People don’t often know what they need at any given moment. When was the last time you felt hungry, sat down, and ate what you really wanted to eat, and fully enjoyed the food? When you’re tired at 10 pm, do you go to bed? Or do you do one more thing, like sending off a few more texts or emails?
In the world we live in, it’s become commonplace to overlook our basic needs such as eating, sleeping, and even going to the bathroom (I’m talking to you, nurses and pharmacists). If you don’t even know when you’re tired or hungry, how are you supposed to know when you need to be alone, calm your mind, or do something creative? It’s good there are some simple things you can do to take better care of yourself.
Be a Baby
Have you ever watched a baby as he goes about his day? Babies follow their instincts naturally. Babies eat when they’re hungry and only when they’re hungry. They sleep when they’re tired, even when rain is falling their heads on the sidewalk of a busy street. Babies will reach for a hug when they need comfort. When they’re sad or frustrated, they start to cry.
I’m not suggesting you stop following societal norms, but there is something to be said about being in touch with your natural instincts. You still have those instincts, you’ve just overridden them for a long time. It might even seem like they’re not there anymore. But they are.
One place to begin to get in touch with your instincts is with food and sleep. Try to tune in a few times a day by pausing for a moment and asking yourself if you’re hungry. Just be quiet and see if you can sense the hunger in your body. This is very different from eating when the clock says it’s lunchtime. It’s different than eating because you have a sugar craving. I’m talking about biological hunger: when your body needs food. Let’s say you did this for a week or so and you realize that you truly do get hungry at a certain time of the day, say at 1:00. When you eat your lunch at that time, sit down and really enjoy that food. Don’t scroll through emails or read something. Just enjoy your food.
If the food thing is too much, try a similar thing but with sleep. When you’re tired at night, resist the urge to push past that. Simply go to bed. Don’t clean your house on the way, scroll Facebook, or eat something to stay awake. Just go to bed. The more you listen to your body, the more you’ll know what you need and when you need it and the better you’ll be able to practice good self-care.
Are You Tuned In or Tuned Out?
Have you ever binged on Netflix over the weekend and felt worse on Sunday than you did on Friday? Or maybe you’ve taken a bath, nap, or walk and felt depleted instead of restored. If either of these things has happened to you, then you may be turning to others for advice on what self-care looks like at the expense of your own inner guidance system.
Once you’ve gotten some practice being a baby, you’ll begin to once again hear the messages of your own inner guidance system. This will be a glorious day because you will decide not to take a nap when what you really need is a good long bike ride. And when you really need some time alone in a quiet place, because you’re tired and frazzled, you’ll give that to yourself. If you need a hug, you’ll ask for one. You will know what you need at the moment because you’re tuned in to the signals your body gives you.
If you ignore your inner signals in the short-term, you’ll end up tired and irritable. If you’ve ignored a need for a long time, it’s still not too late to turn things around and take really good care of yourself. I’ll use myself as an example. I’ve just now discovered that I’ve ignored my desire to advance in my career. I’ve been ignoring this need for many years. Each time I thought about getting ahead at work, I would have thoughts like this:
Work is hard, you should instead retire early.
Cutting back on work is good self-care, working more hours isn’t.
Follow your bliss- quit working and do something fun.
You’ll never be able to get ahead anyway, so don’t even try.
I haven’t taken good care of myself in ignoring this desire. My kids are grown, I’ve got wisdom and experience. I want to serve my profession in a bigger way. Doing so is an act of self-care. Ignoring my inner desire to advance is not good self-care. I choose to care about what I want and need. So I will take the steps required to give those things to myself. Let’s take a closer look at what this looks like in real life.
Getting Around the Guilt
Once you’ve thought about what you need, it’s a good idea to set aside a dedicated time to give yourself some much-needed care. For example, let’s say plan to read a book on Saturday afternoon. That’s great. But when the time comes and you sit down to read, guilt sets in. You think to yourself, “I should be doing something more productive,” or “This is a waste of time.” Maybe you think about all the things that other people need from you. Now your reading time is ruined.
Here are some things you can do to get around the guilt so you can fully enjoy self-care:
Remind yourself that if you don’t care of yourself now, you won’t have the energy or will to take care of others later. Treat yourself as you would treat others. If your best friend or spouse were doing something for themselves, you wouldn’t interrupt and berate them for being selfish, right? You would be so happy they were caring for themselves. You would give the other person the time and space they needed. Do the same thing for yourself.
Consider doing a small ritual to signify that you’re taking time for yourself. This could be something as simple as closing the door of the room, changing your clothes, making a cup of tea, or listening to your favorite song. If you do this each time before you do some self-care, you can train your brain to be quiet. You can shut off the inner saboteur.
If you feel guilty about not feeling guilty, remind yourself that after you do that act of self-care, you can always start feeling guilty once again. If you’re someone who has struggled with guilt for a very long time, sometimes the best way around it, is this little trick.
One More Thing…
Listen to our own small inner voice. Ignore the advice that doesn’t fit who you are or where you are in your life. Taking your own advice for self-care will be good medicine that leaves you happier, more energized, and more fulfilled. You’re worth taking care of. Your dreams for yourself matter. You’re valuable. Take care of yourself.