The key to practicing self-care
Individual Therapy Bethesda, MD
Most of us are familiar with the concept of self-care. A simple internet search yields hundreds of articles detailing the benefits of practicing self-care and ideas of how to incorporate self-care into your daily routine. The problem is that while most of us can agree that self-care is important, this insight doesn’t necessarily translate into actually practicing self-care.
One major reason why incorporating self-care into our daily routine is hard is because we don’t always experience pleasure when we practice self-care. I believe the reason we don’t always feel good when we practice self-care is because the activity we choose doesn’t always correspond to the care we need in the moment. If we need a moment of quiet, and we believe self-care is going to the gym, we might leave feeling worse than when we started. If we’re feeling lonely, and we decide to stay in on a Friday night, we might feel bad about ourselves. In both examples, we are practicing self-care, but we are not identifying a self-care practice that corresponds to what our body actually needs in the moment.
In my opinion, the key to practicing self-care is knowing what your body needs in any given moment. In order to do this, we have to shift our focus from what’s happening outside our body to what’s happening inside our body. This is easier said than done. Many of us are very attuned to the needs of our children, friends, spouse, family, and co-workers. We can sense changes in body language, tone, or mood, and know how to respond accordingly. We are rewarded for this skill: people experience us as thoughtful, kind, attentive – as good friends and people. But, do we know ourselves in the same way? Do we know when we’re irritated, or can we only be certain when we’re screaming at our spouse at the top of our lungs? Do we know the moment hunger enters our body, or do we only realize we are hungry when we are ravenous?
How much easier would it be to practice self-care (e.g., exercising, having a cup of tea, chatting with a friend, etc.) if we knew what we needed in any given moment? If we could have our self-care practice correspond with our need? If practicing self-care actually invigorated us, instead of depleting us of our much needed energy? One way to know what your body needs in any given moment is to get to know your body a little better. Here is a simple way to get re-acquainted with yourself: do a scan of your body from the tips of your toes to the top of your head: what do you notice? Where is there tightness? Where is there softness? What is happening with your breath? Is it ragged or slow? Is there a color or image that comes to mind? Try this tip and let us know how it goes!