a 10 minute walk.
Think about exercises or activities you liked doing and introduce elements of them back into your life. Don’t compare what you can do now to what you could do before. Just focus on the fact that you are starting to treat yourself better again and take pride in it.
Basic hygiene, sleep hygiene and good nutrition are also very important but as we want to focus on the 4 most important elements of psychological self-care in this article, please research it as part of your personal development and incorporate what suits you and works for you.
“Nothing airy-fairy please!”
Many of us were raised to be tough on ourselves and others. We criticise, blame, act upon impulse and feel victimised. Kindness is often, wrongly, perceived as weakness. We live in the reality we create for ourselves – or a reality our families created for us. And very often, that reality does not feel good …
Now, as an adult, it is your responsibility to become aware of your own needs and make choices to that meet your needs. That means that you can create a reality filled with compassion and values-based action. You can create a more fulfilling life for yourself by exploring your relationship to the following concepts, none of which are ‘airy-fairy’:
Mindfulness describes the state of being aware by focusing on our thoughts, feelings and sensations in the present moment in a non-judgemental way. We don’t have to judge our jealousy as negative or our happiness as positive. We don’t have to become anxious about our anxiety or depressed about our depression. Naturally we were built to heal. Feelings come and go and we don’t necessarily have to do anything about it. Just notice. Notice how often your moods and feelings change without you having to do anything. Become confident in the natural flow of life.
Self-compassion requires noticing your own suffering and feeling moved by it, which opens your heart to feel warmth, kindness and caring towards yourself. It is the same principle of feeling compassion towards others but turning it toward yourself and treating yourself as compassionately as you would treat others, who are suffering.
Instead of berating yourself for feeling how you are feeling, ask yourself if you would talk to a loved one, who is suffering, or your child, how you talk to yourself. My bet is that you would not. So start noticing how you talk to yourself, how you judge and berate yourself – and change that voice into a kind voice that supports you and feels for you.
Acceptance refers to accepting your private experiences without judgment. It is a form of surrender and to take something as it is without trying to change it. This will remove a lot of pressure and enable you to work towards the life you want.
Gratitude has a profoundly positive impact on your well-being and makes you kinder, more optimistic and leaves you feeling more connected with others, yourself and life. There is so much we mindlessly take for granted so when you start to live more mindfully, you will start to notice that you live a life of abundance rather than scarcity. Be grateful for what you notice. Find lessons in daily suffering and develop an attitude of gratitude for your life experiences. As your perception starts to change by developing gratitude, your life will change too.
Learn to be still and take notice. Get to know yourself better and learn to take care of yourself.
Congratulations, you are starting the journey of a lifetime.