This year has forced us to be with ourselves, often without support or distraction. It’s been hard. But perhaps we can turn it to our advantage. Here are 4 things I’ve learnt about self-care:
To take care of our bodies, we need to feel that we are in our bodies. Rolling news, personal stress and work worries can whip our minds into a flurry – we end up so perpetually ‘in our heads,’ we almost forget that our bodies exist. Grounding into the body can be incredibly calming for the nervous system. As the word ‘grounding’ suggests, this is also about connecting to the earth and remembering that your body is nature. Practices like Qigong are fantastic for grounding your energy, and I’d highly recommend looking into this kind of practice as a starting point. Here are a few simple grounding exercises to build into your daily routine, or use when you’re feeling a bit all-over-the-place:
- Tapping and Pressing: Sit quietly and comfortably. Notice your breath (in the same way you would when you begin a meditation). Then, begin to tap firmly on every part of your body with your hands. Notice the feeling. Make sure your attention is focussed only on this. Repeat, but pressing or gently squeezing instead. You can use a mantra (speaking aloud or to yourself) if you like – something like ‘I am in my body’ or ‘My body is nature.’
- Nature and Touch: I’m sure I don’t need to remind you of the health benefits associated with getting out in nature – but next time you’re out there, try getting a more physical connection. Touch the earth, squish the sand or soil with your hands and feet, trace the leaves with your fingers… There’s a reason people hug trees you know!
- Squatting and Bouncing: If its comfortable for you, squat down with your tailbone close to the ground, and gently bounce. Direct your attention and energy downwards. You can add sound if you like – letting the breath and voice come out naturally (try not to worry too much about how it sounds). If squatting is not possible, you can stand and bounce, tapping your heels into the ground.
If you’re anything like me, tuning into your body’s true needs and desires around food is a lifelong journey. There’ll always be days when you are disconnected and mindlessly shovelling donuts into your face (that’s ok, by the way), but working towards a real connection with your stomach (which we now know is a little brain in itself) is deeply rewarding and gives birth to one of the richest sources of self care: feeding yourself.
During these difficult months, taking the time to cook delicious and nourishing food from scratch has been a tonic. Perhaps use the money you would be spending in the pub, on a new cookery book and a really good bottle of wine; or start making the ready-made components of your kitchen cupboard from scratch. If you have the time, and cooking is meditative for you, embrace it; give it your full attention; and realise how loving it is to simply nourish yourself.
In the last blog I talked about closing the door on your work, to protect your home life. But there are other boundaries you’ll need to attend to when practicing self-care. If you’ve ever taken a flight, you’ll know that during the safety briefing they tell you to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others… I’m sure you’ve heard it used as a metaphor time and again… but there is a reason for that! For some people, giving just comes naturally – you will pour your energy into the needs of your friends, family and acquaintances – and everything is fine, until you suddenly explode in anger, or just burn out. Sounds familiar? If this is you, you’ll have to be even more disciplined about self-care boundaries. If you are having a bath; you are not available. If you’re out for a walk; your phone is off. If you’re doing your ballet class; you are not to be disturbed. You’ll feel guilty at first, but remember this is just the odd hour out of a whole day! It will be better for everyone in the end.
What makes you really happy? I mean really joyful! Exuberant! Every so often, just give it to yourself. Pump up the volume on that song; watch that film you’ve seen 1000 times; dance around like a lunatic; paint something wild and fabulous that no one will ever see. Look, it’s not the best of times for anyone – let’s face it – but honestly, just five minutes of something that gets you grinning ear to ear, is priceless. You owe it to yourself.
Epiphanies of self often come, after years of trying, when you are ready for them. For me, they are usually in the form of poetry or theatre. Perhaps art helps us to solidify and finally bring together our muddle of emotions. I’ll leave you with a beautiful poem by Derek Walcott that came to me at just the right time. May it bring you joy.