One of the most popular answers I get when I ask clients about what they think self-care means is “ways of relaxing”. I think we all do this subconciously. I want to do an exercise with you… Quickly think of three things you can do to practice self-care… go go go! Don’t read on until you think of a couple..
I would generally be pretty willing to bet that they include things like taking a bath, lighting candles, listening to music or going for a walk. Am I close? Were these things on your list? We often first think of relaxing strategies when we are thinking about self-care. These things will help you to relax (usually). But is relaxing the same as self-care? I think that often it comes across that way in the media. Self-care and relaxation strategies are often spoken about interchangeably. But self-care and relaxation are not the same thing!
Self-care and relaxation are not the same thing
And here is where it gets more confusing… sometimes they can be the same thing, if a person needs to relax! Take for example a busy working mum. She may feel like she never has a minute alone to herself, she is always on the go, feeling exhausted and finding it hard to de-stress at the end of the day. This woman needs to relax. So strategies such as taking a bath or going for a walk alone are likely going to help her and if she recognises that she needs time for this regularly and puts in place some kind of a plan to manage this, then this will go from being a relaxation strategy to fitting into the category of self care. But now lets consider another woman, she is unemployed, low in mood and struggling with motivation. If she has a bath or goes for a walk is it going to help her? It may make her feel more relaxed, but not necessarily better. This woman needs to feel fulfilled. She needs a new role, a sense of purpose each day and actually something to curb the boredom and slump she is feeling. Self-care for this woman might be something like learning a new skill, being responsible for others such as elderly or children, volunteering etc. Making this woman feel relaxed, when actually she needs to feel inspired is not self-care. Self-care is about recognising our own needs, and finding ways to meet them.
Self-care is about recognising our own needs, and finding ways to meet them.
Does this make sense? Lets take another one. A man this time. This man feels lonely and isolated and as a result his mood is low. What can he do as self-care? Our relaxation strategies, while maybe making him feel relaxed are unlikely to help him as they are solitary behaviours. What is his need? A need for connection? Company? To feel valued by others? His self-care will be developed to meet these needs. Self-care for this man may mean calling a friend and going to meet them for a coffee. Maybe he needs to join a new club, or do a group activity or sport. Self-care for each of our examples is going to look different because each of their needs are different.
It can be hard to work out what we need. Especially if we haven’t had good role models to encourage us and model this for us. This is why clients come to me feeling fed up. One client once told me “I swear if you’re going to tell me to light a candle and take a bath I am going to walk out of here and never come back”. Although we had a giggle, I was pretty clear with her that if a candle and a bath were going to cut it, there would never be any need for psychology. Sometimes it is hard to recognise our own needs and if we cannot recognise them then we cannot hope to meet them. Many people get stuck in this way.
What about you? do you know what your needs are right now? Here is an exercise I often try with clients.. Answer me this, if I had a magic wand right now and could give you anything you want to make you feel better, what would it be? Does something come to mind? Take a minute to think about this one…
I believe that we all do generally know what we need, but we struggle to notice this and sometimes need an extra hand. What would our examples say? Our busy mum would probably tell me she just wants an hour to herself, if I could magic that up for her. Our lonely man might tell us he would like me to magic him up a nice partner, or a decent friend. We do usually know what we need deep down. We just need to give ourselves some time and space to work it out.
This could be your first step towards self care. Giving yourself some time in the day to sit and reflect about what your needs are. Do you need rest or some fun? Do you need time alone or to be with others? When you stop and think about it, what is your body telling you. Remember if you feel like you need some extra support with this, you can always get in touch for a free consultation to discuss your needs, and what Auric Psychology can do to help you.
Good luck, take care of yourself,