I’m thinking about self care today for a couple of reasons. Mostly because, despite my best efforts at taking care not to acerbate my chronic back pain, it’s been sporting a big ol’ frowny face on the pain scale for the last several days.
This physical pain has been my constant companion, at some level, for more than thirty years now. I keep it at a tolerable level with mindful bending, proper lifting, and yoga practice. When I feel that first twinge of increasing pain level, I get ahead of it with OTC pain relievers, ice and heat compresses, and self imposed rest. Most times I can stave off the hot throbbing pain that is the worst of it.
In the last few years, these intense flare-ups come more often and last much longer. I have to concede that I’m losing the battle. One of the pearls of wisdom that came with my age is an understanding that it’s good to know my limits, and accept them. I’m more than ready to admit that self care isn’t going to cut it for me any longer. Next steps will involve some level of medical intervention.
Physical first aid is pretty much common knowledge. If you’re bleeding, put a bandage of the wound. If you can’t stop the blood flow, you’ll need stitches. If you sprain your ankle, ice it, wrap it and elevate it. If it doesn’t get better, see a doctor.
Quick—what are the similar steps for emotional self care?
You’re probably thinking a soothing cup of tea, or an adult beverage, maybe a bubble bath, a massage, a day off or a vacation—change your environment, get out in nature. Maybe you include meditation, prayer, or other spiritual activity. Even a brisk walk, a round of golf, shooting some hoops; any good cardio workout helps burn off stress and falls under self care. I know I’m not alone when I indulge in any of these prescriptions to lift my spirits.
But I’m wondering, why do we think of emotional self care the same way we think of physical triage—notice the bleeding and determine if a bandage will do or are stitches necessary? Or more to the point, wait until we are feeling burned out, on edge, irritable or weepy before deciding whether a day off will be enough, or if it’s it going to take an extended vacation in a far away location.
I think self care works much better when modeled after preventative wellness, especially in times of social upheaval when we are bombarded by daily assaults on our state of grace.
I’m thinking about a self care reminder APP. No, not something to download to my smart phone, although there are several of those apps available that might be helpful. I’m talking about downloading the acronym to my brain—APP or Awareness, Prevention and Planning, to help me stay on top of my emotional wellness.
I figure being Aware of my environment, not just the spaces I occupy but the people who occupy them with me, is a good start. Social media is pressing all my buttons lately and the news cycle just keeps feeding in with more grist for the mill.
This is kind of a no-brainer, but it follows that if the news and social media are frying my nerves, the best self care is to Prevent the assault in the first place. In other words, stay off of social media and turn off the news. The world isn’t going to fall apart if I stick my head in the sand for a while. Come to think of it, the world was a much happier place when we didn’t have 24/7 global news cycles and memes to help spread the sorry state of the day.
Of course, I don’t want to be an uninformed ignoramus, so I can Plan my exposure to the interwebs and news cycles in small doses that don’t leave me praying for a speedy arrival of the global warming tsunamis that will wipe out both coastlines, and a cyclone to take out D.C.
But what about real life? I can’t just turn off the day-to-day situations and unpleasant encounters of my actual life. Even though some of the people in my real world are getting on my last nerve I’m not a fan of severing relationships, especially with family members.
Boundaries are good. Guess what, it’s okay to say I’m not interested in hearing your politics because if I do I’ll really just want to punch you in the face, and I’m trying to avoid those unhealthy feelings.
Sometimes, the things that get me down just can’t be avoided. When I’ve reached the end of all my ropes and there’s not enough left to tie a knot and hang on, when I start thinking I’d sooner serve up a plate of vipers than engage with anybody who dares to approach me, I give myself a time out in my She Room.
Of course, I can’t lock myself up forever and it’s not a good idea to let the she-dragon loose, no matter how satisfying it feels in the moment. Better that I build uplifting, soul feeding activities into my routine, a supplement for my emotional immune system. Nourishing my physical body with healthy food choices, getting enough sleep and some physical activity every day, and then indulging in a little bit of what feeds my soul to keep me from falling down the dark well.
Also, focusing on what I can change instead of obsessing over what I cannot change keeps me grounded in purpose and hope. I can gripe and moan all day long on social media, even puff up my feathers and make impassioned, resounding speeches. It’s like pouring a pitcher of clean water into a polluted lake. But finding what I can do outside my own front door to make a difference in my community, and doing it, helps me feel more hopeful and less defeated.
If there is any social media trend I could start, I’d like it to be just that—instead of putting so much energy into sharing memes and righteous indignation, go out and make one small difference in your community. It can be anything, helping a charity, collecting or distributing food shelf items, cleaning up litter, volunteering for an event—whether for a cause or just for fun and entertainment. It all contributes to a healthy, thriving community, and added up, it’s the small efforts that will bring about the biggest changes.
Not that I’m going to stop taking bubble baths with candles and glass of wine. Or treating myself to the good chocolate, a date with a friend, a walk in the woods, or wading along a shoreline. I’m not going to stop indulging in the feel good things or waiting until I think I need cheering up. It’s like medicating chronic pain; If I wait until I think I really need it, I’ve waited too long.