When we lost our son I was told by many people, “Be kind to yourself”. I would nod, but deep down had no idea what this really meant. No-one explained it to me and I didn't ask. I assumed it was just something I was meant to implicitly know. It was only years later when I finally realised what being kind to yourself meant - it was about self-care.
Self-care, and being kind to myself was such a foreign idea for me for many years as I was too busy being a perfectionist and self-critical. I really had no idea what being kind to myself meant, I certainly didn’t grasp that being kind to ourselves was a self-care habit that could be formed. And once self-care became a habit, could be improved and practiced.
So I completely understand when clients or friends look at me blankly when I suggest that the feeling they desire and result they are seeking can be found through improved self-care. Many clients then respond that they don’t need a facial or pedicure to help them, assuming that is what I mean. And that’s okay, as self-care is personal; what works for you, and what works for me may be different. But self-care is also more than a facial or pedicure.
So what is self-care?
It’s self-love and being kind to ourselves rolled up into one. It’s lowering the expectations we place on ourselves, treating ourselves like we’d treat a dear friend and looking after and nurturing ourselves. In essence, it's being kind to our selves on all levels - emotionally, physically, psychologically / mentally and spiritually.
As Dr. Brene Brown says in her book The Gifts of Imperfection, when we are stressed or overwhelmed, we can do something deliberately relaxing. This is a key part of the idea of being kind to ourselves and the notion of self-care. Rather than soldiering on or ‘digging deep’, we actively make the decision to undertake something that nurtures us; this is being kind to ourselves.
Here is a ready reference of what I’ve learnt about self-care;
Self-care doesn’t require money – some of the best self-care practices are free!
Being kind to yourself is a habit. Ideally it should be part of every day; not as a choice or something separate that you ‘book’ in, but just as part of how you live your life.
Self-care is not self-indulgence. It’s about deliberately undertaking something that makes you feel good. The important words here are “deliberate” and “feel good”.
Being kind to yourself shows you have an authentic and genuine belief in your intrinsic worth. It’s knowing that “I’m worth it”, just for being who you are, regardless of any external factors (like wealth, titles or status), or what else is happening in your life.
Self-care is the opposite of self-criticism. You are doing one or the other – you can’t be kind to yourself and be critical of yourself as well (or at least not at the same time!)
Self-care is a daily way to maintain wellness on all levels – physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual.
A Tip for Self-Care
There are many ways to be kind to yourself, and many forms of self-care; what you are drawn to is as unique as you are. I will however give you a small tip -
When trying to work out what will help you be kind to yourself, look to what is currently missing in your life.
A couple of examples;
If you are crazy busy all the time and feel like you never have a moment to think, perhaps you are missing peace and quiet?
If so, your kindness to yourself is to find an activity, practice or place that will give that to you. It might be you need a walk by yourself, to meditate or read a book.
If you are feeling lonely and sad, perhaps you are missing connection with the people or things that you love?
If so, your kindness to yourself is to do something that brings that connection back. That might look like a phone call to a loved one, making a coffee date with a friend or visiting a favourite location.
Ultimately then, being kind to ourselves is about noticing what we actually need in our lives, and deliberately choosing to fulfil that need for ourselves. It's a big one, and can be hard to do, but starting small and slowly building the habit can result in improved overall well-being.
And that sounds pretty good, right?
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