Self-care has become a really popular concept in the last couple of years.
With a quick google and hashtag search, you can find hundreds of self-care activities like exploring a hike, drawing a bubble bath, aromatherapy, meditating, #spaday, etc…. It’s inspiring that people are awakening to the idea of turning their own kindness and compassion inward and that there are resources at your fingertips!
The internet and social media are doing a great job helping people get started with self-care, but what you won’t find online is the “self” part of self-care. If you’re going to care for yourself, you need to look inside and get acquainted with yourself and your needs. A crucial part of self-care is that it is personal and unique to you. It’s empty without inner work and self-reflection. It’s an ongoing and active effort, and it isn’t always pleasant.
It’s simple: we all have different needs. To get to know them, you need to think for yourself. The first step of a self-care strategy is taking a moment to consider what your current physical and emotional state is in. Do you need to regenerate? Do you need to maintain? Do you need to improve? Brainstorm some ideas that might help you reach those goals. This is where the internet can be useful if you want help with making a plan and building a habit; but it’s your job to pick what those habits are. If you tried to do some self-reflection and you’re just not sure where to start, try some tips online and then commit time to considering how that activity impacted you. Consider your mood before and after the activity, consider how your body felt before, during and after.
Keep in mind that some activities won’t have an immediate impact, rather they provide a cumulative effect over time. For example, those who begin meditation often report that it is very frustrating, brings up unpleasant emotions, and that it’s physically difficult to sit still. Overtime, these growing pains subside, and practitioners can experience relaxation and improved focus.
It’s helpful to follow each self-care activity with a moment of reflection. Writing in a notebook or phone app can be useful for keeping track of these thoughts. I understand this isn’t everyone’s jam, but at least take a moment to consider and decide whether you will keep a record or not. Make a commitment either way; change commitments as needed.
What you Need isn’t always Nice
Sometimes self-care is being able to enjoy that extra slice of birthday cake, and sometimes self-care is getting real with yourself and admitting that you need to change. That’s right, it isn’t just #treatyourself.
Sometimes self-care is apologizing. Sometimes it is setting boundaries by saying no. Sometimes it is doing your physiotherapy exercises. Sometimes it is creating an ergonomic work-from-home space.
Sometimes self-care is choosing to have a decaf coffee because you are already physically anxious.
Sometimes self-care is providing service to others by donating or volunteering to a cause that is close to your heart.
Sometimes self-care is letting your house chores wait so you can spend quality time with your significant other, chosen family, or furry friend.
Self-care can be an infinite number of things as long as it is promoting your emotional, physical, and mental health.
Ongoing & Active
Like physical exercise or fuelling your car’s gas tank, it’s not something you do just once and check it off your list. It is an ongoing process. Some weeks it is easy and other weeks it is difficult. As life changes, so will your self-care needs. Check in with yourself on a monthly basis and consider what you might need to adjust.
If you had any thoughts while reading this post, I encourage you to type it out or write it down somewhere. Anything you thought while reading this (even if it was a disagreement) is an indication of your self-care philosophy. Use this as a starting point and take it from there!
My hope is that you’ll flex your reflection skills and come up with a self-care activity that wasn’t mentioned in this post. What self-care activity would you do even if no one knew you were doing it?
What is perfectionism?
Perfectionism is NOT the same thing as being goal-oriented or motivated to grow and better yourself. Perfectionism is this idea that one must be perfect in the way they act, look, communicate, and appear. It is an intangible standard, one that not a single person in the world can achieve!
Perfectionism is believing that you are what you accomplish, and that only when you accomplish your goals will you be worthy. The problem with this is that when you do accomplish those goals, you often only temporarily feel satisfied, not ever truly feeling worthy.
Perfectionism often leaves you feeling like you are not good enough. It is very hard to be happy with yourself when your perfectionism tricks you into believing you are a failure if you cannot achieve perfection.
How to work through feelings of unworthiness and perfectionism?
Identify it. When you are feeling self-critical, ask yourself “is this goal SMART”?
S– Specific (simple and significant)
M– Measurable (how would you know you have achieved this goal?)
