The makings of a positive friendship


Repeat after me: Self care is not selfish!  5 tips for improving self care

Think about the number of tasks we do to function daily. Most of us start our day by waking up to our oh so soothing alarm before eating breakfast, making coffee, packing lunch, brushing our teeth, getting dressed, grabbing our keys, wallet and phone and getting out the door to go about our day. Chances are we don’t even think about whether to do these things as we do most of these tasks almost automatically.

What can sometimes come less automatically are additional activities that can foster a sense of wellbeing and vitality. When the endless to do lists are piling up, one of the first casualties is often self-care, those tasks that can be viewed as non-essential or a luxury.

How many times have we heard or said “I don’t have time, I’m too busy”, “I have too many things to do” and “I wish I could”? I have even had friends tell me in guilty tones of the time they took on the weekend to watch a movie or sleep in, friends who would happily give that time to helping others even at their own expense. So how do we shift our thinking to make self-care not just acceptable but a priority?

You can’t put on other people’s oxygen masks if haven’t put on your own.

I once had a colleague use this analogy and it has stuck in my mind ever since. My colleague painted a picture of a situation we all hope to never experience, being on a plane when the warning lights go on, a voice comes over the PA and oxygen masks drop from the ceiling. What would you do? If you choose not to put on your own oxygen mask, maybe you can function for a while at limited capacity, but it won’t be long before things become quite dire. If you put on other people masks first, you can maybe help some people, but it won’t be long before you need help yourself. If you put your own mask on first, not only can you function better for yourself, you can also help those around you more effectively.

Self-care is protective and preventative – here are 5 tips on how to get the most out of your self-care

  1. Choose your self-care and see yourself from a holistic point of view
    Self-care is deeply personal and can be individualised in whichever way we choose, but it can be helpful to remember we have different needs to be healthy and thriving. Self-care is not necessarily yoga, scented candles and spa trips (although these things can be a great part of self-care). By looking at self-care holistically, we can explore how to incorporate activities that promote physical, emotional, mental, spiritual and social wellbeing. Maybe self-care is finally making that appointment to see the dentist for the niggling pain in your tooth, maybe it’s making a delicious meal, having a stimulating conversation or reading a great book. It could even be walking along the beach, connecting with nature, having a good sleep or talking to someone about how things are going. Perhaps the best way to approach self-care is to include all of these areas and pay attention to the areas that are being neglected.
  2.  Treat yourself like your own best friend
    If a close friend came to you and said they were busy, stressed and overwhelmed, how would you respond? Chances are you would respond through a gentle lens of empathy, understanding, kindness and support, not a harsh lens of pressure or judgement. What would happen if you took this gentle lens and turned it on yourself? Could you give yourself permission to take time out, stop and breathe? Could you give yourself a chance to look at what you need in the present moment to feel whole and well and give yourself the time to do whatever it is that you need?
  3. Remind yourself that it’s OK to practice self-care
    No-one can stop their thoughts or feelings; they come and go in their own good time. But when we give too much energy to our thoughts and emotions, they can often get in the way of what we want or need to do. When trying to practice self-care, thoughts such as “this is a waste of time” and “I have other things I need to be doing” are normal, as are feelings of guilt or maybe even laziness. Instead of trying to stop these thoughts or feelings, gently acknowledge their presence, but also recognise that they are only thoughts and feelings and as such, are neither right or wrong and nor do they control your behaviours. If you still find they get in the way, remind yourself of the importance of self-care with thoughts such as “I need to time to be well” or “I will be able to do my other tasks better after I take care of myself’.
  4. Be present
    I will readily admit to having the occasional Netflix binge in the name of ‘self-care’, which is OK if I choose to use that as my self-care. But when I haven’t been present and I haven’t consciously made this choice, I have found that minutes turn into hours and episodes pass without me feeling like I have achieved any tangible improvement in my wellbeing, only a sense of guilt at ‘wasting time’. When I have been in the moment and consciously made the choice to watch my favourite show, I have found it far more enjoyable and satisfying with a much greater improvement in my wellbeing.
  5. Be proactive in making self-care part of your routine
    By making self-care part of our regular routine, we can increase our emotional and physical health and sense of vitality and wellbeing. By doing so we can become more prepared for inevitable bumps in the road of life. When practiced at self-care, we are not starting from scratch when stress becomes overwhelming and we may have a better sense of what self-care strategies will be more effective. Self-care is not meant to be an emergency response when a crisis occurs.

Part of being proactive can mean reaching out and seeking support from someone such as a psychologist. Many people think that they need to wait until they reach a crisis point before speaking to someone, however this is not the case. Part of what you can talk to a psychologist about are daily life stressors, as well as ways to improve your vitality, wellbeing and health.

The goal can be not just how to survive, but how to thrive.                                                                                                                            

If you relate to any of the above and feel like you could use some support in improving your self-care and wellbeing, get in touch with the team at Shoalhaven Psychology Services to book an appointment with one of our friendly psychologists.

Lauren Horsley



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