Against the backdrop of a global health pandemic, as well as the unprecedented 2020 Presidential Election, self-care has inarguably surfaced again as a trendy buzzword for the new age, progressive aspirants of holistic health and wellness. We are witnessing yet another shift in perspective that embraces its radical origins ,yet with a more sensitive awareness and attunement towards the needs and desires of our mind, body, and soul’s experiences. According to writers of Breathe Magazine, self-care encompasses different “rituals that fit within the way you feel and what your body is telling you…while giving yourself permission to do whatever you need to do at the moment, without feeling selfish.”
It is obligatory that we learn to listen to our mental and emotional needs first so we can figure out how to address them. Self-care is not merely something we practice by doing; it is also an attitude of relating towards what we do in a way that nurtures personal health and well-being.
The Two Pillars of Self-Care: Self-Awareness and Self-Compassion
First and foremost, we must have a basic knowledge of what it means to be in our professional roles, including a realistic understanding of the nature these roles entail, including potential stressors that may otherwise make one more vulnerable to chronic stress, fatigue, or burnout. With that also entails a recognition of how our careers are impacted by the broader economic, social, cultural, and political landscape. We are all more vulnerable than ever before by nature of this global health pandemic and the reverberating effects of our presidential administration.
Second, we must continually cultivate a practice of noticing and monitoring our lived, internal experiences as unique individuals within these respective roles and contexts. Self-awareness involves a keen sense of discrimination – we are able to see our life situations that bring us pain with absolute honesty. With discriminatory awareness, we can use our current difficulties in such a way that past maladaptive mindsets or behaviors instead become factored into our choices and decisions thereafter.
Self-care entails another corollary – that of non-reactivity, or bearing witness to our perceived inadequacies or failures without judging, criticizing, avoiding, or otherwise minimizing them.
“My beloved child, break your heart no longer. Each time you judge yourself, you break your own heart.” – Swami Kripalvanandaji (Bapuji)
Self-compassion is a construct of Buddhist psychology that has garnered much attention over the past decade thanks to several American dharma teachers including Jack Kornfield, Sharon Salzberg, and Tara Brach to name a few. Self-compassion is characterized as a way of mindfully relating to oneself with a sense of loving-kindness towards our individual distresses under the light of our human condition. This is otherwise known as the first noble truth: suffering is inevitable. When we consciously connect to our distressing thoughts and emotions with tender, supportive understanding, our mental chatter becomes more gentle and, in turn, our narratives become more encouraging with the intent to ameliorate our own suffering.
You may ask yourself, “Is there an internal dialogue that may be preventing me from engaging in taking better care of myself, or otherwise perpetuating a path of professional burnout? Are these stories embedded in past memories of separation, isolation, selfishness, scapegoating, or victimization?” I encourage you to try on a new narrative: one in which you remove yourself as a protagonist, and instead replace it with Love.
Above all, self-compassion is more than mere sympathy. It has a spur to action, to care, and to intervene. It implores the question, “What can I do to help myself?” If we continue to under-nurture our own personal well-being, we will neither thrive in our challenging world, nor be able to wholeheartedly show up to be of service to the common good.
Our right to self-care is a selfless gift bestowed upon us at our birth and so self-love, in fact, is a Coming Home – it is our birthright.
As your self-care journey continues into the blustery, darker months of winter, we offer some guideposts that may incite you to taking better care of yourself wherever you may land…
Self-Starter Kit: Guideposts to Self-Care
Take Care of the Body First
Much of our mental and emotional disturbances are intricately and intimately tied to the body’s physiological system. As such, incorporating emotional regulation techniques throughout the day serves not only to build the muscle of our parasympathetic “rest-and-digest” system, but also as a necessary pre-requisite to address any of the swirling mind chatter that precludes or otherwise paralyzes our bodies’ agency and efficacy to inherently take care of itself during stressful or otherwise traumatic times. When searching for a practice to down-regulate my body in the moment, look for a “perfect triad” – one that incorporates grounding, breath, and movement.
Finding Balance: Taking (Honest) Stock of Your Well
In whatever position one is in, or in whatever condition of life one is placed, we must find balance. Recognizing our “burnout bandwidth” and knowing when “enough is enough” is tough. It requires a sense of humility and integrity to stop pouring from an empty cup, as well as the courage to ask others for help in restoring our own drained wells. Yet, in doing so, we come from a more authentic place that honors another’s kindness in helping us.
By taking honest stock of our well, we can begin to notice which domains of our life we are giving too much from, or that otherwise feel depleted by lack of reciprocity from others and, above all, ourselves.
“What areas of your life do you not particularly feel balanced, or otherwise fully content in?” While reflecting on this question, I encourage you to not think of balance dichotomously, or as a seesaw vacillating between “work” and “life.” We have a number of spheres outside of work and life that unwittingly lose inherent value if we merely compartmentalize them into such lackluster domains.
Make It a Practice
Wholehearted Self-Love comes when we continue to practice acts of self-care regularly, over a long period of time, and with joy. I emphasize the last element – joy. If we have not cultivated the sincerity and respect for our practice, it loses its underlying, sustaining intention and instead becomes a continuous, conditional struggle.
Patience: We know that the day we plant the seed is not the day we eat the fruit – the seeds being self-awareness and self-compassion, and the water being the continual acts of self-nurturance. The delectable fruit being Self-Love. Good things take time, and Self-Love is an exploration, not an accomplishment.
Flexibility & Adaptability: Most importantly, we must meet ourselves where we are at, and to both accept and forgive our limitations for that day. All of our mental and emotional bandwidths have been in short supply during this time – not just our Internet. Please note: Acceptance does not mean we have to like it, but rather that we allow it.
Connect With Others
Deliberately connect (or re-connect!) with those outside of work contexts, and more importantly within your various social cohorts over a medium that is not the one that has become my status quo. When I find myself feeling lonely in response to our inherent need to connect, I will leave a voicemail for a friend, drop a meme on that dormant text thread, write a letter, or simply close my eyes to conjure up the image of someone else.
Look to Nature to Nurture
At times when you find yourself problem-solving your way through life, only to bear the fruitless responses of our intellectual brains, I encourage you to look to nature. Somehow the answer organically reveals itself. Like flowers waiting for the rain, the sensations of the body are waiting to be listened and attended to.
Next time you are meandering outside, I encourage you to locate something that may teach you about nurturance. Place your full attention on this, inviting the secret truths of Mother Nature to open up to you. After all, She too, looks for the support of others through the dynamic, symbiotic relationships she develops.
Search for the Sacred
Lastly, learn spiritual practices that are healing and offer resilience. Some examples include: mindfulness, prayer, spending time in nature, journaling, practicing gratitude, energetic clearings, and shadow work.