R- Relevant (reasonable)
T- Time-bound (is it possible to achieve this goal in this amount of time?)
If your goal does not fit these criteria, your perfectionism might be setting unrealistic expectations.
Remind yourself that perfect does not exist. No human being is perfect. Making mistakes and growing is part of the human experience.
Remind yourself perfect is not relatable. It is a lot easier to talk about strengths, talents, and accomplishments than it is to talk about failures, weaknesses, or challenges. However, allowing others to see your challenges can create a mutual bond of trust, allowing for deeper, more meaningful connection. Own who you are! You are wonderfully imperfect!
Have some self-compassion. Talk to yourself the way you talk to your friends. It feels silly at first but with practice it comes more naturally. “I love you (to yourself). I am sorry you are disappointed you did not do/get/achieve____. It is okay to be upset. I still love you. You are still enough”.
Remind yourself of WHO you are, not WHAT you are. You are not defined by your accomplishments. You are enough NOW, not “if” or “when” you achieve a certain goal.
Take care of yourself. Engage in activities that make you feel good, remind you of what you love, who you are, and what truly matters to you.
Embracing your wonderful imperfections allows you to be your best, truest self. Be yourself, it is more fun anyways!
Is it time to renegotiate the terms of your relationship?
Both your partner(s) and yourself will inevitably change and evolve throughout your relationship. You can expect that some of this growth will occur between you, and you can also expect to grow as individuals. This idea of change may seem intimidating for some, but it is a natural and necessary feature of our human development. Although there may be romantic sentiment attached to the idea that partners should remain the same individuals as they were the day they met, this is certainly not a realistic expectation. With this in mind, we should consider how we can respond to these changes in a way that allows us to embrace these personal evolutions, rather than stubbornly resist. One of the ways we can do this is by renegotiating the terms of our relationships.
Renegotiating the terms of your relationship simply means to discuss your current and expected needs as individuals and as a partnership, and how you can offer the best support to help meet those needs.
Esther Perel, my favourite couples therapist (and probably yours too), is famously quoted as saying, ‘We all will have two or three relationships in our adult lives. Some of us with the same person.’ While the line may be intentionally provocative, it speaks directly to the idea that we must welcome new variations and evolutions of our relationships throughout our lives. When you renegotiate the terms of your relationship, you are opening the door for honest communication by creating the space to express your fears, concerns, hopes, gratitude, and aspirations as they relate to your relationship.
As we grow and change throughout our lives and adapt to the other life changes, such as new job demands and evolving families, your needs and expectations of you and your partner(s) are likely to change. By renegotiating the terms of your relationship, you can help your partner understand what you might need from them to sustain your wellness, as well as gain insight into what your partner will need from you. Perhaps you have already responded and adjusted to these changes without having to engage in this formal process. Still it never hurts to examine and evaluate the current conditions of your life to give you the confidence of knowing that your relationship is still working for you and your partner(s). It is also worth noting that this process is not exclusive to romantic relationships and can be just as valuable when applied to other relationships in your life. By engaging in this process, you help sharpen your communication skills, as well as your ability to be honest with yourself and with others.
Here are some tips for renegotiating the terms of your relationship:
Before you begin this process, it is best to take the time as individuals to reflect on how you think you have changed, how you have perceived your partner to have changed, and how your needs and expectations might be different now. You should also contemplate the things that make you feel sad or anxious and alternatively things that might make you feel excited and hopeful, as they relate to your relationship. This reflection can be made into a formal task of taking the time to journal your thoughts and feelings, or you may wish to just take a few moments, or a walk by yourself to consider these thoughts and feelings. By coming into the conversation prepared with an idea of how you would like your relationship to respond to these demands, you will be in a better position to be able to authentically communicate exactly what you need. With that said, it is also important to remember that you must be open-minded as you come into these conversations. Although this is a conversation about meeting your needs, it is ultimately a conversation of how you can best collaborate together.
