Written by Sheridan Horning, LAc
Self-care is a topic that can bring up many different reactions. It can inspire excitement or curiosity about learning a new way to relax and recharge. But it can also prompt anxiety around falling short of expectations about what we could and should be doing. However, in a fundamental way, if we’re alive, we have been and are taking care of ourselves. Not only that, but we’re undoubtedly doing the best that we can at any given moment.
There will always be a gap between our capabilities and our ideals. That’s what makes us human. If we see our ideal selves instead as our future selves, anything we do brings us closer to becoming those accomplished, wiser selves. What separates us from who we want to be is simply time. When we feel comfortable enough in the present, we can recognize our current routines as exactly what has been needed up until this point. Being at peace with where we’re coming from makes it easier to change or add strategies. Self-care practice is about learning to know ourselves and trust ourselves. By learning who we are and what we need, we can reflect and choose what works for us.
Learning new techniques and activities can and does certainly help. What is equally important is our self-regard and our ability to trust our process. So often when asked about our self-care practice, a despondent sort of judgment can creep into our voices. It can be difficult to remember the two times we did self-care last week and not focus on the other five days. The lights in our eyes dim as we immediately think of all we didn’t do instead of what we actually did. When this mentality affects us, it is an opportunity to pause.
After pausing, the next step is to truly accept that we did something good for ourselves and give ourselves credit for what we did. Often when someone compliments us, it feels awkward…the same feelings come up when we try to appreciate ourselves. Self-care is an awareness of the kindness we show ourselves, and the tender vulnerability to receive it.
Self-care is also a way to slow down and rest in the moment. The ability to wait and check in with ourselves can grow into the skill to be patient with others, too. Instead of reacting on impulse and trigger, we can skillfully choose how to respond in any situation. This cultivation of grace and presence allows us to put our values into action and benefits us and our relationships. It can also create time and space for others to be kinder to themselves as well.
There is such variety in self-care techniques, and that alone can seem daunting. Take time to explore and experiment. Different strategies work for different reasons at different times. Keep looking until you find the practices that resonate most.
Here are a few examples:
Find a little notebook and dedicate it to writing down what makes you feel appreciation, connection and gratitude. List five things a day. After a while, you may find the same things come up. That’s okay! We are deeply grateful for some things. Use this as an opportunity to notice all the aspects of the things for which you’re most grateful. Maybe you’re grateful for your friend. You can list their hugs, the way they deeply listen to you or your shared history. This can remind you of your priorities and values when you’re feeling off.
To-do lists are a common way to make sure all that needs doing gets done. When something is checked off, we often move right on to the next task. Here’s the opportunity to flip that script and keep track of what you have accomplished already. This is a very direct way to give yourself credit. You can list each time you’ve done a self-care strategy, helped someone else, finished a chore or anything else you want. If you’re feeling run-down or exhausted, it can allow you to reflect and see where your effort was invested.
Shake It Out and Shake It Off
This is great to do when you have nervous energy or need to perk up. Stand with your feet parallel to each other, shoulder-width apart and let it all out. Shake your hands and arms, bounce up and down from the ground up, wiggle your rear end, gently move your head from side to side. Let go of all the stuck energy in your body. However, be mindful and stop if anything is uncomfortable. This simple practice is a form of Qi gong, a Chinese meditative movement. Shaking helps relax muscles, reset joints and provides more ease and presence in your body.