Let’s be honest, self-care is a bit like mindfulness – an over-used and almost cringe-worthy, eye-roll of a topic. It’s a commercialized way of describing something that’s actually very simple and vital to living a happy life.
If you’ve ever been told you need to give yourself some self-care, it probably didn’t make you feel super motivated or good about yourself, did it? Because if it gets to the point that someone has to tell you, then it’s pretty obvious that you’re not exactly handling your sh*t.
“I think you should meditate & practice some self-love.”
Rage-inducing comments like this are well-intentioned but ultimately useless. It’s just like telling someone with depression to just “cheer up” or asking a person with broken legs to get up and dance, it’s not gonna happen.
A better way to encourage someone is to build them up and highlight their positives and strengths. Be the example of someone who practices self-care, but most importantly, do not point out their problems.
So, if you’re the person who needs a little love, or if you want to set a good example for someone else, then rest assured you’ll find out how to do this here. No fluff or woo-woo; just some genuinely useful and effective strategies you can start using today.
What is Self-Care?
Firstly, can we instead refer to this as “the relationship you have with yourself”? It’s less cringe and more accurate. Because what we’re really talking about is the act of caring for yourself, as you would for a friend, and asking:
“How are you?”
And responding with “I’m fine.” is not allowed.
Rate your relationship with yourself from 1 -10 (10 being you probably don’t need any self-care tips!).
If you’re struggling to place a number on it, think about whether you habitually make yourself feel bad, question whether you’re worthy or beat yourself up often.
Or do you cheer yourself on? Do you feel strong and capable, telling yourself “you can do this” instead of “why should I bother”?
Think of it this way:
If you had to repeat your inner dialogue – the words you say to yourself – verbatim as if it were advice to your friends, would you have any friends left?
It’s ok if you wouldn’t or maybe just have a few stragglers. We’ve all taken a beating from ourselves at one point or another. But let’s get this straight: if you haven’t taken the time to listen to your mental chatter, now’s the time my friend.
This isn’t one you can let go, because it is literally the key to your success. Being imprisoned by your negative thoughts and beliefs will lead you to things like anxiety, depression, low confidence, low self-esteem, and a generally unhappy life experience. So yeah, it’s important.
“Self-talk is the biggest thing. A lot of us have a dialogue that is crap. I use my self-talk to make me better, to make me stronger… Self-talk comes from belief in yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself it won’t work.” – David Goggins, an ultramarathon runner, retired US Navy SEAL, and former US Air Force Tactical Air Control Party member who served in the Iraq War.
“They’re Just Thoughts, How Harmful Can They Be?”
Your brain doesn’t know the difference between a real event and a thought. This is why you can get anxious when you think of public speaking, or when your mouth waters when you think of chewing on a lemon.
If you have negative self-talk with yourself every day, your brain’s neural pathways will genuinely change and mold to this style of thinking, almost like a default setting. Your subconscious mind believes the things you tell it, and if you tell it something for long enough, you’ll form a belief system at a subconscious level that will underpin how you act and react every day.
This is because the brain is malleable – it changes and it adapts. So when we think the same thoughts over and over, these pathways strengthen and become the new normal.
“Neurons that fire together, wire together” – Hebb, D.O.
This is the first and most crucial thing to understand in order to create a good relationship with yourself. You don’t have to “fall in love with yourself,” but you should accept yourself with all of your flaws and create new, positive thought patterns that drive you forward (not hold you back).
How Do I Know What I’m Saying to Myself?
Focusing on self-talk, inner dialogue or mental chatter requires us to shift the focus from the external world to the internal world.
Doing this is hard, but it is possible. Nothing good comes easy, and it’s only hard for most of us because it’s not something we learned at school or from our parents (though it most certainly should be!).
Here are some ways to start listening.
Get a pen and paper and just write whatever comes to mind. Some prompts: “I wish I could feel less/more...” or “Lately, what’s been annoying me is…” take stock of everything you’re telling yourself every day.
What are the feelings and emotions you’ve been feeling lately? What is stressing you out? What makes you happy?
A therapist can help with these types of things, but you can do this yourself once you practice identifying your thoughts and feelings, becoming more self-aware.
If you’re struggling with writing, start with meditation and breathing. Meditation (and something even better, hypnosis) is a way in which we convert our brain waves from Beta to Alpha – meaning we can access the operating system of our mind. In this state, we reduce the effects of stress and cortisol by getting to the “rest and digest” stage.
You don’t have to clear your mind or sit in a weird, uncomfortable pose.
Just get some quiet, get a good soundtrack on Spotify or Youtube, and start by focusing on your breathing. Counting in for 5 and out for 7. You can add in some mantras to say out loud like “release”, and let your mind wander (but bring it back whenever you notice it wandering too far).
“Meditation is not a way of making your mind quiet. It’s a way of entering into the quiet that’s already there, buried under the 50,000 thoughts the average person thinks everyday.” – Deepak Chopra
This gets easier with time. Once you know what your thoughts are saying, you can stop a thought before it signals an emotion.
Remember, it’s our responses to situations, and how we perceive them that can trigger different types of emotions.
What Else Helps?
Start Using Affirmations
Put them up where you’ll see them every day – on your phone or your mirror. Familiarize your brain with it to see positive reinforcement. This, along with journaling, is a great way to start to undo any of the negative neural pathways you’ve been using for too long.
Try these 10 Positive Affirmations for Success that will Change your Life.
Diet and Exercise
We know exercise and eating well is good for us, so start doing that if you’re not. This is the relationship you have with yourself and your body, so reduce processed sugar and carbs, increase healthy fats and vegetables, increase lean protein, and start sweating.
All of these will make you less prone to negative thinking and get your hormones on your side.
These strategies are worth your time.
No one can be held accountable for the relationship you hold with yourself other than you. Yes, people can definitely impact the way you see yourself, but that’s only if you permit them to do so.
Give yourself a talking to, take back the consent you gave others to negatively affect you, and set your intention to build a great relationship with yourself. Not only will the people around you start to notice, but your performance in every aspect of your life will also increase. There’s never been a better time to start than during quarantine!
More Self-Care Tips
Featured photo credit: Samantha Gades via unsplash.com