Self Care – What does that mean to you?

I’m doing some research on Self-Care for a series of workshops and talks designed around helping people develop their own Self-Care Toolbox. I decided to ask some friends for their thoughts, feelings and opinions. This post is concerned with the first question I asked:

“What does ‘Self-Care’ mean to you?”

For many people it meant taking time for themselves. Self-Care was an amount of time with their own well-being as the priority. Slowing down the pace of their life in order to think and reassess – being mindful of their life, the world and their place in it. Stopping and checking in with themselves about what they needed, then if possible, supplying it. The first step was to stop and ask “what do I need?”

For many parents, that took considerable effort and planning so wasn’t something that felt it could be done often or regularly, or sometimes at all. Simply not putting yourself last, self preservation.

The concept of self-care was offered as looking after yourself so that you are in turn able to look after others. Or anything that made them feel healthier in mind and/or body – including just feeling happier. The main reason given for Self-Care was in order to de-stress (being happier often being part of that). Suggesting that Self-Care didn’t kick in until we were stressed enough to have to do something about it.

It made me wonder, is it possible to put an element of Self-Care in place to reduce or avoid stress? Of course life can thwack us unexpectedly around the head and stress can never be completely avoided, but can Self-Care come into daily life rather than being applied as an emotional sticking plaster?

Self-care often seemed to be focused on the foundations of well-being:

  • Washing
  • Dressing
  • Taking medications/vitamins
  • Eating nutritiously (if possible), sometimes, just eating.
  • Drinking water
  • Exercise/moving/fresh air

Self-care could be seen as something that felt mildly indulgent or even selfish sometimes.

I have to say, that made me a little sad. Self-Care should be seen as essential and necessary. Like breathing, water, food, taking care of ourselves is part of that package.

It’s also something that’s fluid and changing, sometimes it was taking the break that your body and mind needed, sometimes it was kicking yourself up the butt to get something finished or started.

“It isn’t being nice to yourself, it’s being kind, and in some cases that means practicing self discipline. It’s also different for each person.” Kate, 24, Cambridge.

Kate’s words said exactly what I wanted to, so I asked her permission to use them verbatim.

So Self-Care is different things for different people, and also different for the same person.

The common element is taking a moment to ask yourself what you need right now. What is essential to get done, what will help you de-stress and be happy. Also, what is possible. Life is busy and full and tough and we need to find ways of slipping Self-Care into the chinks available.

The first step in building a Self-Care toolkit is wanting to.

Have the intention.

Find a time when you’re alone – in the bathroom/shower in the morning? On the work commute? Waiting for the kettle to boil? – a minute, 30 seconds – and think something along the lines of, I want to be kind to myself today, how do I take care of myself today, what do I need today and what’s possible? Whatever words are best for you.

That’s the first tool for your toolkit. The tool of intention.

Try it, see what you think and let me know.

Next post is about how Self-Care is practised.

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Shopping for Counsellors

Choosing a counsellor is an important process. However it’s one that we often don’t get to have, or one that perhaps we don’t feel we can do.

Counselling is a deeply individual process, and much of it’s success depends upon the therapeutic relationship between counsellor and client. It has to be a good “fit”.

We very rarely buy clothes or shoes without trying them on to check the fit and how we feel in them, yet how often do we allow ourselves to have introductory or initial sessions with a number of counsellors to see how we feel with them? Even if we are in a position to do so. If our counselling is via the GP, or NHS, then a choice of counsellor may seem impossible. But it’s still important.

We rarely continue friendships with people we don’t feel comfortable with, we don’t open up to them in the way we do to others – so why think a therapeutic relationship with a counsellor would be any different?

It can feel odd to “try someone out” and then reject them and choose someone else. We’re kind of taught that that’s not really a nice thing to do in relationships – even one where we are paying someone to listen to us and entering into what is essentially a business relationship. We aren’t making a new friend here, even if the counsellor may end up knowing up better than most of our closest friends.

If you have the opportunity, take introductory sessions with counsellors. Some do this face to face, some over the phone or skype, often at a reduced rate, occasionally even free. Maybe this would be useful even if you’re entering into a situation where you don’t get to choose your counsellor – it can give you a sense of what type of situation and person works for you.

Try counsellors of different modalities, unless you know what modality is your cup of tea. Psychodynamic is very different to Gestalt, open-ended person-centred is different to short term Solution Focused.

You need your personal unique fit, to your emotional curves, bumps and dimples. How you feel with that person is important. Do you feel safe, do you trust them, can you be honest with them, can you allow them to challenge you, can you be vulnerable with them?

What is your instinctive feeling during that first session?

Sometimes we just like people, or dislike others. Sometimes they remind us of someone, and this can help or hinder the process. Sometimes we can’t pinpoint where our feelings of yes or no come from, but it’s important to listen to and take notice of.

One counsellor does not fit all.

It’s okay not to get on with one and want someone else.

Don’t run an emotional marathon in ill fitting shoes.