By Stefanie Pusateri | January 2020
Self care has become a popular concept over the past few years as evidenced by the countless articles, posts and tidbits that come up when you put the term in your search bar. I struggled with this concept at first. Isn’t self care something that should be instinctive to all of us? After all, every day we need to feed, clothe and water ourselves in order to stay alive and kicking. That counts, right? Self care also felt kind of self indulgent at first; like it was a term intended to give people a way to justify frivolous pampering. As the term circulated more in media streams and popping up in the various trade journals I subscribe to, I started paying closer attention to my own self care practices and realized that there is much depth to this concept and the plethora of available content is justified.
One key thing I had to wrap my brain around before I could dig deeper into self care, I had to learn more about another term: self awareness. Everyone has different needs and different ways of caring for themselves and in order to figure out what those are, a person has to dig into the way their brain runs in order to figure themselves out. I think that’s why so many of the articles about self care seem to be generalized lists including things like getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods and getting quality social time and down time. All of those things are extremely important and key aspects of self care, but sometimes a person needs more than that to soothe the savage beast. That has been my experience, anyway.
I struggle with this whole business; both the self awareness and the self care. I spend a lot of time in my own head. My self talk is a constant analysis of what I think, say and do. I have examined the motivations for my words and actions for so long the tendency has become white noise in the background of my brain. One would think this hyper awareness would make me the queen bean of self care but the opposite is true. The concept is uncomfortable for me because another important component of self care is making yourself a priority. That is a completely foreign concept to me because my entire life I have always made others the priority. My world revolves around caring for the people in my life and between successfully co-parenting my kids, being a caregiver for my dad and occasionally taking a night to reconnect with my significant other it feels like I have only seconds to dedicate to the me part of things.
I have had to make myself a priority, though. All that analytic white noise in the back of my head that constantly assesses and often judges how I move through life is exhausting and I am fully aware that my current approach is not sustainable. I see many of my clients buckling under the same pressures and struggles and part of my role, as I see it, is to share the knowledge I have gained in order to help others live a healthier happier life.
One of the easiest ways to start on the road to self awareness is to pay attention to your moods. Moods serve as our emotional thermometer. They tell us when our actions and our thoughts are in sync. When we’re pushing ourselves too hard or doing something that goes against what the little voice in our heads is telling us we want to do, our mood tanks and we start snipping and snapping at the nearest target. That’s my approach, as my family will most definitely tell you. When I start transforming from Snow White to the evil queen I know it’s time to stop and take stock of what’s going on in my gray matter.
In full disclosure, this was a pip of a thing for me to learn. I am not a heart on my sleeve kind of person. Emotions are something I prefer to shove way down deep inside and ignore, with the exception of anger. I can Hulk out with the best of them, although admittedly I have learned to manage that quite well. When I was new to this whole self awareness thing I would have to use a worksheet when my frustrations would get to the point that they would interrupt my day. I used this Thinking Worksheet so much that now I naturally move through the process and it has significantly improved my ability to manage my thoughts and reactions.
In the first column of this sheet you write down the cruddy, negative thought you’re having. You don’t filter or judge, you fully release the demons. In the second column you write down a neutral thought, something that objectively summarizes the situation. In the final column you write down a positive thought related to the situation. By following these steps, your brain has to think differently about what happened and most times this helps change the whole feel of what happened. Here’s a quick example I’ll pull from my own playbook:
- Negative thought: My son hates me because he scowls at me or completely ignores me every time I try to offer him something to help with his raging, ridiculous cold.
- Rational thought: The poor kid is miserable. His nose looks like raw hamburger and he’s going through a box of Kleenex every hour or two.
- Positive thought: When he snuggled up to you for 15 minutes, that was his way of saying how grateful he is to have a mom like you who would do nearly anything to help him feel better.
The three steps between the first thought aren’t always this obvious. Seeing things from a different perspective can be a powerful salve for the all or nothing perspective so many of us seem to share. Training our brains that there about a billion shades between black and white can do amazing things for easing our broken souls.
I’m not a licensed mental health professional, I’m just sharing with you a key tool that has been an immense help in guiding me gently onto the path of figuring out just what this whole self care business means to me. After more years than I care to admit, I’m making the huge, scary, uncomfortable commitment of making myself a priority and investing some time in self awareness practices so that I can figure out whether or not soaking in a nice epsom salt bath really is the key to mend all my woes (spoiler alert: sometimes it certainly comes close!). I invite you to do the same and intend to share more suggestions and insights in future articles. By all means, feel free to share your go to moves with me. This is not a clear path for any of us, but we’ll get there faster if we work together.
Tchiki Davis, Ph.D, “What is Self-Awareness and How Do You Get It?” Psychology Today http://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/click-here-happiness/201903/what-is-self-awareness-and-how-do-you-get-it . Posted March 11, 2019. Accessed January 22, 2020.
Mindtools.com “Thought Awareness, Rational Thinking and Positive Thinking Worksheet*” http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/worksheetsindex.htm
*This worksheet can be downloaded by selecting the Rational, Positive Thinking option in the Stress Management section of the cited URL.