Self-care and why it matters
You might be wondering what self-care has to do with therapy. When I trained as a therapist it wasn't one of the modules about which we learnt, and yet, over the years, it has become an important part of the work I do with clients.
Therapy is not just about the hour spent with our therapist - it's also about the time spent away from the therapy room. It's the time spent in reflection, in processing and putting into action the new ideas and mindset we might be developing. These changes can be nurtured by self-care.
What is self-care?
I wonder what pops into your mind when you hear the words 'self-care'? It might be the image of someone sitting cross-legged, meditating, or perhaps someone doing yoga? Perhaps it's something else entirely?
The interesting thing is that self-care means something unique to each of us. For me, it means time spent on my own, perhaps reading or walking. It can also mean time spent laughing with friends over coffee or lunch. Equally, it can mean an evening watching rubbish tv or spending time learning the kings and queens of Great Britain!
For clients in the past, this has meant anything from baking to mountain biking, from studying to singing, and everything in between. It is those activities which release oxytocin and serotonin, endorphins, and a general feeling of well-being. The most important thing about self-care is that it needs to be done regularly and it needs to be something which we love and look forward to.
Self-care and self-value
Often in our busy lives, it can feel almost impossible to take time for ourselves. We put ourselves at the bottom of the list of 'jobs to do'. However, this can result in a feeling of overwhelm, and we can end up struggling. As they say on airlines 'please put your oxygen mask on before attempting to help other people'. Self-care can be our oxygen - the thing that gives us strength, calm, and the ability to live well.
That's the reason it can be such an important part of life, particularly when we are working alongside a therapist to change a mindset, limiting beliefs, and to come to a new understanding of the life we lead. Spending time looking forward to and then doing something we love sends the message to our minds that we are worth that time - we have value in the world, and we deserve to nurture ourselves. It also helps us to understand that we are safe because we release those 'happy' hormones when we are doing it.
Whether you have taken the plunge and decided to work with a therapist, or maybe are just weighing up your options, self-care can be something to consider. People seek therapy for a myriad of different reasons and, over time, that therapy can begin to change the way we look at the world, at ourselves, and those around us. Every therapy works for someone and, as I have written before, we must find the right therapy and the right therapist for us. Self-care is not a replacement for good therapy, but it helps to create an environment where we can begin to thrive.
If we are living in an environment where we feel threatened, stressed, and take no time to nurture ourselves, how can we begin to relax and heal? How can we feel safe? When our mind believes that we are under threat, we are constantly being flooded with adrenalin and cortisol which can make our hearts beat faster, our breathing quicken, our muscles tense... all the symptoms of fight or flight.
If you were to imagine that your body was a bathtub with the plug put in, each event that felt threatening would be equivalent to an amount of water being added to the tub. With the plug put in, there is nowhere for the water to go, so, before you know it, the bath is brimming and it might only take something small for everything to overflow. The straw that breaks the camel's back.
Self-care is like pulling the plug on the bath so that the water can be drained away and replaced, potentially, with something altogether more comfortable, more comforting. It's going from a bath of scalding water to one of bubbles and aromatherapy.
How can I start?
Starting to bring self-care into your life can be done at your pace, in your way. Perhaps look at a time when life felt good. What were you doing then that you no longer do? Often self-care disappears gradually as life changes. We have children, change jobs, maybe even retire, and, before we know it, we are no longer doing the things which have, in the past, made us feel good.
Sometimes it's a good idea to put the things you plan into your diary or set an alarm on your phone. If you feel that you don't have time then start small and plan 10 or 15 minutes of something you love each day. Everyone has 10 minutes in their day at some point. It's important to prioritise and create boundaries. If you can go to bed 10 minutes earlier so that you can read or take time in your lunch break to go for a walk around the block, then do. The more you find time for you, the more you will see the opportunities around you.
Introducing self-care into your routine
So, what can you do? Often clients look at me blankly when we begin to talk about self-care. We are aiming at creating a more balanced life, so have a look at these areas and reflect on which you could add to, to introduce self-care into your life.
- connecting with people
- being in nature
- being creative
The important part of any of the areas above is that you do something that you love and look forward to. Exercising, for example, can mean anything from a gentle walk to snowboarding, from tai chi to tennis. It's up to you.
Once you find the things you love, add them to your life and begin to see the difference they can make to how you feel about your day. Imagine having something to look forward to every day. Combined with therapy or done as just part of your daily routine, self-care can be life-changing; life-affirming. It can help to give you purpose and self-worth. It can be the oxygen in our lungs and an oasis of calm in our day.
You just need to start.
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