We all need support for practicing self-care. And we all run into obstacles at times, some of us more than others. In my last email, I suggested you look under the hood of your self-care routine to shine a light on more fundamental and overlooked ways to take care of yourself. I called these less obvious practices extraordinary self-care because they are foundational for excellent self-care. These three extraordinary practices include placing boundaries around our time, money and energy; practicing one or two simple self-care gestures daily to keep our self-care muscles warmed up; and letting go of perfection.
In practicing my own self-care, I found several other obstacles. The three most challenging over the years have been:
- Not knowing what I need.
- Not accepting that my needs change.
- Treating self-care like it is a job.
Not Knowing What You Need
Chronic busyness regularly gets in the way of being in touch with what we need. We’re running ourselves ragged getting everything done perfectly and on time, and we barely know when we’re hungry, tired or lonely.
Sometimes we’re so out of touch that we don’t hear our body’s messages. Are you hungry or not? How can you decide what to eat if you’re disconnected from your body and can’t sense a feeling of hunger?
Another reason we don’t know what we need is that we train ourselves to be stoic. It’s part of the denial many of us live in because we don’t want to be seen as weak or vulnerable. We want to hide it all under a show of bravado or invincibility. ThN fact that we have needs becomes one of our secrets that we don’t share with even our best friends. We even keep it from ourselves.
Maybe we want to stay in an emotional “no-entry” zone, keeping people from seeing our neediness. Yet, that emotional comfort zone prevents us from being honest about our needs, especially if getting them met means having to ask other people to help out, be there for you or even change how they talk to or treat you.
To get back in touch with your authentic self and pay attention to what your body, mind and heart need, give yourself some quiet time. Try being alone in nature just looking around without judging or analyzing. How about taking your journal to a quiet spot and just allowing your words and thoughts to show up on the page without forcing them? Also, meditating without an agenda or ideas about what should happen in that time is another way to reconnect with yourself. That’s when you can be most open see, sense, or hear what you need.
Not Understanding That Your Needs Change
Our needs change depending on the conditions we’re experiencing. Both external and internal conditions affect what we need, and these conditions can change over time or suddenly. External conditions like where we work, live and socialize, as well as the conditions that are often outside our control like the political, economic and cultural circumstances, change without our control or consent. Internal conditions like our physical health, finances and emotional stability can also change quickly and without warning.
I used to eat a small breakfast and have my next meal at lunchtime. Then something changed. It was so long ago I can’t recall what changed, possibly something external like my schedule or maybe something internal like my metabolism. But quite unexpectedly, I started wanting a small meal early in the morning and then something much hardier around 10 am. Although this change may sound minor to you, changing my eating habits was disruptive. The timing was awful because I often had mid-morning meetings, and I was uncomfortable eating during them and equally uncomfortable being hungry. I also needed to pack additional food for myself when I left the house in the morning.
At times, we have a fleeting awareness that things are changing for us. But even when we know that change is likely or inevitable, we want to dig in our heels and hold on to what we have. To stay in touch with your changing needs, first cultivate the awareness that everything changes. Then, the next step is to accept this simple, universal truth.
“Some of us think holding on makes us strong, but sometimes it is letting go.” —Hermann Hesse
Self-care Becomes A Job
Is your self-care part of your to-do list? If so, it’s no longer extraordinary self-care; it’s a job. If it’s not enjoyable, delicious and nurturing, it’s not extraordinary self-care.
A list is something we work our way through. We just want to get it done. We check off the items once they’re complete, maybe with a sigh of relief. Lists are great for going to the supermarket, coloring your hair at home and remembering the birthdays of all the people you ever knew. But not for self-care.
As a result of an old injury that still causes me pain, I go to my gym and do daily physical therapy exercises. I have a list, I do the work, and it’s just like a job. Not doing the PT exercises would be the opposite of self-care; it would be an act of self-neglect. But it’s not extraordinary self-care.
On the other hand, when I’m at the gym soaking in the hot tub, it’s all about relaxing, melting into a non-linear place where my imagination is set free. Same person (me), same place (the gym) and same motivation (treat my body well) but one is a responsibility and one is an act of self-care. One experience – the PT exercises – has a beginning and end and then I’m done. The other – soaking in the hot tub – relies on my sensing from the inside out what it is that I need. I could soak for 5 minutes or 30 minutes. I can close my eyes, listen to music, or chat with my waterlogged neighbors. Whatever happens, I am in the moment and connected to myself. Extraordinary self-care takes me outside of the time/space continuum and away from the “shoulds” of the to-do list.
Once you’ve landed in a place of intuitively knowing yourself and your needs in the moment, you will not need a list. You will be free to choose when and how to take care of yourself because:
- You’re in touch with your needs in the moment;
- You accept that your needs change;
- You don’t need “the list” because you now listen to yourself and joyfully take responsibility for your own self-care.
Please tell me about your obstacles to self-care and how you deal with them in the Comments at the bottom of my blog post – your comments come to me in an email and I read them!)