There is always a reason why someone decides to kick-start their self-care journey. For me, it’s that my clients have inspired me to be better at caring for myself because I want to be the best I can be for them in the treatment room. Ultimately, though, I have learnt that I want to feel good as often as possible; not because of work, but because I deserve to.
Owning this can be really hard, because we've been taught that thinking about ourselves is arrogant and selfish. Let me tell you: it’s not. Being our best selves opens us up to lots of benefits and those around us benefit too. Nonetheless, learning to take care of ourselves can feel more than a little overwhelming, and we all have to start somewhere.
Most people begin in January - a time of New Year’s resolutions and good intentions. Personally, I’m not one to kick-start anything in January, and especially not this year, as Covid-19 was ripping through my household! I like to begin my year in spring, which is why I’m writing this in February, so you can follow my lead if you feel like it. If it still doesn’t feel like the right time, don’t worry; the truth is that you can start whenever you feel you need to.
Last autumn, I discovered Dr Rangan Chatterjee's Built To Thrive Podcast, and I liked one of the questions he put forward: “What motivates you to feel good?” I realised right then that whatever it is, you should own it. There is no wrong or right answer. My own biggest motivators are motherhood and being able to work at something I love.
When I was a new mum, I didn’t feel well at all. I had chronic RSI, I was super tired, super stressed and I needed to hold it all together so that I could get back to work. I was determined to make a living doing something I loved, and I was also in need of some serious healing as I was going through a separation and subsequent divorce. Healing my hand so I could finish my massage course and start work was top of my agenda. My real self-care motivation had begun.
Luckily, as I was already a trained Aromatherapist, I knew how and where to go to heal my body. I was surrounded by wonderful Bodywork Therapists. Healing my mind and heart, however, was a journey that is eight years and counting, and a lot more complex than I could have ever imagined. Also, like most of us, I lacked consistency. It was easy looking after myself when my body and mind were broken. I wasn't so good at practising and prioritising my routine when I felt good or had too much to do.
So here are the key things I have learnt about self-care in the last eight years, some of which have been especially useful since the start of the pandemic. I hope these tips will help you to reflect upon your own self-care needs.
What motivates you to feel good?
Back to Dr Chatterjee’s question, because it really is a good place to start.
For many of the clients who come into my treatment rooms, their self-care journey starts with a massage. It might be that something has gone wrong, that they’re in pain, feel stressed or have suffered a bereavement and they just need to take a moment to stop and relax.
Learning to pause, take stock and really think honestly about what we want is so important. You might have a massage, you might get out a pen and paper and start writing a journal, or you might just want to sit in silence and let the answers come. Again, there is no right or wrong way to do this.
Where are you?
Another really important question: where are you in your life? Are you married, single, in a committed relationship? Perhaps you’re a new parent, a parent of young children or teenagers? A full-time carer? An empty nester? Whatever the answer, it is relevant; what I could do when I was single or married is different from what I could do when I was newly-divorced with a child under one. Back then, finding ten minutes for myself was like finding a needle in a haystack. Just last month, when my son and I were stuck at home with Covid, my usual self-care routine was last on my list. Despite that, I did manage to find small pockets of time for myself.
In fact, I realised quite early on in my journey that I could squeeze in 15 minutes to relax in the bath at least twice a week. When I had a babysitter, I could attend counselling and do a six week meditation course. Later, when childcare was scarce and the baby became a toddler, it was four minutes of meditation when I could fit it in, ten minutes of stretching or foam rolling. And of course my beloved aromatic baths or a quick shower with a relaxing body oil. I also learnt to ignore the dirty house when I was exhausted, in favour of having a nap.
What self-care tools would you like to try?
For me, healing was my first goal, although I didn't actually use that word at the time. My body, mind and spirit were all broken, so I had to do something about it. Because of my job, I was surrounded by different options of complementary therapies to try, so that was my starting point.
Self-care isn’t just about pampering or healing with therapies, though; it can also teach you a new way of being. I started using what I had learnt to help me set boundaries with my friends, family and co-workers, something I had never done before. Once you start thinking about it, you’ll realise that inspiration is everywhere. Here are a few pointers to get you started:
Find your non-negotiables; the simple things that you just won’t compromise on to help you feel your best. Last year I read this great article by Leanne Spence about how to break your big goals into bite-sized objectives. I really like this approach because it takes something that feels like a gargantuan task and makes it much more manageable.
Set small, achievable goals. Meditation has become one of my self-care non-negotiables. When I first tried it seven years ago, I couldn't sit down for 20 minutes, without my body and mind wanting to quit. On most days I still can't, but starting with just four or five minutes at a time has led me to get better at it. Here’s a link to one of my favourite guided meditations.
Schedule self-care in your phone or diary. There are always going to be things that will fight for your attention, but if manage to find 10mins to scroll through Twitter, Pinterest, TikTok or YouTube, then you know you have time to set aside for your self-care. I find if you’ve made an appointment with yourself, you’re more likely to keep it. Now even if you don't stick to it, be compassionate with yourself. Use your scheduling as a gentle reminder, rather than a way to berate yourself.
The pandemic has been a challenging time for us all, but it has also been an opportunity to reset and change what wasn't working pre-Covid. I have seen a lot of clients with burnout and pandemic fatigue, and I really believe that having a regular self-care routine and tool kit to dip into can make a huge difference. I definitely let things slide a bit on the self-care front when I had Covid in January, but I’m slowly reintroducing the healthy habits I put in place last year.
The important thing to remember is that your self-care isn’t a wellness marketing tool, nor is it the next overused beauty buzzword. Self-care is a necessity for every single one of us. The way you want it to look in your own life is totally up to you; it really is worth investing the time in yourself.