We may not have caused our problems, but we do have a responsibility to change things for the better. Looking after ourselves with the intention of improving or restoring our physical and mental health, treating or preventing disease is our own responsibility, and no one else can do it for us.
Self-Care begins with Self-Awareness
Getting to know your own strengths and limitations and understanding your own emotions and the impact of these on your quality of life is a good place to start.
We all experience many emotions - from anger and sadness to happiness and joy. Unfortunately, many of us have been conditioned to believe that certain emotions are negative and others are positive. Actually it's what we do with the emotions that are either negative or positive. The emotions themselves are what they are. Your emotions are signals you need to pay attention to. Just like you are supposed to slow down when the traffic light is yellow and stop when the light is red, your emotions serve the same purpose.
When you don't pay attention to and process your emotions, they build up until they reach a “tipping point”, at which they overwhelm our ability to carry on.
If you ignore and store your "negative" emotions, they will manifest themselves in disease, health issues or other destructive outlets. So your first step is to stop ignoring your emotions. Use them to tell you what's next. What do you need to do differently?
The Flight Plan
Before take-off, pilots have to file a Flight Plan with Air Traffic Control explaining what they are going to. For example, Take off will be at 13:00. I will climb to 13,000 feet on a bearing of 42 degrees at a speed of 300 mph. I will maintain that heading for 7 minutes, then climb to 15,000 feet on a bearing of 50 degrees at a speed of 400 mph, and so on. That way, other planes know to stay out of that bit of sky. Thing is, 90% of the time, the plane isn’t on the flight plan. It might be off by 50 feet, or off course by a degree or two, but – most of the time – it still gets to its destination, why is that? (The pilot makes course corrections along the way).
The Chinese word for "Crisis" (weiji) is comprised of two ideograms, one for ”danger” and one for ”opportunity”. Difficult thoughts and feelings are an alarm call providing us with the opportunity to get back on the right course.
Just like a pilot, regularly checking our instruments (our internal experiences) allows us to make the course corrections necessary to get where we want to be.
Knowing that we're drifting off course is one thing, being able to come back on course is another. Like the pilot, the sooner we are aware that we need to make course corrections, the easier they will be.
It’s a good idea to check in with how you are feeling at least three times a day, getting in touch with your feelings, reactions and “inner voice”, when you get up in the morning, half way through the day and at the end of the day about half an hour before going to bed.
In my next blog, we will explore some helpful strategies for coming back on course (and staying there!). For now, I'm going to leave you with some questions about what you think good self-care looks like.
Think of someone you know who you would say has good self-care
- How do they interact with people?
- How do they manage their workload?
- How do they act when they are busy/stressed?
- How do they tackle problems?
- Is there anything else you notice about them?