As the year rolls to a close and the holiday cheer begins to wane, thoughts and reflections of the past year and hopes and curiosity about the upcoming year are swirling about.
At the start of the new year, instead of new gym memberships and the same old resolutions, consider resolving to add more authentic “self-care” into your life. The concept of self-care has been around for some time. Yet, there seems to be a lot of vagueness around what it actually means, with definitions varying from treating yourself to wine and ice cream to going on a quest to find yourself on the Pacific Crest Trail.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself to begin to understand the true meaning of self-care:
Who am I?
As people, we are physical beings. We need food and water and sleep to survive and we live and die in our physical bodies.
We are also social beings, born into families, communities, societies. And the truth is, we need relationships (Anderson, 1995).
We are spiritual beings. Spirituality means an understanding that there is a greater reality beyond what we experience through our physical senses. Though we may have differing faiths and views, intrinsically, we sense that life has meaning and that we have meaning, beyond our physical presence. Acknowledging our spirituality also means acknowledging that we are valuable and worthy.
In summary, we are people with real value and real limitations. We may be capable of accomplishing a great many things, yet each of us has unique limits to our capacities. We take care of ourselves because of our intrinsic worth and if we don’t, we will suffer spiritually, physically and socially.
Where do I begin?
The first step in getting what we need, is, of course, knowing what we need.
Learning about our needs involves cultivating a deeper connection to our bodies, relationships and something greater than ourselves. Self-care is not simply indulging our wants, but knowing ourselves – both our strengths and limitations – well enough to seek out and to receive what is most healthful for all aspects of ourselves.
If you are unsure of what you need, taking a self-care assessment may be a good place to start. Cultivating a practice of taking stock of your daily experiences is another great way to get to know yourself. For example, at the end of each day, ask yourself: “When did I feel most drained? When did I feel most energized? Or perhaps, “What am I fearing, or hoping for in the day to come?” These questions have their roots from a practice called “the Examen” by St. Ignatius of Loyola.
How do I put this into practice?
Interestingly, beginning with the concept of “compassion” can be very helpful as we put these thoughts into practice. Compassion involves first, noticing another’s suffering or needs and second, being affected enough to respond with care. Similarly, Dr. Kristin Neff tells us that self-compassion means seeing our own needs and responding accordingly. So, knowing ourselves and what we need is a good start, but to really care for ourselves, we must deliberately act to meet those needs. According to Dr. Neff, compassionate and self-compassionate people:
- Respond to failure, inadequacy and suffering with kindness rather than harsh judgement.
- Recognize that hardships are part of the human experience, and we are not alone in them.
- Neither deny negative feelings, nor blow them out of proportion; but maintain an honest and balanced perspective.
Because we are unique, self-care will look different for different people; however, growing in self-compassion is a necessary ingredient. Self-care for one person may be responding with kind words to him or herself after a major disappointment. For another, self-care may involve scheduling time to rest and play amid a busy schedule. And for yet another person, self-care might mean joining an exercise class to be more physically active and meet new people.
As you walk into the new year, remember these resolutions for good self-care:
- Know yourself
- Notice your needs
We, at Fuller Life, wish you a healthy and compassion-filled New Year!
Neff, Kristin. http://self-compassion.org/#
Anderson, Ray. (1995). Self Care: A Theology of Personal Empowerment and Spiritual Healing.
Supervised by Amy Fuller, PhD, LMFT-S