When we practice regular self-care, we are allowing ourselves to engage in what it is that we need to feel emotionally, mentally, and physically healthy. When we remove our focus from our own needs and place it entirely on the things that do not nourish us emotionally, we may begin to feel unbalanced and emotionally unwell.
Placing our needs consistently on the back-burner can really wear us down, which is why practicing self-care is essential for taking care of our own mental health. And P.S.— self-care is not selfish. Meeting our own needs can allow us to be in a better headspace to be more emotionally present and caring for others!
So, with the Fall season and semester quickly approaching, how can we make the best of the last few weeks of summer? How can we enjoy the outdoors while also incorporating self-care?
1. Plant something… anything!
Fun fact: the best time of year to plant a tree is late in the summer or beginning of Fall. Why? Cooler temperatures help encourage new root growth (don’t ask me how I know this). Planting a plant or gardening can help keep us connected to nature. What does this have to do with self-care? Gardening can be a pretty awesome practice in mindfulness, allowing us to stay connected to the present moment and in touch with all our senses.
2. Journal in the park
Journalling is a great stress reliever as it helps us to process our thoughts and externalize any difficult feelings we may have had throughout the day. Journalling while enjoying some time in the sun? Even better for boosting serotonin levels and our mood. Check out some journal prompt ideas here.
3. Browse local farmers’ markets
I love farmers markets because they’re a win-win situation for us all. Purchasing at a farmers market means we get to enjoy something delicious that we may not have necessarily picked out at the grocery store, while also supporting a local or small business owner (yay sustainability!). It’s also an awesome way to get outside ourselves and be surrounded by a community of pretty cool people!
4. Solo picnic
Picnics offer a lot of social-related self-care benefits. We can use it as a means to bond with our loved ones by enabling communication in a relaxing environment. But a solo picnic also allows us some time for self-reflection. The occasional solo time is great for self-care as it provides a chance to self-reflect and to develop self-awareness so we can better understand our emotions.
5. Have a Yard Sale
I don’t know about you, but having a cluttered space really stresses me out. Sometimes the best thing we can do for our mental health is to let go of the things that no longer serve us. That may start with cleaning up our physical space. And when it comes to self-care, throwing a yard sale adds a few bonus points. We’re decreasing our stress levels by clearing up our physical space, we’re getting in touch with a community by spending time in the neighbourhood, and we’re enjoying some much needed time outdoors while doing it.
When we live in our heads, we are not able to let go. When we allow ourselves to surrender to the present moment as opposed to living in the past or future by way of our thoughts, then we can let go.
We learn to let go when we learn to be present. How do we do that?
1. Get into your body by using all your senses – notice what you see around you, the way your body physically feels, any sounds or scents around you, even what you might be tasting in your mouth.
2. Focus on the things that are going well in your life. Grab a pen and paper and write down 5 things you are grateful for in that moment.
3. Take a deep belly breath and connect to your inhales and exhales.
4. Open your heart. I find visualizing an open rose helps me feel more open-hearted. You can also try to imagine a bubble right in front of you that is collecting all the negative energy in your body that doesn’t belong. Then when you feel like you’ve transferred the energy that is not serving you, visualize yourself popping the bubble. Once you’ve done this, imagine another bubble in front of you collecting all the energy that the other bubble might have missed, and once you feel it’s all been collected in the bubble, pop it again.
Sometimes letting go is hard because the present moment might feel painful. If we allow ourselves to accept the present as is, we will be able to live more wholehearted lives.
Disclaimer: This is a personal discussion around self-compassion and self-love with details about my own disappointments, sexual assaults, and critical self-talk that may be difficult for some clients to read about. This blog is divided into 3 parts to address the: disappointments, critical self-talk, and sexual assaults.
Part 1: Disappointments
Self-compassion was something I first heard about during my MSW. It refers to extending compassion to one’s self in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure, or general struggle. It was advertised as the holy grail of therapy. I say this because I didn’t know how to practice it or feel at all connected to this concept. In my head, I would think “yeah, that sounds like someone who’s making an excuse for something. Why wouldn’t you just keep pushing through when it’s tough? That’s so weak of them.”
I had connected emotional strength to avoidance and tolerance, which didn’t help when I was faced with some personal crisis (I couldn’t find a job coming out of my MSW in the field despite starting my search 3 months before school had even ended. Everyone else in my class was getting hired and I wasn’t going anywhere. Plus, my partner of 6 years decided that our relationship was over. My world was spinning out of control).
You’re probably asking “what does this have to do with self-compassion?” Well, I believe looking back with the self-compassionate lens I have now, I can connect with the parts of me that needed care during that distressing time. Disappointments in life are something we all have to adjust to. Self-compassion gives us the emotional buffer and resilience to get through it. Looking back, a practice of self-compassion would have helped me accept that the job market is tough for anyone. Especially with 250 University of Toronto MSW graduates (not to mention graduates of other universities in the area) seeking work in the same field!
Part 2: Critical Self-Talk
When it comes to practicing self-compassion, it’s really important to examine where your critical self-talk comes up (my colleague Melissa wrote an amazing piece on that, click here to read more about it).
You can think of “critical self-talk” as the harsh internal dialogue you have with yourself. For example, my critical self-talk usually sounds like this: I complete a task/project at work and my critical self-talk says “you know, you need to check over that work. It’s probably wrong. You probably fucked it up again”. Where does this voice come from? It’s the critic I developed at home and at school. It’s that version of me that doesn’t feel like I’m good enough. That inner voice had benefited me growing up when I needed to accomplish things. Now it diminishes the effort and work I put into my achievements and it diminishes me as a person. A compassionate voice in the same situation would sound like this: “you got it done. I know, I know. You’re not sure if it was perfect. Then again, we’ve done such great work we didn’t think was perfect and here you are, still alive and standing. Achieving more and more each day”.
Is the compassionate voice easy for me to connect with? 100% not, and especially not when I’m in a raw and vulnerable spot or feeling miserable. However, this voice that I’ve had to practice (first by asking loved ones for reassurance and then trying it out with myself daily) has brought me great relief during difficult times.
Part 3: Sexual Assaults
When we don’t show ourselves love and compassion, we tend to end up in precarious situations that can be damaging to our body, mind, and spirit. For me, a loud critical self voice and a non-existent presence of self-compassion meant that if a partner wanted something from me, I didn’t have the voice to say ‘no’ even when I didn’t feel comfortable in engaging in intimacy or to feel like I deserved to say ‘no’ and set my own limits. I found myself feeling inferior and emotionally numb after certain sexual experiences. Without my self-compassion, I allowed others to cross my boundaries, and when they did, I blamed myself. I continued to blame myself even in situations when I had said ‘no’ or tried to leave. Sexual assault isn’t meant to be taken lightly. My accounts of it are purely my own experiences. Although the practice of self-compassion in these moments is hard, remember to take time to speak kindly to yourself as you would with a loved one. Being able to love yourself is the way you show others how you need to be treated.
How we speak to ourselves through our inner voice (whether it be critical or loving) spills into all aspects of our lives, whether it be in accomplishments or disappointments, fulfillment or harm. A practice of self-compassion is one we need to cultivate as individuals and as a society.