April 21, 2021
You have probably heard the term self-care….With the past year that we have all experienced you have likely heard someone in your personal or professional life preaching self-care. You may have even heard news reports about the increased need for self-care. But what exactly is self-care? Well I am so glad that you asked….
Self-care can mean many things from the very basic to the abstract. Self-care can mean basic hygiene, eating healthy food and getting exercise. It can mean taking a long and restorative bath. It can mean going for a walk. It can mean petting your animal of choice. It can mean reading a good book or working on a favorite craft project. The beauty of self-care is that anything goes because it really is about YOUR SELF….It involves doing what you need to do to be able to function at your optimal level for yourself and those in your circle of influence.
Here is the hard truth….We have all experienced trauma. Some have experienced smaller, less impactful traumas called little “t” trauma. Some have experienced significant trauma called big “t” trauma. If you are breathing right now, you have survived the year 2020 (and much of 2021) so you have experienced trauma. Trauma affects our brain and body functioning in maladaptive ways. When we experience trauma we enter into the limbic system of the brain (the fight, flight or freeze part). This part of the brain serves a function. It gives us the brain chemicals to be able to act/react/check out to survive the trauma. Essentially we dip into the “survival mode” state of being. This response is necessary and it is part of our basic human physiology. However, it also alters our central nervous system functioning. We get to the point where our nervous system may be over-functioning or under-functioning.
Here is where self-care steps in. Self-care is anything that adjusts central nervous system functioning. The point is to engage in self-care before reaching the point of complete mental and/or physical burn out.
Many resources for self-care are available on the good old internet. You can google “self-care” and will get pages of hits. You will find suggestions and templates for self-care plans and I would highly encourage you to do this.
When working with clients I describe something I call nurturing self-care. This means something that gives you the warm fuzzies. If you are having trouble thinking of something take the walk down memory lane of when you were a small child and were home sick from school. Did Mom or Dad make you soup? Did you get to watch The Price is Right? Did a loved one check on you and fluff your blanket? You know that feeling? Even though you didn’t feel good physically, you felt good-ish emotionally because someone was taking care of you. If you didn’t experience those things as a child (and I get it….not everyone did) try and connect to a positive childhood memory and let your body feel that positive sensation. Let your brain feel those positive emotions. Then try and find an activity that feels the same way.
Sometimes clients find it helpful if I share my personal example of nurturing self-care. So here goes….growing up my favorite sport was softball. I loved to play any position and enjoyed the social time it created with my friends. After many softball games I would go to the concession stand and get a Blow Pop. A red Blow Pop to be exact. Now, as an adult, when I eat a Blow Pop I allow it to transform me back to those positive childhood experiences. I can sit on my couch or office chair, enjoy a Blow Pop and feel the sweat running down my face. I can hear the laughter and chatter of hanging out with friends after a softball game. I can feel my feet in my softball cleats. I can feel the fabric of my softball uniform. I can smell the dirt and hear the cheers from the next game taking place. I am there. I am back in my tween years enjoying a Blow Pop after a softball game.
I would challenge you to do the same and create whatever experience this looks like for you. Here is something that I would really like you to notice. This self-care activity cost very little money (like 50 cents for a Blow Pop), it can be done almost anywhere, and it takes approximately 5-10 minutes. I know sometimes it’s easy to tell ourselves “I don’t have the money for self-care” or “I don’t have the time for self-care”. Boom! I have just eliminated that barrier for you. Do yourself, your loved ones and your co-workers a favor and do some self-care.
By: Lori Zoucha, LMHP, CPC
Mental Health Therapist