Self-care – what does it mean to you?

Monday 12 November is the start of self-care week - the perfect time to think about what it means to you.

For me it’s about doing things that make me feel well, balanced and yes let’s face it, sane. Self-care also makes me think of when I feel unwell and how I handle whatever it is I’m dealing with. If I have physical pain like a headache I take paracetamol. Emotional pain is trickier for me to manage. In the past I have used prescribed medication, food, alcohol and exercise in varying doses and combinations to cope.

Finding what works

Food was an effective, but ultimately unhealthy way for me to squash down feelings that I feared might overwhelm me. When my stomach was full it was easier to ignore the emotional emptiness I felt. The added bonus was that I could use the resulting guilt and self-loathing to explain my sometimes incompressible sadness. Exercise at one stage became a stick to beat myself up with. Going to the gym was rarely about enjoying the sensation of working and stretching my body and more to do with control.

Alcohol was a socially acceptable way for me to take the edge off my anxiety and a veil to hide behind. But when I started drinking alone I chose to return to what felt like a safer drug of choice, which for me was food. Antidepressants were great when I used them in combination with talking therapies. They were a bit like emotional ear defenders when I was working through some tricky stuff and the noise in my head could have easily been deafening.

With age, experience and growing self-awareness, what I’ve realised is that I had just been dealing with my symptoms. It was only once I looked deeper and explored why I was feeling so sad, angry, frustrated and lonely that I could address the causal factors. I’m by no means the finished article and there are times when I start to slip back into old patterns of behaviour. However, self-care has been key in minimising these potential regressions.

Self-awareness is fundamental

Self-care for me is all about trying to establish and maintain healthy habits both physical and emotional. These days I endeavour to take my mental health and wellbeing as seriously as I do my physical health. By that I mean I take notice what’s going for me and deal with stuff much earlier than I used to. It’s about finding the balance between work, rest and play. Life and circumstances are constantly changing so how I do that requires ongoing tweaking and adjustment. Self-awareness is fundamental to self-care.

It’s OK to not be OK

Sometimes I’m not as OK as I would like to be.

Recently I’ve been feeling pretty low without really knowing why. In the past I would have generated a list of reasons to explain and justify my mood. Now I look for things I can be grateful for, no matter how small they may seem. Our minds are amazing things and far cleverer than we are! Our brains seek out more of what we give our attention to. So, when I was focusing on the negatives, my subconscious automatically began looking for more of the same.

Thinking positive is not about pretending everything is okay when it truly isn’t. Thinking positive is about looking for the good in any situation, no matter how horrendous. Finding one tiny thing to be thankful for is a great place to start. Remember that it’s OK not to be OK. The important thing is what you do when you’re not OK. Reach out to others because there will always be someone there, always. Trust me!

A natural “cure”

Noticing those emotional black clouds were looming large on my horizon I chose a different type of medication. Nature. I went for a walk in the woods.

I live in a city but there are so many amazing green spaces near me. As I walked I focused on how my body felt as it moved. I enjoyed the increase in my breathing and heart rate having plodded up a steep slope. I felt the cool breeze and warm sun on my face. I noticed the autumnal colours and the wildlife busying itself at this abundant time of year. Under my feet the musky damp leaves and sweet scent of crushed grass in wet soil. I heard the birds singing and the wind rustling through the trees. The heaviness I’d felt for some time began to lift. When I returned home I was calmer, more productive and I had gained the perspective I needed.

So now walking in nature is my drug of choice. It’s free, fun and difficult to overdose on!

Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.

Albert Einstein

written by

Mo Sanders