It’s flu season, so hopefully not getting sick is on everyone’s mind. We all know the steps: wash your hands, get the flu shot, sleep like a grizzly bear, drink water, eat a balanced diet, and did I mention wash your hands? While these measures won’t guarantee you will avoid getting sick, they give you a fighting chance.
We need to think the same way about our mental and emotional wellness. It’s something that’s just as susceptible to “illness” as the physical body, and just like we can protect ourselves against viruses, we can shore up our minds and souls for the long winter ahead. This is the meaning I give to the buzzwords “self care.”
There’s a reason self care is getting so much attention. It’s a preventive measure that everyone can take to mitigate against depression, anxiety, overeating, psychosomatic symptoms, pain, and, yes, even, physical illness. Self care is cheap, drug-free, and available in unlimited supply. What’s not to love?
A while back I was introduced to the Self Care Wheel for trauma professionals, people whose life work is about helping people heal from trauma. The wheel was designed to get me and my colleagues thinking about the ways we intentionally act as caregivers to ourselves in the midst of caring for others.
The wheel is separated into six realms of life, each with a handful of ideas for addressing each of these important areas. Many people may find it easy to identify with one or two sections, while others feel a bit more foreign. I find the “professional” section is an easy one for me since I’m at work everyday and constantly looking for ways to stay nourished. The spiritual and personal sections, on the other hand, could use a bit more of my focus.
The idea here isn’t to see the wheel as a standard to be attained. I use it as a cheat sheet for ideas when I’m feeling off-balance, un-centered, or in need of a pick-me-up. I figure if I do one item from each section per month, I’m on the right track.
I like to think that a good self care routine will not only keep you well day to day, but it also has the long term effect of bolstering self esteem. Similar to the way a parent cares for a child or an owner dotes on their cats- I mean, pets- you are showing yourself love when you give yourself what you need. Setting aside time each day to make yourself a priority is an act of love and the foundation of good self esteem.
It’s helpful for me to remember that self care isn’t the same as self soothing. Self soothing is what you do when you’re feeling terrible and just need some relief: bubble baths, chocolate, and a feel good movie come to mind. If self care is like washing your hands, self soothing is like taking the cold medicine- one is prevention, the other is cure. Both are useful for keeping you well, but self care will help you avoid those difficult moments when you need soothing.
As the days get shorter, the temperatures drop, and you find yourself slipping into a sad mood, consider self care as a way out of the dark. You’ll thank yourself later.