When working with clients, and evaluating my own levels of tiredness, I’ve observed 2 general tendencies influencing one’s ability to engage in self-care.
The first is dependent on our ability to perceive the need of self-care.
The second? To problem solve in order to derive conclusions regarding the form of self-care likely to be most beneficial for our moment to moment needs. This becomes tricky and stresses the importance of ongoing exploration, as we might have differing needs at different times and contexts.
Many at times, the need to engage in self-care, is either perceived or indicated by the consequences of its absence. During times of stress, people might feel tired, lacking patience, getting upset over things they usually wouldn’t. For example, in the case of students, they might experience difficulties in concentration. However, at times people need assistance to connect the dots and form a bigger picture, rather than seeing the dots as individual sources of problems or difficulties. Through this, one might be enabled to take corrective actions towards the source of the difficulty rather than addressing “symptoms” one by one.
Let me make myself clear by using a relatively easy to follow example. While visiting my hairdresser to get myself a new head, I was informed that my scalp exhibited signs of hair-loss.
My initial reaction was a felt sensation of “oh no!!”, brought about by my mind’s power of imagination. My mind produced automatic negative images of going bald either entirely or in patches, and my emotions faithfully followed the path set by my brain…deeper and deeper into the imaginary rabbit hole of baldness.
Because of my training in identifying automatic thoughts, their interaction with emotions and behaviours, I was able to observe my mood change, and challenge the automatic image by deriving a more realistic conclusion. As such, my thinking process dealt with the following:
- If I have hair-loss then this could probably imply high levels of stress.
- If I am stressed (disclosure: I was/am) I need to evaluate the sources of stress.
- Following the identification of sources of stress, I need to act.
- In action I need to decide whether I can change sources of stress; whether I can adapt my behaviour when dealing with stressful situations.
- If I cannot change my behaviour nor directly challenge the source/s of stress I need to allow more time for self-care.
I must be honest with you. Following the cognitive conception of the above problem-solving process, and before I followed my plan, I felt overwhelmed by my plan’s complications and the amount of effort I would need to put into it to ensure the highest possibility of success. In sum, I had the thought of “who has time for that?! Maybe vitamins or supplements will cut it”.
Listening to myself complain about the prospect of taking action which would lower my levels of stress, was certainly entertaining. This decrease could be achieved by a) removing sources of stress b) increasing the occurrence of behaviours which would boost my ability to tolerate and deal with stress. Both choices are complicated, and both choices need time and effort.
I had to utilise all my self-control to take myself back to my original idea. This was enabled by conducting a thorough exploration of the pros of changing, the pros of staying the same, the cons of changing and the cons of staying the same. I decided to thus, opt for the choice which would foster the most pros in the long term, despite its short-term costs. In doing so, I decided to also validate my resulting frustration regarding my complicated plan. I listed all the things I am currently dealing with:
- Moved away from 1 country.
- Moved to another country.
- Plan my wedding.
- Start 2 new jobs simultaneously.
- Start up my own business.
- Maintain the healthy status of my relationship
I allowed my reactant inner child to have a tantrum, and my inner mature and empathic adult to address the concerns of the child and to guide it through the necessity of change. Since I couldn’t really resign, nor add more hours in a day, it was clear that I would need to increase the occurrence of stress-relieving activities and behaviours.
Self-caring behaviours can include any types of activities or behaviours. Their defining characteristic is denoted in their name. They all share the objective of taking care of one’s self. As such, these might include exercising, going out with friends (people you actually like, and can have fun with), eat nutritious and tasty food. If you enjoy cooking, prepping your meals can also be a form of self-care. Put on music and sing while chopping up veg for example. Put on your favourite perfume, chill with Netflix, take your meds as prescribed by your doctor, have a conversation regarding the difficult topic that bothers you.
Doing whatever works for you, when it does is the essence of self-care. Self-care isn’t always fun, nor exciting. Regardless, it is absolutely necessary. The only exclusion is engaging in behaviours with short term reward and long-term drawbacks.