The process of renegotiation should be a collaborative effort. For this process to work, there must be mutual interest and reciprocity from both individuals in the relationship. This is an opportunity for you and your partner to work together to address any new challenges, needs, or concerns you have in your relationship. This is also a time where you create goals together and come up with ideas of how you want your relationship to look moving forward. Knowing that you are not alone in this process and that you can work as a team can help provide the security needed to explore some of those more difficult thoughts or feelings.
If you’re seeking to reflect on and identify the changes that have occurred in your life, and to explore how your needs and expectations have changed as a consequence, vulnerability is a requirement. Through this process, you may have to confront thoughts or feelings that you have been otherwise ignoring or suppressing. The level of honesty required in this process might not be easy and it is important to allow yourself the time and space to have these reflections. When you are engaging in this process with your partner, you should provide the same level of honesty and vulnerability with them as you did with yourself. Through this process you could discover that the change in needs of both you and your partner are irreconcilable. This also will require deep vulnerability to confront. If you are finding that through this process, your relationship is at a crossroads, then this might be an appropriate time to seek couples therapy. Although the renegotiation process is intended to help individuals reach the healthiest outcomes for themselves and their partners, this does not mean that it is on you as individuals to navigate this transition alone.
In the case where you and your partner can renegotiate the terms of your relationships to a place where you both feel like you can meet each other’s needs and expectations, you will find that you have a new sense of security within your relationship. Before this process, you may have felt unsure of how you or your partner were functioning within the relationship, or perhaps that you were both blissfully complacent within that current state. The security you feel in your relationship will be strengthened through this process as you reconcile the changes that have occurred for both of you.
Through this experience, you have the opportunity to bring vitality back into your relationship. It is very common for us to become complacent within our relationships. Though this complacency may help us provide stability in our lives when perhaps other areas of our lives remain uncertain, you are likely missing out on feeling a sense of vitality and excitement that you once had during the early stages of your relationship. Many often assume that this feeling of vitality is reserved for the ‘honeymoon stage’ of a relationship, but it can be maintained through open discussions of what gets you excited about a relationship. Perhaps some of the new terms of your relationship can be to surprise each other with a new date night activity a few times a month, or maybe it is making time for you to both have more alone time, as that time apart creates the space for your curiosity for each other to grow.
Lastly, this process can help promote accountability within your relationship, and for yourselves personally. By communicating your needs and expectations of your partner, it leaves little room for miscommunication and eliminates justifications for why one person might not be making you as fulfilled as you could be. It also encourages you to be accountable for your own needs and well-being.
It is no secret that establishing and maintaining on-going communication will help promote the health and longevity of a relationship.
Throughout the last few months, you might have found that you are spending more time with your partner and feeling like you are communicating more than ever before, though you are still feeling disconnected. When it comes to communication, it is important to think about it in terms of quality over quantity. It is common for a couple’s communication to plateau at sharing generally superficial information, and perhaps avoiding conversations that might require more emotional availability. A check-in provides the opportunity to build our emotional intimacy and express ourselves more authentically to ourselves, and our partners. This activity will help promote more meaningful engagement with your partner, as well as provide the space for you to reflect on how you have been doing as an individual.
The following guide will help you establish meaningful conversations with your partner.
Determine a day and time that works best for you
Ideally, this is a time that can be scheduled as a recurring event. To make this easier, you may choose to schedule check-ins on the first day of every month, and if you would like to increase the frequency of these chats, you can pick other easy to remember days of the month as well. It is up to you and your partner to determine how often you need to check-in. If you have been finding that you are feeling emotionally disconnected or out of sync from your partner, then it might be valuable to increase the frequency of these check-ins as often as once a week.
The next step is to collaborate with your partner to come up with a few check-in questions that help you both understand where you are currently at, and how you have been feeling. Here are a few sample questions:
What concerns have you had as an individual over the last few weeks?
Have you had any concerns about us as a couple over the last few weeks?
How have you been feeling about us lately?
Is there anything that has been making you feel stressed or anxious in the last few weeks?
What are a few things you have felt grateful for in your life over the last few weeks?
Is there anything you would change in your life? If so, what is it, and how can we address that?
