It can be so easy, too easy sometimes, to put ourselves last. To place our feelings on the back burner in order to deal with something that we view as more vital, such as deadlines or supporting someone else.
This can be great – helping those around you can strengthen bonds and really support those who need it the most. But just like drawing up water from a well, you can’t quench someone’s thirst if you have no water to give. And that comes from self-care.
Self-care is one of those terms that have been strung around so loosely, it’s almost become synonymous with behaviours that, whilst enjoyable in the short term, do not necessarily provide long-term solutions. As such, self-care being something hard to define can be a hindrance. But it needn’t be. Self-care can be a set of ground principles that allow customisation to find the perfect fit for your life, and your future plans.
Getting into a routine
It is always stressed that eating and sleeping right is a determining factor to feeling happier. You need to fill up your well, and to do that, sleep and nutritional food should be uncompromisable parts of your life. It will be hard to set up a routine at first, but science has shown that after 66 days you can form a new habit, for some it could be achieved after 18 days of consistent action (https://jamesclear.com/new-habit). It’s not anything complicated, though that doesn’t mean it will always be easy to do. But if after you fall off the wagon, miss a step or just need a break, remind yourself that each day adds up. If you complete each day, bit by bit, you will see this becoming second-nature to you.
Recognising your limits
However, building routines needs to be understood in conjunction with letting go. Life can be relentless, dishing out intense challenges one after another. Therefore, part of self-care involves recognising your limits, as they are now. Many times, we are afraid that if we say ‘no’, we will be perceived as weak, thinking that to let up even for a moment would affirm our negative thoughts about ourselves: that we cannot handle where we are, that we are not good enough, that we don’t deserve what we have. But it’s quite the opposite. Knowing when to stop can be the strongest trait we display. It is hard, in this fast-paced society, to sit back and chill. Scheduling regular ‘me-time’ can be the deciding factor to our mental health. You could realise that, from taking time out, you are able to achieve more instead of ploughing through, putting yourself last.
Taking time to reflect
One last core self-care principle that everyone can adopt is to reflect. Very often this is omitted without hesitation, in favour of avoidance. But again, reflection doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone. Its simply a tool used to help you take stock, identify your problems, the trajectory of your life and your achievements. So many of our problems can seem insurmountable when we face them alone, whether through bottling them up and ignoring them, or only addressing them in our heads. As soon as we are able to see them clearly laid out in front of us, and share them, we gain a new perspective on them.
Writing down your thoughts provides scope to break them into smaller, manageable chunks, and identify key ways to put our mind at ease. Twenty minutes a week would be enough to recognise all you have accomplished, no matter how small. If all you did was wake up, despite feeling glued to your bed, that should be recognised. The more you reflect, the more autonomy and information you have about your life, how you’re living it, where you’re headed and where you want to be. You don’t have to keep a daily diary: often our lives don’t allow for this and the pressure to stay consistent on top of all our other commitments may lead to the opposite of the desired result. But there are so many forms that your reflection can take – whether it’s writing one sentence on a post-it note, doodling your favourite moment of the day or talking to someone. If this is adopted as part of your self–care, you may find your life becoming a lot more manageable.
Communication is key to humans due to our social nature, and we are now starting to realise the importance of checking in with others. But let’s not forget the importance of checking in with ourselves. No matter what form it takes, self-care for you can be something that is incorporated into your life and personalised so that you have all the tools you need to be your most amazing self.
If you are looking for mental health support in Cambridge, be sure to check out Find Support Cam