When I think about selfcare my mind is immediately bombarded with different strategies on how to practise it. The methods are limited only by my imagination. The important factor that I’ve discovered over time is that the methods that I choose to take care of myself need to work for me. And the ones I choose aren’t going to necessarily work for everyone else in the world. And that’s ok.
I haven’t always been good at taking care of me. I’m a giver. I enjoy helping others and find satisfaction in doing so. I get so good at giving that I often lose myself in it. I give so much that I don’t always recognise when I need to take a break from it, and then I end up feeling depleted, lost and overloaded. And sometimes I push to give more, because I feel like it’s my duty to help.
Feeling depleted doesn’t just come from helping though. We live in a modern world where much is expected of us. In our western culture we have many responsibilities – earning a living, taking care of family, spending time socialising, contributing to clubs, hobbies and churches, for example – and we often find ourselves super busy in a fast-paced world where everything around us tells us we’re supposed to keep pushing to achieve more.
We’re taught that if we don’t push and achieve, we will miss out on the most important things in life – happiness, love, family. We’re taught that if we take a break we aren’t good enough. That if we loosen the reins we’ll never amount to anything. So we keep pushing, because we fear the consequences. We keep pushing because we doubt our ability to be a person worthy of the good things life has to offer. We keep pushing because we are programmed through a lifetime of rules, that this is the way it’s supposed to be. And who are we to question it?
But here’s the issue.
Your body is designed to operate in homeostasis, or balance. Your body’s nervous system has 2 key parts; the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) and the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS).
The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for getting the body ready for action. When we are stressed for example, or when we are in danger, the SNS sends the signals to make your heart beat faster, your breathing accelerate and it sends specific hormones (chemical signals) to your limbs to give you extra strength, amongst other things.
The parasympathetic nervous system reverses that process to promote rest and recovery. It will lower the heart rate, slow the breathing and allow the muscles in your limbs to relax.
The two parts of the system work in tandem to keep you in balance. The SNS is responsible for activation and action, while the PNS is responsible for rest and recovery.
Your body is designed to put in bursts of work, placing stress on your system, before taking time to recover and return to its optimally balanced state. It’s what you do every time you do a workout, when you cope with a crisis, or any every-day life activity. Even normal bodily functions like eating and digesting place stress on your body.
If you’re like most of us, as you go through the average day you will find yourself preparing food, meeting friends for social activities, going to work, attending family events, running errands, playing sports, managing finances, contributing to charity or church events, helping and supporting your friends through rough patches, cleaning the house and so on. When you have to add in extra tasks (for example, dealing with crises), you push your system to take on a greater load. And when you have a routine that looks like this (or a variation of it) day after day, week after week, year after year, you train your body to live in activation mode – in other words, stress.
Your body is smart. It’s programmed for survival. If it’s pushed for long periods, it will adjust and your standard state of stress will become its new normal. And the new normal can last for a long time. But by doing so you don’t allow your parasympathetic nervous system to do its job properly. Over time, without the opportunity to rest and recover, your system will start objecting. It will let you know when it needs recovery time, but if you’re caught up in the cycle of pushing and achieving, you may not notice the signals it’s providing to you.
Not at first anyway.
Your body’s inbuilt programming of operating in homeostasis will catch up to you eventually.It always does. It will win the argument every single time. Trust me, I found out the hard way.
Your body will show you what it needs; it will give you some twinges, some aches and pains and a few tears. If you don’t listen and give it what it’s asking for, it will get a little louder. The twinges will turn into consistent pain, crying jags and minor accidents. And if you still choose not to listen, it will hit you with broken bones, major illnesses or emotional breakdowns. You’ll feel like you’ve been hit by a truck.
When your body tells you what it needs, learn to speak its language. When you honour its messages you will create a space for it to engage the parasympathetic nervous system and heal itself. Remember when I said the body is smart?
The language of your body is unique. It’s different to every other body on the planet. When you speak it, hear it and act on it, you tap into a powerful method to create conscious awareness and a space where it can return to homeostasis and its optimal functioning. When you take this time, it may feel like you’re wasting the day away (you could easily be more productive, right?), you may feel antsy and restless. This is the body “coming down” from the drug high it’s been on. A drug high of stress hormones named adrenaline and cortisol.
I encourage you to gather your resources – explore the unlimited ways that you can take care of you – create your own resource guide of your unique self-care practises. And then prioritise them over everything else in your life.
Every. Single. Day.
When you can do that, I promise you, your mind, body and spirit will thank you.
After all, you deserve to be taken care of equally as much as the other 7+ billion people on the planet.
Simply because you exist.
About the author:
Ali Bengough has been working as a counsellor for more than 10 years and within this role has discovered her purpose – to support you to clear out the clutter of conditioning and trauma so you can step into and claim the space you deserve in this world. The challenges Ali has faced in her life have given her a unique perspective and insight into the human mind. She experienced a lot of bullying and grew up believing that she was never good enough. Through much hard work, and many stumbles and falls, she learned how to embrace her flaws and celebrate the quirks that she used to believe made her unworthy. Ali healed the wounds and learned how to value her sensitivity and compassion. In doing so, she discovered she had a lot to offer the people around her and decided to help others. Ali offers unique coaching or counselling sessions to help you heal your own heart.
You can find Ali over at The Mindset Effect, where she blogs about anything related to the way we think and feel.