Often, when people are coping with difficult times, they are told by friends, family, and medical providers to “take care of yourself.” We all know that good self-care, particularly during crisis, is an important value. But I’m often told by my clients that they don’t know what that means. Should they be taking more bubble baths? Getting pedicures? It’s a confusing request-to take care of one’s self, especially you are just trying to keep your head above water during challenging times, so I’ve put together some thoughts that might be helpful.
1. Figure out whether people add to or subtract from your wellbeing.
Assess yourself. Are you an introvert or an extrovert? In other words, do you gain energy by being with people you enjoy, or by being alone? Don’t be misled by how outgoing or shy you might be – it’s really about how you gain energy. If you’re an introvert, self-care means more time alone to refuel for the struggles ahead. If you’re an extrovert, self-care means more time with people you enjoy to boost your energy with social contact.
2. Think about whom you enjoy.
Regardless of whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, you likely have people in your life who feel comfortable, easy, and uplifting to you. It may not be your closest friends, and you might be surprised by whom you’re drawn to. But once you’ve figured out which friend always puts a smile on your face, or who feels like a person you can trust with your struggles, you can reach out to them. Tell them that they are special to you, and that during this difficult time, their friendship is uplifting and encouraging, and ask if they have time for you. Most people are honored by such a request, and will find time.
3. Think about whom you don’t enjoy.
This can be a little more painful to think about, but it’s equally important. Are there people in your life who drain your energy? It might even be people close to you. You don’t necessarily have to cut them out of your life entirely, but you will want to be strategic about how and when you spend time with them.
4. Physical touch is important.
Most of us do not get enough touch in our lives, especially when life gets hard. In addition, when your body is a source of pain, it’s important to balance that experience with tactile pleasures as well. There are numerous ways to offer yourself the gift of physical touch-massage is the most obvious, but some people don’t enjoy massage, or have physical limitations that make full body massage not possible. Consider scalp massage, or foot massage. Or ask someone whose touch feels comforting to hold your hand, or give you a hug. You can even consider some of the healing arts that do not work primarily with physical contact but still work on the body, such as reiki or acupuncture. Alternately, if human touch just isn’t going to work for you, consider some quality time with a pet, or even snuggle up with soft blankets or snuggly clothing that feel soothing.
5. Laughter is truly good medicine.
Life can be serious and sometimes painful business. Laughter can help to relax our tense bodies, give respite from difficult times, and is just plain fun. Watch video of stand up comedians you enjoy, or turn on a favorite sitcom. Laugh and be silly, and take a break from the seriousness of life.
6. Be ruthless with your balance of pleasure and pain.
Are there things in your life that drag you down that are not mandatory? See if there’s a way to outsource them. Are there friends in your life who want to be helpful? Maybe they could help with these unwanted chores — laundry, cooking, cleaning, or driving kids around, just until you survive this difficult time. Alternately, are there little creature comforts that you enjoy? This is a time to enjoy them—buy that special little snack that’s expensive but delicious, or cuddle up with a trashy magazine, or ask a friend to drive with you to the ocean to see the sunset. Whatever adds to your pleasure (within reason) is worthy of a little extra effort or cost, if you can afford it.
7. Nature can be wonderfully restorative.
I highly recommend getting outside, and soaking in beauty. You can go near or far, and if going outside is not working for you, see if you can look out a window to a beautiful scene or go for a great car ride. If you can get away, sometimes a change of scenery is best of all. Regardless of where you see it, being in nature can give perspective and peace, and a break from whatever is bothering you.
8. Take slow, deep breaths when things get tough.
As obvious as this sounds, when times get difficult, our breathing often becomes shallow and quick, which can exacerbate any existing anxiety or distress. Try to slow and deepen your breathing if you can. There are many wonderful breathing exercises out there, as well as breath-based mindfulness/meditation techniques, and I encourage you to explore those ideas. One very simple technique to regulate your breathing goes like this: count to four on your inhale, hold for a count of four, and exhale for a count of four. Repeat as long as you like, and slow or speed up the count of four to your comfort.
Thoughts from Hildy Agustin, Psy. D.