Training Your Mind: Self-Care

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“Self-care”, the most common automatic reaction to this phrase is “another buzzword” or selfishness. What does self-care mean to you? For most, self-care is “taking care” of ourselves and our loved ones and following healthy habits.

True, most of us have been “taking care” of ourselves and our loved ones for years. Most of us also have generally healthy habits and various coping mechanisms for handling stress. But, with all the healthy habits and coping mechanisms we still feel the burnout, stress and anxiety. 

Stress and Anxiety

A lot of us leave the workforce or opt for a less demanding career choice because of the stress and burnout. A Deloitte survey found 77% of professionals feel employee burnout and 83% feel their workplace burnout affects their personal relationships. A 2017 Pew Research survey found that 20% or 1 in 5 US teen girls reported they had a major depression episode in the last 12 months. Covid-19 Pandemic exacerbated the situation. With children home due to online schooling many women left the workforce according to an NPR report.

These statistics are alarming and suggest that the self-care mechanisms we generally use may be useful for short term but are not effective in building long term resilience. Building resilience is one of the major objectives of training our mind. Resilience helps us face adversity with calm and confidence in ourselves. It helps us recover faster and come out stronger on the other side.

Self-care is one of the most important tools in building resilience. This means, we need to dig a little deeper into what self-care really means to us individually and how it can help. 

What is Self-Care?

Let’s start with the definition of self-care from the two authorities in the healthcare field.

World Health Organization (WHO) defines self-care as “the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider”.

American Psychological Association (APA) defines self-care as providing adequate attention to one’s own physical and psychological wellness.

So, self-care is not just taking care of our physical wellbeing but also our mental and emotional wellbeing. Self-care is not selfishness. It is simply giving ourselves much needed grace and time. Being patient.

Most of us have a lot going on in our daily lives. We have our career goals to reach, work deadlines to meet, teams to manage and motivate, parents to take care of, kids and their activities and their future plans to take care of. The list is endless for all of us. 

In all the things that we have to do, we usually find some time to fit in a quick exercise routine or at the least have healthy eating habits. Most of us take pride in instilling healthy habits in ourselves and our families. It is a great start and sets us on a path for long term good physical health. 

The burnout related to stress and anxiety happens when we don’t take the time to nurture and train our mind for long term resiliency.

So What Can We Do?

There are several things that we can do to train our minds to become resilient. Like, cultivating patience, not expecting perfection in everything, being non-judgmental and so on. Having a well thought out daily self-care routine is another great tool in building resilience. 

We are all unique human beings so the self-care routine for each of us may look different. For some it may mean talking often to friends and families while for others it may mean finding a bit of uninterrupted quiet time for themselves. 

The most important point to remember about self-care routine is, it should help you disconnect from day to day even for a few minutes. The routine could be 5 minutes or an hour. Go for quality instead of quantity. 

Self-Care Examples

Following are some examples of self-care actions to start us thinking:

  • Eating breakfast without phone to start your day slow and with calm
  • Having a dinner table conversation with family without phone
  • Giving yourself time to work on your passion or hobby 
  • Going outdoors for a walk
  • Mindful exercises
  • Listening to music
  • Reading a book
  • Talking to a friend
  • Quiet Reflection 
  • Giving yourself time to just “Be” and do nothing
  • Starting or ending your day with meditation

We all have unique needs so there is no one size fits all in developing a self-care routine. What relaxes me could be stressful to someone else. 

You may feel that you don’t have time. I feel the same way. 

You are probably much more relaxed eating breakfast on the weekend because you have time to sit and enjoy it; it makes you feel rested and calmer. To simulate the same feelings daily, start your day 15 min early. You may not have time to cook hot breakfast but you can sit down and eat your oatmeal without looking at your phone and enjoy those 15 minutes. 

Find what works for you that is simple and can be done on a daily basis without too much effort.

Be Patient and Flexible

While you are figuring out your self-care routine, expect it to change. As your mind becomes more resilient or any change in your personal circumstances may need a change in self-care routine. Be flexible and listen to your body and mind. 

During the pandemic my self-care routine changed dramatically. Before the pandemic started, walking for me was for the weekends when my husband and I had more time. We used to walk 3 to 4 miles on the weekends, discussing important matters.

Once the pandemic started, gyms closed and everything “normal” suddenly disappeared. Because of all the unknowns, I was scared for myself, my family, my parents, my friends and the entire world. We decided that we will go for a walk daily in the early mornings so there will be very few people out and we can easily social distance. This walk followed by meditation became an essential part of our days.

As months progressed and circumstances changed, we needed something more to keep us calm and focused. I added Tai-Chi to my daily routine while my husband added running to his. This helped us get through the toughest months.

Reflection on Why Self-Care Works?

As I reflect on the changes we made in our daily self-care routine, I can see why it worked for us personally.

  • It gave us some control back. When all of our movements were restricted due to lockdown and fear, we were able to get outdoors and social distance at the same time. This made us feel more in control of our life.
  • It gave us a choice. A choice to be active and stay generally healthy. We were able to get 3-4 miles of walk daily, get fresh air and feel less guilty about eating comfort food.
  • It helped us disconnect. It gave us uninterrupted time to talk about everything important. Daily struggles with work, fear for kids and parents safety, financial concerns, sometimes feeling of helplessness, seeing how isolation is affecting elders in the family. Being able to say these things out loud helped release the negative energy behind those feelings and helped us feel more rooted.
  • It helped us slow down. Meditation helped us slow down and start our day with more calm. It continued to help us listen to ourselves and bring more self-awareness. 
  • Tai-chi helped me slow down even more on days when my mind needed more active slowing down. Running helped my husband release more of the restless energy.

Even though usually meditation and quiet reflection has been enough for us in general, it was not enough for us during pandemic. We needed to improvise and customize even further for the circumstances.

To customize and find the self-care routine that works for you, try a few different things and see what makes you feel better consistently or helps level the emotional turbulence consistently. You can either keep a mental note or write it down. This will help you see trends and identify what works most of the time. 

Be patient with yourself. 

You may find depending on your mood or circumstance the things that work may be different. Remember to be flexible and adjust continuously. As this training of your mind continues, you will see the difference in the resilience of your mind. Circumstances will affect you but you will notice that you bounce back faster and with less conscious effort.

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