Here comes that word “self care” again.
It seems that self care has morphed into what can sometimes be seen as being selfish, spending excesses beyond your means and overextending your limits; to create a perfect excuse for ‘treating yo’ self’ to anything and everything.
And while elements of those expressions do exist, caring for yourself is something we shouldn’t have to feel overwhelmed by or think negatively about.
When done right, for me and only me, I adore self care.
It was easier in the years before chronic illness, to take time for myself. It was purely seen as taking a much needed break and being restful when tired. And while resting and taking a break from things is always something that can be done to a) actively limit stress in your life, b) act as a recharge in a busy and fast paced world; once you add into that, the conundrum of an body which is overstretched from fighting an invisible illness, self care becoming more and more a priority.
Why is self care important?
Self Care is defined as “the actions that individuals take for themselves, on behalf of and with others in order to develop, protect, maintain and improve their health, wellbeing or wellness.”
We all need time to actively spent time relaxing and resting. For some, they find that this comes from doing a hobby, others find it comes from being alone for a while; turning off from the world, in all its forms.
Without some level of self care, we experience burn out, anxiety and stress. We become irritable, restless, resentful and overwhelmed. And while a low level of stress is good for the drive in the 21st century, we can not function well without rest.
How and why is it hard to do when you become chronically sick?
It begins with just needing a diagnosis. But after that, a chronic illness is just that, chronic. The longevity of having an illness that chronic is overwhelming, on its own. Add onto that, the amount of testing you might go through, how it impacts daily life, how you accommodate it, how you learn about it. And whist acceptance does come, without a ‘cure’ or guaranteed treatment that will give you back a ‘normal’ life, it becomes hard to find time to care for yourself.
It’s ironic too, your health becomes top priority and in order to fight some aspects of chronic illness, you need to be rested. It becomes a vicious cycle of needing to rest and recharge to fight your illness, but being unable to find time to do this because you are battling your illness already.
Does self care mean ‘more’ when you have a chronic illness?
My health problems are invisible. My GAD, my IBD, my stoma, my PCOS; they all hide beneath the surface. I feel them all the time, I feel their presence and I feel their impact.
But my self care does not become more because I have more problems. It just becomes something I have to actively carve out time for. It’s about sort of planning some time to look after yourself. It ranges from doing the ‘boring self care’ of making sure my medications are ordered and in my pill caddy ready for the week, all the way to taking myself for a massage or a facial. Some self care stays consistently throughout the year, where as other parts flux with the seasons and my flare ups. I accommodate my illness as well as my self care.
In some respects, you don’t ever stop being a patient. And switching off that part of your brain, of your body, of your life; it is hard.
And whist those who are healthy can have guilt free periods of self care, it can be harder when you’re ill to not feel guilty because there is always something that needs doing, that could be done instead of resting.
Good v Bad self care
- Accepting help
- Getting enough sleep and being able to relax
- Allowing yourself an occasional “treat”
- Scheduling time for a hobby
- Making time for being social, on your terms
- Setting healthy boundaries with needy family, friends, or co-workers
- Trying to impress people by overextending yourself
- Zoning out in front of TV all night then sleeping late
- Engaging in “retail therapy” without any regard to your budget
- Frequent mindless snacking on foods that will make you feel worse
- Pushing yourself past your limits in the name of appearance
- Going out at the expense of other things important to you
- Retreating from positive relationships and isolating yourself
In it’s essence, true self care isn’t selfish; it’s part of leading a happy, healthy life. But it’s also not always easy. It can take real, conscious, intentional effort to make choices that will actually contribute to your overall wellness, as opposed to just treating the symptoms of stress or daily wear and tear.
What do I do for self care?
- Setting aside time for me. I actually put it into my diary so I can not fob it off.
- Listening to my body and respecting it for telling me stop. Listening is not always easy or simple to do. It takes a conscious effort to pick up on the signs my body gives me, as a warning.
- Learning to not feel guilty. This has been the hardest and the one I still find a challenge.
- Saying no. While I like to be busy, I also know that being too busy makes my anxiety run high and stresses me more than needed. So, sometimes I have to be aware of leaving myself sometime to rest and I have to not commit to some things. Overdoing things will only result in having to halt completely further down the road.
- Spending time reflecting. I used to spend alot of time overthinking about things that happened which made me embarrassed or I said wrong. But by actively looking at them, accepting, learning and then letting go; has helped me lower my anxiety somewhat. I do alot of things by writing. I wish I was better at just aimlessly writing but I have hardly anything in just draft form. It almost always ends up being a blog post!
- Journaling. I’ve taken up writing a little bit about each day so that I don’t spent my time getting to sleep worrying or overanalyse things. Accepting what is there, saying it’s happened, and moving on. I use Day One and it’s been wonderful so far; I just type away in its pop up tab and then save. I have yet to look back at previous entries.
- Appreciation and gratitude. Counting my blessings and seeing a good thing each day is what I choose to do. Knowing that a bad day is just 24 hrs, and that I can change my tomorrow is empowering.
- Saying thank you. Instead of saying ‘I’m sorry’, I’ve begun saying ‘thank you’ alot more, when I used to say sorry. It’s a simple and nice flip which I am really finding helpful.
- Asking for help. I accept that I can not fix everything and I will need others to help me. Knowing that, seeking another viewpoint or even just relying on someone else, takes down alot of barriers. Sometimes, just the simple act of asking for help is plenty of self care – knowing and understanding you need help, taking that as step one, it can be soothing.
- Consistently seeking that help. Keeping my appointments is a simple one here; especially when it comes to follow up with my therapist. Also; never feeling like a burden for needing that help, that’s important to note here. Knowing where to go for help, outside of business hours is key too; never feeling that what you feel and when you feel it isn’t worth speaking up about. Everything you feel, experience or express is worthy.
- Build your clan. Find those that you can count on when you need them. Surround yourself with people who are like you; your kindred spirits. And if you don’t have any, go find them.
Mind – The mental health charity. They are working on getting mental health problems the respect and support they deserve.
The Blurt Foundation – Increasing awareness and understanding of depression. They have a wonderful blog full of helpful and insightful articles as well as lovely shop!