Psychologist Suzy Reading on the Life Changing Power of Looking After Number One
Self-care is any life-giving activity that restores, sustains or improves your health. In the simplest of terms, I think of self-care as nourishment. Most people will mention things like facials, dinners out and holidays when asked what they consider to be self-care. Of course they are one hundred per cent right, but self-care is so much more.
The challenge with the activities that come to mind for most people is that they can be costly,
time-consuming and they need to be booked in advance, making them difficult to access in times of genuine need. However, there are many ways to replenish that take little time, energy or expense. Simple mood boosters, like wearing your favourite colour or spritzing your favourite scent, or effortless ways to relax, like lying down with your legs up against the wall for five minutes or watching the moving cloudscape for a few moments.
Your Energetic Bank Balance
When introducing self-care to my clients, I like to use the concept of us all having an ‘energy bank balance.’ Like a car needs petrol to go, we need energy to get us through our day. Self-care is like refuelling your tank – each activity is a deposit in your energy bank. We need a
healthy energy bank balance just to sustain us through the usual demands of life. If you are just scraping by with the status quo of life, how are you going to cope when life
throws a curveball at you? You or someone in your care falls ill and you’re up all night, work becomes difficult, you have an accident or you get a promotion – curveballs can be positive too!
Even much desired happenings can tax us, such as planning a holiday, moving houses or starting a family. Because stress is an unavoidable part of life I think it makes more sense to manage our energetic reserves rather than attempting to manage our stress.
When we are feeling full of vigour and in great health we naturally deal better with stress. Commitment to regular self-care gives you the best possible chance to cope with all the challenges that come your way.
Another image I like to use is ‘filling your cup.’ When people talk of feeling selfish about taking time out for themselves, the image of a cup is helpful. You can’t pour from an empty cup, so replenishing yourself is the only way to ensure your ability to keep giving.
Another metaphor is to think of self-care in the same way as the oxygen masks on a plane in the case of an emergency. For the safety of all in your care, you must ensure your mask is fitted first before you can attend to those in your charge.
Self-Care for the Mind and Body
What I have observed in my career as personal trainer, yoga teacher and psychologist is that physical health tends to be high on most people’s radar. On one hand, public health campaigns have been very effective at promoting the importance of healthy eating, regular exercise, minimising your intake of alcohol and the need to prioritise adequate sleep.
On the other hand, the strategies we could employ to nourish our mental or emotional health are seen as more luxurious or indulgent. I would love to challenge this. Additionally, the stigma attached to mental health has us saying, ‘I’m fine thanks, I don’t need that.’ I can’t tell you how many traumatised people I encounter who say, ‘no I don’t need help, I’m coping’ when they are the prime candidates to benefit from having someone to talk to. I would love to see a shift in public perception that makes caring for your mind as sexy and socially acceptable as working on your ‘six pack.’ My mission is to get you thinking about practices that nurture you mentally, emotionally and energetically.
Self-Care Isn’t Selfish
Often, during periods of stress, loss and change, self-care gets dropped from the agenda. This is precisely when we need it the most – it’s exactly what happened to me. Now in my psychological practice, I hear my clients saying the same things; they label self-care as ‘too hard,’ ‘selfish’ or ‘an indulgence.’ For those that feel it is selfish, take a moment to consider
what would happen to the people around you if you fell over. What kind of burden would you place on them if you were unable to keep fulfilling your role? If you can’t engage in self-care for yourself, then do it for the people around you. If it helps you, think of self-care not as ‘me first,’ but ‘me as well.’
Why We Need to be Proactive
When the going gets tough it’s common to feel that you just don’t have the time, space or energy for self-care. This is a recipe for a full-blown, physical health meltdown, exhaustion, and if it goes on for long enough, anxiety and depression. My experience has taught me that when we are stressed, our usual methods of replenishment can become inaccessible and we lack the resources to think creatively about carving new self-care rituals. This is why we need to get the concept of self-care into the spotlight, and ideally before we hit energetic rock bottom.
We need to talk about it openly with our friends and family. We need to raise awareness of the ways in which we can pay into that energy bank, keeping us resilient in the face of stress. We need to support each other through the challenging times because when you are in the midst of it, the answers can seem hard to find.
What I came to understand through my own experience was that the things I normally and
naturally did well, in terms of constructive thought and behaviour patterns, dropped away when I was stressed and exhausted. But, the really encouraging thing is that when I committed to self-care, these skills bounced back! Similarly, as I empower my clients to take regular action to ‘fill their cup,’ they naturally make better decisions, have more energy to buffer themselves and can engage in more constructive thinking.
The Self-Care Revolution by Suzy Reading is out now octopusbooks.co.uk