The Challenge that is Self-Care & How to Start Figuring it Out…

Self-care can be a lot more complex than simply trying to make time for a manicure or going out for coffee with a friend. Yes, these things definitely fuel us and are a great step towards ensuring we care for ourselves and do things that recharge us, but in isolation without any inner work they may not have as big an impact as we would hope.

True self-care sometimes takes self-discipline, self-awareness and continual learning about our inner selves and how we work. Sometimes it means there will be a hard road ahead to correct unhealthy behaviour. Sometimes it means there will be hard work and persistence to go through a process of healing and developing and maintaining healthier choices, rhythms and routines in your everyday life so that they become healthier habits conducive to your wellbeing- long term. Sometimes it will take work and commitment to monitor our thinking and be mindful of the subsequent reactions in our inner and outer worlds of this. 

Throughout this process it might be a case of two steps forward, one step back. But that’s the beauty of caring and learning about yourself, who you actually are at the end of the day, and what actually matters to you that will make you happy. Experiencing the bad, or the mistakes, or the mundane and boring shows us just as much about what we don’t want or need as what we do. 

Sometimes self-care looks more like booking in an appointment with a nutritionist than eating that piece of chocolate. Sometimes it will look more like setting boundaries with an emotionally draining friend rather than dancing till dawn with your girlfriends. Maybe it might look like sitting down with a counsellor to work through long-ingrained wounds rather than going to see a movie.

The point here is the complexity that is self-care. It is not always glamorous, or fun, or easy. It’s not always a quick fix or obvious solution. Sometimes it feels like very hard work. And it should (sometimes), because if we don’t invest in the hard, the wounds, the challenges, the restrictions that we face, we will never truly grow or be the happiest version of ourselves, because there will always be something holding us back, preventing us from becoming the happiest version of ourselves and living the best version of our lives possible. We will remain stuck within the boundaries of the walls we’ve built up around us. And these look different for everyone. But we all have them in some form- big or small.

It’s certainly not about achieving perfection, there is no such thing. But one of the key motivators behind self-care should be self-growth. Because without this we can never really get closer to that ideal self or life that only we can define for ourselves. 

But, in amongst all the of hard work that is self-care, let us also not forget that the simple indulgence of eating that piece of chocolate, the fun of dancing till dawn with good friends, and the downtime of escaping in a good movie are also vital components of nourishing the soul, and self-care is not self-care without fun and relaxation too! These things that we find enjoyable and energising all support our ability to dive deeper into the inner self-care journey and really figure out how to optimise our wellbeing and commit to working on that, as a lifestyle.

Self-care isn’t always a quick fix. It’s also not a one off, tick off the list kind of thing. As we grow and evolve through different chapters in our lives, so do our needs and wants. We are ever growing and changing, and what was required or worked for self-care in one chapter of our life may change down the track. It is an ongoing, lifelong process to be mindful of and ensure you’re meeting your needs as they change over time. 

So where to start today? 

1. A good place is to begin looking at the ‘messages’ or experiences life is presenting you with day to day. Look at your routines, thoughts, people you surround yourself with, how you spend your time, your reactions to certain situations, any patterns that seem to arise time after time, and ask yourself ‘Is this supporting the life I want?’. 

2. Note anything that stands out in particular to you, as these are the things you may need to work on as a priority. Keep a list throughout the week in a notebook or your phone of the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answers to this question. Some areas of self-care that may help to frame your thinking are;

  • Emotional (e.g. notice any triggers)
  • Physical (e.g. monitor if you are getting enough sleep)
  • Spiritual (e.g. notice the things that nurture your soul)
  • Psychological (e.g. do you set healthy boundaries for your energy and time?)
  • Relationships/social (e.g. do you have regular catch ups with close friends?)
  • Work (e.g. examining your current role and whether it is helping you to achieve your career goals or not)

3. You’ll then be able to build a bit of a roadmap about what’s working for you and what isn’t, and then be able to come up with some ways of building more of what’s working into your life, and reducing the things that aren’t.

4. Try to keep it simple, break it down into what the potential solution is (and this could be a solution in terms of incorporating more of something positive into your life, or reducing something that is not working for you). What are some simple steps to making that happen? Brainstorm some actions you could realistically take. If you’re a bit stumped, bring in a subjective and supportive loved one who can help you think of some potential steps. 

An example of how to identify and break down self-care needs is outlined in the table below. Keep in mind this is a brainstorming exercise, and not everything on that list has to happen, it’s just an option to think about. Once you decide what to try, it also doesn’t all have to happen at once. Breaking key goals down into smaller steps over reasonable timeframes is more realistic, sustainable, and not as overwhelming. It’s sure to put you on the path to successfully taking better care of yourself in the areas that will have the biggest positive impact for you and your wellbeing.

And remember, if you’re really struggling with something in your life and aren’t sure where to turn or are feeling overwhelmed, please reach out for help to a trusted loved one, your GP, or Lifeline 13 11 14. 

E.g.;

Is this supporting the life I want? Potential Solution Potential Steps (in no particular order)
No- my emotional eating is not supporting the life I want. It is damaging me physically and mentally in terms of guilt and lack of confidence I experience following eating excessively as a coping mechanism Stop eating as a reaction to stress, anxiety, sadness, or as a first response to celebration too - Start reducing the amount of ‘temptation foods’ I bring into my home.

- Research alternative methods of stress reduction like meditation.

- Download a meditation app on my phone.

- Book an appointment to see my GP to discuss my anxiety.

- Brainstorm a list of alternative activities to do if I am feeling stressed or emotional and hang it where I can see it (e.g. call a friend to chat, go for a walk, have a hot shower, watch an episode of my favourite TV show).

- Keep a log of when I feel the need to eat (if I’m not actually hungry). Am I bored, upset, stressed out about something?

- Book an appointment to talk through these situations with a counsellor to figure out the root cause and healthier coping mechanisms.
Yes- spending an increasing amount recreation time dabbling in photography makes me happy Try to incorporate more photography into life- consider how to make it into a career - Enrol in a photography course to learn how to use my camera properly and increase my knowledge about different techniques.

- Make more time on weekends to take my camera out and practice taking photos.

- Display my work at home as motivation.

- Visit more local photography exhibits to expand my knowledge and expose myself to different techniques.

- Offer to take photos at friend’s and family’s special occasions to build on my experience and confidence.

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