Secrets of Self-Care
by Diane Linsley

Self-care is just one aspect of self-compassion, but it's a big one.
Once we master it, everything else becomes easier.

Taking care of our physical needs should be simple, right? As adults,
we know what our bodies need to be healthy. So why do we often
struggle with self-care?

I've noticed that when I'm feeling negative emotions, I tend to punish myself by ignoring my body. I go too long without eating, or I fail to exercise and care for my body in other ways. So the first thing I do for self-care is deal with the emotional blocks using the Emotional Healing Process.

Self-Care Writing Exercise

Here's an exercise to help you discover how to overcome bad habits and create new habits of self-care. Grab a pen and paper, and write down the answers to these questions:

In what ways did my parents meet my physical and emotional needs when I was a child?

How did my parents fail to meet my needs?

If I were my own parent, how would I care for myself?

How do I want to look and feel? Be specific. Make a picture in your mind of the healthy body that you have the capacity to achieve. See yourself in your favorite outfit with a smile on your face. Make the picture large, detailed, full-color, front and center in your mind's eye.

Now, what specific steps can you take to achieve this future vision of yourself? List at least 5 things, then number them in order of priority.

Choose one thing to work on for the next week. Write a goal statement. Here's an example: "For the next week, I commit to exercising for 15 minutes each day."

Overcoming Blocks to Self-Care

Look at the writing exercise again. As you slowly read through your answers, pay close attention to the feelings in your body. Do you feel any tension? This is resistance. Focus on the feelings in your body and name the emotions that come up.

When I look at my list, I feel tension in my shoulders and stomach. I identify the feeling as fear. When I ask what the fear is about, I realize that I'm afraid of taking care of myself because "it's against the rules." Where did that come from?

As a child, I was taught to ignore my body and overwork when I needed more rest and play time. I had what Claude Steiner, author of Scripts People Live, calls a joyless script. This is a disconnection from the body and an inability to feel joy.

Because of these inhibitions, I attracted people who treated me poorly. Those relationships were like trying to survive on crumbs, which felt normal to me. Even after changing my relationships, it took a while to learn how to care for myself.

When you think of caring for yourself, do you hear any voices in your head, such as the Inner Critic telling you that you don't deserve it? Or does the voice of the Pusher tell you that you don't have time because you have too much work to do? Maybe you hear the voices of friends who also struggle with self-care, and you feel guilty if you have more fun than they do.

What voices are running your life? Invite these voices to speak, and listen to what they say. Thank them for their input. Then tell them firmly but politely that you are now in charge of your own life, and you are committed to doing what's best for you. Assertiveness begins with the voices in your own head.

Self-Care Ideas

Here are some questions to stimulate new ideas for self-care:

What are your favorite healthy foods? How would you feel if you ate more of them, gradually replacing the less healthy foods in your diet? Remember the picture of yourself looking healthy and happy. This picture is your motivator. Visualize it every time you need to make a choice for self-care.

Here's a fascinating video that explains the link between nutrition and mental health.

What are your favorite forms of exercise? Do you prefer exercising indoors or outdoors? Do you value having fun while exercising, or are you more motivated by the physical results of exercise?

If you are looking for a quick routine, check out Metabolic Aftershock. This is the exercise program I do when I'm short on time. I do it with my favorite music to make it more fun. It only takes 15 minutes, and I love the quick results. Walking past the mirror and seeing a firm butt makes me very happy!

What are your favorite hobbies? Is there a new hobby you would like to try? How do your hobbies stimulate your personal growth?

What are your favorite forms of entertainment? Do you truly enjoy your entertainment, or do you use it to zone out and ignore your deeper needs? How does entertainment meet your needs?

Are there things you should do less of in order to take better care of yourself? I'd like to propose that most of us could spend less time in front of screens (computers, cell phones and TV). See this article on how electronic screens cause brain damage.

Are you getting enough sleep? What are your attitudes about sleep? Do you listen to your body and sleep when you are tired? Or is your sleep schedule imposed by your mind - or worse yet, by other people's demands on your time?

You may have heard the Zen story about the student who asks the master, "How do you practice Zen?" The master replies, "When hungry, eat. When tired, sleep."

Self-Care Benefits

The more love I give myself, the less I desire money, fame and possessions. I've learned to give my body what it really needs, instead of trying to suppress symptoms. The urge to eat junk food disappears when I realize that what I really need is self-love.

I ask myself, "How do you want to be touched?" Then I stroke myself while saying kind words like, "I love you. You're a good person. You're going to be fine. You can do this."

I practice compassionate self-talk. I also sing to myself. I enjoy making up spontaneous, cheerful songs that make me laugh or fill me with courage.

By loving myself, I'm training myself to expect better treatment from others. How you treat yourself is practice for relationships. You are strengthening the neural pathways for love.

Here's a guided meditation for self-compassion.

Be well,
Diane Linsley

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