What is it about me that you have felt grateful for over the last few weeks?
Is there anything coming up that requires more of our attention or preparation?
Is there anything else you would like to talk about?
Time to reflect
Take some time as individuals to reflect on those questions, so that you can come to the check-in prepared.
During your check-in, it is important to be present and actively listening to your partner. This is an opportunity for you both to offer vulnerability and support to each other and further develop your emotional connection.
Now that you have each gone through your questions, take the time together, to collaborate on a plan for how you can continue supporting each other moving forward.
This guide provides a formal framework to check-in, though this may not be necessary for every couple. It might be just as useful for you to integrate informal check-ins throughout the week.
You’re not alone in feeling alone.
With the increase of isolation and social distancing due to the global pandemic, many individuals are experiencing heightened feelings of stress, anxiety, and loneliness. Though stress and anxiety have been receiving much attention, little attention is given towards how loneliness can influence one’s mental health.
Human beings are creatures of connection. We need social interaction to survive and maintain our well-being. Evolutionarily speaking, belonging to a social group quite literally kept you safe from threat or risk of harm. Thus, our need for connection is an evolutionary response and is part of our human biology!
Hence, no wonder we are feeling lonely during a time when physical interaction is discouraged and is deemed unsafe and against the law.
If social connection is so important to the human experience, why is it so hard to talk about loneliness?
Loneliness tricks us into thinking that we are the only ones who are lonely. It tells us to keep quiet about our challenges and pain and that we will be a burden to other people if we share how we are feeling. We are discouraged from reaching out because we are worried we will be deemed crazy, weak, weird, needy, or emotionally unstable, if we let people in on our struggles.
In reality, loneliness has been proven to be contagious, where if one individual is feeling lonely, chances are those in their close circle may be feeling lonely as well. Many of us are catching the lonely bug these days!
If we reach out, we can #BeThere for one another.
The less we talk about mental health, the more we are contributing to the false narrative that mental illness is “abnormal.” Talking about it is the best way to start breaking down the barriers associated with mental illness.
All humans struggle from time to time. It is a part of life. The more we talk about our challenges and hardships, the more we recognize mental health challenges as being a normal part of the human experience. Through continuing the conversation surrounding mental illness and loneliness, we can create unity amongst one another. It becomes a lot easier to attend to what we need and develop “real” connections once we share our struggles with other people.
What constitutes “real” connection?
You can have 10 000 followers on Instagram and still feel extremely lonely and disconnected. This is the difference between communication and truly feeling a connection.
Real connection happens when we receive advice, validation, concrete help, and emotional support from others. This is ironic because loneliness tells us to stay quiet, however sharing our feelings can simultaneously make us feel better and help us achieve real connection, thus attending to our feelings of loneliness.
It is ok to not feel our strongest right now. We have been experiencing the challenges of the pandemic for several months. Recurring distress can make it hard to feel as strong as we normally are. Lean on real connection for strength and support.
Here are 10 ways to feel connected during a global disconnect.
Turn on your video camera on zoom calls (if possible). Speaking directly to one another, responding to facial expressions and body cues are important for connection.
Check in often. Call the people in your life that provide you with “real” connection and genuinely care about your well-being.
Start meaningful conversations. #BeThere. Normalize conversations around “How are you?” “How are you handling the pandemic?” “What can I do to help?”
Make a list of people you want to connect with consistently. This gives you schedule and routine and holds you accountable to connect.
Enroll in a class that intrigues you or join a club. This way you are growing your supports and frequency of connection.
Hold on to your sentimental belongings. Photos, old cards, gifted objects remind you of your pre-existing connections.
Be present with your bubble. Put the phones away and make deliberate time for quality interaction and connection with those in your bubble.
Connect with nature. Nature soothes pain and helps you feel connected with others, your community, and the larger outside world.
Connect with your pets and animals. Animals encourage exercise and playfulness in your day, and answer to the human need for touch.
Connect with yourself. Ask yourself how you are feeling and what you might need. Engage in activities, hobbies or pass times that make you feel joyful and refreshed.