Years ago I heard an analogy that has stuck with me. We are all buckets, containers in which water can be put into. As we move through life, our buckets get little holes and the water begins to seep out. This is normal as we experience the stressors of school, jobs, relationships, and other problems or concerns that drain us. For the most part, we can easily replace the water that drains out of these holes. We become accustomed to draining some water and filling our bucket back up again and again through the everyday rhythm of life.
Sometimes, however, life causes us to have larger holes than normal. Maybe the holes in our bucket come from more significant stress or relationship problems. Maybe school struggles, financial concerns, and family issues. Maybe the holes are enlarged through concerns about our own mental and emotional health. Or maybe the holes in our bucket are made larger through factors far outside of our control, like a global pandemic.
Self-care has become a buzzword over the past few years. Self-care is defined as “the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s health.” Self-care involves intentional, thoughtful choices that you or I make to love ourselves well. Like a bucket, self-care is the way we replenish the water in the bucket. As water seeps out enlarged holes, self-care is the way that we make sure we do not get to a point that we are running on empty. While stressors of life are unavoidable, we do have control over our course of action in response to stressors and in the prevention of becoming drained and dry.
Considering strategies for self-care, it’s important to remember that this is not a “one size fits all” solution. We must, through trial and error, find the strategies that best fill our buckets at this current moment in time. Let’s look at 8 places we can start as we consider our self-care plan.
Establish a routine
In these days of no school, limited job opportunities, and the theme of social distancing, it can feel easy to sleep whenever you feel like, binge television all day, scroll social media for hours and not give much thought to any sort of routine.
Routine allows us to foster habits that move us towards our goals and expectations. Routine creates a sense of structure in a life that right now largely feels without structure. Start with outlining a schedule for the next day each evening. Consider how you can add rhythm to your day and week through keeping a schedule or routine.
Right along with routine is the importance of setting goals for ourselves. Goals help frame our expectations for ourselves and spur us on towards accomplishment. In a time when the world around us is out of control, goals allow us to focus our energy on something we can control and provide motivation to work towards something. Often I will tell my clients to write down three things they want to accomplish that day. Certainly, more tasks will be done in the day, but having a few things we want to get done each day allows us to align our expectations of ourselves with something tangible.
Care for your body
One of the very basic things we can do concerning self-care is to make choices about how we are treating our bodies. Eat foods that nourish you, work towards getting an appropriate amount of sleep, and move your body every day. These are some of the most simple things we can do in terms of self-care but contribute significantly to our outlook on the world.
Consider all your senses
Take a moment to consider all of your senses and what each of them is inputting to you. I know that my mood is impacted significantly by a few things: a clean, clutter-free environment, music, and lots of natural light. I start every day by opening all the blinds in my house, making the bed, and picking up clutter. I spend most of the day listening to worship music. These simple things help my overall outlook on the day, and while they don’t fix everything, I can see the impact when I do not do these things.
Gauge how your environment is making you feel. Consider what you see, smell, and hear. What can you change or alter regarding your environment to contribute positively to your mental and emotional state?
Some people are more naturally wired toward insight and self-reflection. Some people have to work harder to be mindful of how they think and feel. Neither one is better or worse, but it is helpful to be aware of your natural tendencies.
Meditation, asking yourself questions, journaling, prayer, and gratitude lists are all vehicles for mindfulness. Whichever you choose, spend time every day gaining awareness of your thinking, feeling, and the way you are interacting with the world around you.
Pay attention to your relationships
Relationships are like plants, sometimes they exist with minimal care from us but often they most thrive when we are deliberate in nurturing them. Unfortunately, we often don’t consider our part in nurturing our relationships until we experience problems in those relationships.
We are built for connection and strength in our relationships will benefit us as we care for ourselves. Consider how to tend to the relationships in your life. How can you make investments in the people around you? Who needs to be cared for by you? How can you serve, love, and encourage the people in your life? What conflict has gone unresolved that needs to be addressed? Like a gardener, spend time pruning and nurturing your connections with others.
Unplug from technology
Technology is a great benefit during this time (can you imagine living through a pandemic 100 years ago?) Technology provides entertainment, information, and allows us to connect with people. We also know that technology can have negative effects on our physical and mental health. A 2019 study by the Journal of Child Development showed nighttime usage of a cell phone can increase anxiety and depression in teenagers and reduce self-esteem.
Gauge your technology use at multiple points in the day and consider how it might be impacting you, then take action on guarding your overall health.
Consider how to serve someone else
Studies have shown over and over again that when we serve and care for others, we are positively impacted. Research has shown that the mere intent and commitment to live generously can stimulate neural change and make us happier. Look around for opportunities to serve those in your house, your neighborhood, and your city.
Lastly, counseling is a wonderful means of loving yourself. It’s easy to think of counseling as something to do when we are diagnosed with a mental health disorder or in crisis. In reality, counseling is a great tool to add to a life of self-care. At Amy Wine Counseling Center, we would love to go on the journey of self-care with you. Call us at 832-421-8714 if you have any questions or would like to schedule an appointment.