Self-Care, am I doing it right?
These past few weeks I have had quite a few conversations with my clients and with my family friends about self-care. I have noticed that often the question comes up “Am I doing it right?”. These conversations have inspired me to write about my journey and relationship with self-care and my struggle to find what was best for me.
This past year I have worked on my relationship with self-care, and I wanted to share my journey with you. In the past I have viewed self-care as an activity which needs to be completed as if it was a check-box activity. Because of this, after engaging in self-care I would not feel rested or re-energised, rather I would feel depleted and stressed.
To start my journey of better self-care I looked up various definition for self-care. The BACP (1) defines self-care and rest as an ongoing process where you make a conscious effort to do things that maintain, improve, and repair your mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical wellness. It is about having an awareness of your own being and identifying your own needs and taking the steps to meet them. Whilst this definition provided me with a sense of what rest and self-care is, I felt like I needed something more tangible to hold onto. I turned to David Mearns (2) where he notes that there can be no blueprint for rest and self-care which is universally appliable as the individual needs to discover what is best for themselves. I understand what Mearns is saying I feel that even though I want to engage with rest and figure it out for myself I do want a better idea of which activities I could engage in. Sitting with this unknown was causing me anxiety and I felt I needed some more structure around my rest.
I found this structure within Barnett’s (3) article on self-care for psychotherapists. Barnett’s article includes a list of what activities may provide one with feelings of rest, these include: getting adequate sleep, maintaining a healthy diet, regular exercise, spending time with family and friends, participating in meditation, pleasure reading, setting limits and saying ‘no’ and finally maintaining a balance between professional activities and personal activities. Reading this list of activities helped me understand that I did engage with activities which could provide me with feelings of rest but that I may have been approaching or engaging with them in an unhelpful way.
Back to Basics
To start my journey of engaging with self-care I completely switched off and stripped back my routine. I took time off which allowed me to take a break from my course work, my daily exercise, and my work. I felt that by getting back to basics and exploring from there would give me a sense of what I needed. The first week I noticed a slept a lot, my body and mind seemed to need this. The next week I noticed that my body was naturally starting to wake up earlier and I was waking up feeling more energised. As I was waking up earlier, I decided to go for walks through the forest and the beach. I reconnected with my practice of taking mindful walks (4,5) and connecting with nature. Re-connecting with the practice of taking mindful walks helped me centre and ground myself. I noticed that after my walks I felt lighter and as if my energy had been restored. However, during my walks I heard a voice in the back of my mind telling me I should not be resting and that I should be doing something more productive. The voice was my perfectionist self (6,7), she never rests, she is always doing something, and it is difficult to ignore her. Sometimes her voice would get so loud I would find it hard to not get up and “do something productive”. As I was fighting with my perfectionist self I wondered if there was a way, I could help her see that resting was necessary.
Challenging my perfectionism
Trying to challenge my perfectionist self was difficult, I knew she wanted what was best for me and that her perfectionism came from a place of love, but it did not feel loving anymore. Alftberg and Hansson (8) stress within their article that managing self-care means being flexible, like reinventing yourself. Being flexible is a form of self-consciousness where the individual changes and adapts the self to new condition. I needed to adapt and play with ways I could make myself more comfortable with the notion of resting. I first tried different resting activities; trying new exercises, learning how to bake, and trying new video games. None of these things seemed to quieten my perfectionist self’s voice, some even seemed to make her louder. I felt stuck because on one hand I was engaging with activities which were making me feel rested and restored however many times I left them feeling mentally drained from the internal fight I was having with perfection. I had to find a way to meet her in the middle, providing myself with rest and love but also not neglect her. She is a part of me and by neglecting her I was not loving that part of myself therefore I needed to meet her in the middle.
My compromise is that I do something which perfection deems productive and then afterwards I engage in a resting activity. I am still playing and exploring how this looks, some days I tell her if I do X task then I can rest, other days I put a time limit on my work e.g. I will stop working after 6pm. Creating this boundary and containingmy rest and my work has felt good. I noticed that I feel more energised and that I am better at setting boundaries for myself and my self-care needs.
I started this journey focusing on self-care however I think in my journey I have reconnected with myself and learned about self-love as well. I can see and feel the benefits this activity has given me in my personal and professional work. As an integrated counsellor I feel that this activity has strengthen my dialogue between the two approaches. I feel that my journey of rest and self-care is not over and that it will continue to shift and change as I continue to play with what works for me. I feel that that is the most important part for me, playing and being creative with my self-care. Being creative with my self-care has helped me discover new parts of myself and gain more self-awareness about my self-care needs. Overall, I feel that I have reached a place where I feel more comfortable with the idea of self-care, however some days I still struggle and that is okay.
References and Resources
British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. 2018. “Self-care for the counselling professions.” British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.
Mearns, Dave. 2002. Developing person-centred counselling. Sage.
Barnett, Jeffrey E. 2014. “Distress, Therapist Burnout, Self-Care, and the Promotion of Wellness for Psychotherapists and Trainees.” Society for the Advancement of Psychotherapy. December. Accessed December 17, 2021. https://societyforpsychotherapy.org/distress-therapist-burnout-self-care-promotion-wellness-psychotherapists-trainees-issues-implications-recommendations/.
Nhat Hanh, Thich, and Nguyen Anh-Huong. 2006. Walking Meditation. Sounds True1.
Mindful. 2017. A Daily Mindful Walking Practice. July. https://www.mindful.org/daily-mindful-walking-practice/.
Ricketts, Paul V. "Configuring the personal/professional self." In Learning as a Creative and Developmental Process in Higher Education, pp. 100-112. Routledge, 2018.
Counselling Tutor. 2019. Configurations of Self. April. https://counsellingtutor.com/counselling-approaches/person-centred-approach-to-counselling/configurations-of-self/.
Alftberg, Å., and K. Hansson. 2012. “Introduction: Self-care translated into practice.” Culture Unbound 415-424.