Deepak Chopra recently wrote an excellent article in the Huffington Post about self-care. The following article is information I would like to add to what he offered.
Partnerships in Loving Self-Care
One of the best ways to develop loving self-care is to have a life partner and/or close friends with whom you are in a mutually caring relationship. A one-sided caring relationship, in which someone else cares for you with no corresponding effort on your part, doesn’t work here, as it can reinforce feelings of powerlessness. If you don’t have such a close relationship, you can gain some of the same benefits by joining a small group: a psychotherapy group, a support group, or any other regular gathering where the members are able to be authentic and caring. The shared experience will serve to make it easier for you to practice loving self-care.
In past posts, I’ve pointed out how self-care can be a mindfulness practice, and I have given some examples below, of how I incorporate this practice into daily living. When you apply yourself to the practice in your own life, you will discover many more ways in which you can empower yourself to feel better and find new meaning in the necessary tasks you engage in to support your health.
Suggestions for Practicing Loving Self-Care
- Eliminate the words should and have to from your vocabulary. Anytime you find yourself dreading going somewhere or doing a certain activity in support of your self-care, ask yourself how you would feel if you cancelled the appointment; would you have regrets? If the activity is something you value, replace should with choose to.
- Also practice saying “No.” If an activity you dread isn’t conducive to health, recognize that you were choosing that activity and can now reject that choice. For example, you may feel depressed about an upcoming visit with someone who always seems to leave you feeling worse: perhaps you only do it out of a sense of guilt or obligation. Recognize that this mental state is not consistent with loving self-care, and make a different choice.
- Focus all your attention on the activity at hand. This is a challenge with routine activities that you can literally do with your eyes closed, such as showering. Be fully with the water, the soap, the whole process.
- As you go through the day, and especially whenever you experience an unpleasant sensation or emotion, ask yourself what you would like or what you need in that moment.
- Whenever you are in doubt about how to proceed—even concerning really small decisions such as what to eat—approach the choice as a loving self-care practice; simply choose what is best for you in the same way a good parent would choose what is healthiest for a young child.
- Whenever you become aware of thoughts urging you to do something unhealthy, perhaps skipping exercise or eating unhealthy food or too much food, remind yourself that thoughts are nothing but insubstantial mental constructs: you do not need to obey them.
- Whenever you notice any unpleasant emotions, ask yourself if your thoughts are aligned with your personal life values. If the answer is no, then appreciate that you can let those thoughts just float on by as if they were clouds in the sky.
- Do more activities that leave you feeling better afterward, and do fewer activities that leave you feeling worse.
- Practice self-compassion. Imagine how you have felt when you have extended compassion to someone else and give that gift to yourself. When you notice self-critical thoughts, soothe yourself just as you would a dear friend.
- Practice good posture. You will feel better about yourself when you stand tall in good postural alignment. This is one of the most loving ways you can treat yourself.
- Practice conscious breathing; there are many methods. Most of the time, your breathing will be unconscious and that is perfectly okay. But slowing your breathing from time to time throughout the day and making sure you’re breathing diaphragmatically can improve your state of mind and physiological functioning. The calming effect is instantaneous. You will soon realize that this practice gives you a sense of control, allowing you to cultivate mastery.
- Remember that every little thing you do to care for yourself in a loving way matters—sometimes enough to create a noticeable improvement in your health and well-being.