Self-care but not how you know it

Putting on a facemask and lighting a candle is not something I consider as ‘proper’ self-care. While it’s nice and relaxing, it doesn’t cut it for me. And while I do not have any professional training in the mental space, over the years I found a handful of things that actually help to keep me sane. Today I am going to share these with you.

Find a safe space

I’m more of an introvert and while I enjoy being with people, I re-balance and recharge on my own. For a person with that sort of a mental makeup the lockdown with just one other person is fine, but if you are surrounded by family or housemates, this one gets even more important.

So step 1, find somewhere where you can be undisturbed. Whether you close the bathroom door or sit in the woods for 15 minutes, just find a spot where you feel safe on your own. It really doesn’t matter whether you use this space for meditation, sleep or to have a little stretch, what matters is that you see this space as somewhere where nobody should disturb you. My safe space is on the bottom steps of the stairs – it’s a junction between the front door, the hallway connecting kitchen and the living area and the bedrooms upstairs. In a weird way that’s where the flow of my home is centered and that’s where I sit once in a while without a purpose, this is where I make important phone calls I’ve been dreading and this is where I ponder my next moves.

Empty your head

Thinking of absolutely nothing is a skill. It took me years to master. You might think, if you are a woman, that men have it easier because they in my experience respond to the ‘what are you thinking about’ question with ‘nothing’ frequently. But this just means that what they were thinking about is of no consequence or private. I’ve adopted this response too and find it hilarious just how much it disturbs some people. Anyway, the actual skill here is to literally think of nothing much for a short while – my step 2 of self-care. You can start by imagining something soothing, like blue sky with pretty clouds or just a colour you like. I tend to start with the feeling of buoyancy when I get when I swim. I then focus on it until all the other noise cluttering my mind falls away. The whole point is to have a quiet mind for a moment to give myself a respite from nagging tasks, worries and otherwise constant noise.

To give you another visual, it’s like going into a dirty room and sweeping the mess out of that room until it’s empty. The mess sits outside, but for the next 5 minutes it doesn’t matter. The only things I don’t sweep out are the non-negotiables which form part of my daily life but which make no noise: nourishment and exercise for my body, unconditional love for my family and two cats, self-respect.

Pick the things you are able to impact

Step 3 – I pick and chose from the clutter in order to use my time on this planet somehow productively. The ‘productive’ scenario looks like this: I pick up a handful of items from that pile of mess I left outside when emptying my head. I am selective, all I want is the things which are important to me and which I can influence, and nothing else. So usually I pick up some aspects of my work, my finances, I pick up social activism and interactions with my loved ones. The rest of the mess I leave on a heap outside until it turns into compost for my plants.

Tame your fears

While I rummage through my thoughts I often find things which disturb my peace a lot – recently this has included the racial injustice manifested in the worldwide protests, the health crisis UK is facing as a country and a handful of other issues. On their own just the two main topics are absolutely terrifying and overwhelming. My step 4 is to remove the fear factor form these vast, challenging thoughts. I will commit some time to understanding these issues and analysing if there are any actions for me to take. I find that educating yourself on a specific topic does two things which turn it from this huge scary ball of fire into something you can work with: it helps in understanding why something is happening and it allows to to decide if and how you want to respond.

I do this with anything which has impact on my life, from large social and environmental issues to significant lifestyle changes. I also sometimes do this as a standalone exercise, mainly staring at live plants I have dotted around the house.

Move forward

My final, 5th step of self-care is picking myself up from the bottom step of the stairs, my mind in somewhat of an order and putting my life back into motion. In the five minutes I spent clearing and re-engaging my mind I hatched a mini-plan for the day, sometimes for the month. I now know what I need to do and I resolve to get it done. My resolutions can be as simple as read an essay on a specific topic, call dad and respond to a handful of emails. They can also be more complicated like speak to the neighbours to establish if they’d be willing to start a vegetable garden in the communal space (they were not), push all my July travel bookings to later in the year or create a draft plan for a marketing campaign for a large client. Whatever it might be, moving through my day and accomplishing things which I set out to accomplish offers a degree of satisfaction which in turn keeps me motivated to keep going.

I hope that this aspect of self-care has been interesting to some of you, and I’ll see you for the next, more finance-oriented post next time!

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