I remember back in the 1990s, when I was in graduate school studying to become a psychotherapist, it seemed like every professor ended up talking about “self-care.” I would think, “I hear that on Oprah. How could something so simple and trendy be such a big deal?”
Now, 15 years later, I find myself talking about self-care with all of my clients. It’s the cornerstone of a good life.
Self-care takes time and attention. It can be boring. It’s not sexy or dramatic. But ultimately it is a super powerful tool for transformation.
If you can increase your self-care by just 10%, your life will have less anxiety, depression, and disappointment.
What does self-care look like? I’ve come up with five “Bs” for better self-care.
Boundaries: Many of us are afraid to say no. Deep down we fear we’ll be all alone if we assert our boundaries. Ironically, the opposite is true. We’ll have more and better relationships when we learn to put our needs at the top of our priority list. We’ll become nicer, not more selfish. We can’t be truly present for others when we are feeling burdened.
Bodies: Does the topic of getting enough exercise and good nutrition make your eyes glaze over? You can’t pick up a magazine or newspaper without reading about it. As much as we like to deny it, we live this life in a real body and not just in our busy, intelligent heads.
Sometimes I wish it were otherwise, but there’s no getting around the importance of caring for your body. The research on this self-care topic is extremely compelling. Many studies show that exercise works better than medication for moderate levels of anxiety and depression, with no side effects.
Breath: What could be more boring than breathing? And yet it is the fastest way we can reduce our anxiety and feel more centered. Taking several deep breaths that go all the way into our belly reduces our heart rate. And it is no coincide that the word “spirit” comes from the word “breath” in Latin. There is a link.
Being Grateful: Oh no, not another article about creating a gratitude list! I’m sorry to disappoint, but when you are in a bad mood one of the best ways to start feeling better is to reflect on what you have that is good. Our mind will typically go to the negative. It helped us stay away from tigers back when we were cave men. It takes practice to challenge that automatic, pessimistic perspective.
Becoming Curious: Another way to say this is learning to track yourself. This means slowing down enough to occasionally notice our interior dialogue, in addition to our behaviors. By cultivating curiosity we get more raw data about what is actually true about ourselves. Without awareness, change can’t occur.
It’s much easier to stay busy with the distractions of apps, shopping, or entertainment than to take 15 seconds to notice that we just told ourselves we were “less than” someone else. But the long term good stuff comes from noticing.
“Curious” is the perfect word to describe this approach to self-care. It’s the opposite of the spirit of judgment or shame. It’s simply remaining open to what is going on with you.
Now comes the really hard part about this article. Rather than moving on to the next online thing, could you commit to doing one item on this list just 5% more often? Could you write it down on your calendar or someplace you’ll see it again?
Self-care isn’t complicated. It just takes a lot of practice.