Reflections of a Mud Woman: What is Self-Care?

Self-care | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

Self-care | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

“So, does this count as self-care?”

I posed this question to two friends this weekend; we were completely covered in mud, we were about halfway through a 9 km, 13 obstacle challenge and it was about a bazillion degrees out (it seemed like a good idea when I signed up for it back in January.)

Apparently it did count. My (clearly more chipper and positive) friend outlined the reasons it totally counted; we were doing something that was physically healthy, we were spending time together and doing something that was solely for us. 

Once I completed the course, got the mud out of places that mud should never be, I reflected more about this experience and how I couldn’t help but agree that it totally did count as self-care

Sometimes it can be tricky to determine what self-care actually is. Sure we hear about it all the time. We know (in theory) that it’s important.  We know that we should be doing it and we also know that we aren’t doing enough of it.


So what exactly is self-care?

•    Self-care can be *anything* that has a positive impact on you, both in the short-term and long-term (we’ll get back to things that seem like self-care but actually aren’t). I call it finding your moments of bliss; those moments when you can connect to and say “ahh, this feels pretty good right now.”

•    Self-care is not things that feel good in the moment, but that come with an emotional hangover. You may have experienced this when that second piece of cake totally felt like self-care in the moment (“it was so tasty!”) but within a few minutes you are beating yourself up for having too much sugar, your stomach hurts and now you feel even worse. That’s not to say that good food can’t be a part of self-care (in my world, brie is totally self-care), but also be aware of any negative impacts it may have on you afterwards.

•    Self-care can be activities that we do for our physical body; going on walks, taking an exercise class, working out at the gym. Exercise can be a huge mood booster, but it needs to be something that you actually enjoy. Dragging yourself to the gym 5 times a week and absolutely hating every minute may be “healthy” but probably isn’t refueling you. Pick something that you enjoy.

•    Self-care can be activities that involve other people; going out for coffee with friends, hanging out with your partner, having a tickle fight with your kids. However, notice when being around other people is actually draining. Most of us need alone time. Honour your needs or spending time with others will feel less like self-care, and more like an obligation.

•    Self-care can be activities that engage our minds; reading, writing, art projects. Again though (are you noticing a trend here?), it actually needs to be something that you enjoy. Just because colouring is all the rage, that doesn't mean it's the right fit for you. Find something that works for you. If you need to read the equivalent of candy floss for the brain, go for it!

Regardless of your definition of self-care, the most important part is that you're doing it on a regular and consistent basis! 


How Full is Your Coping Tank? Verge of a Nervous Breakdown or Ready for the Long Haul?

Self-care | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

Self-care | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

You know those days where everything feels overwhelming? You can’t find anything to wear and you want to cry. You go to make breakfast, there’s no bread and it feels like the end of the world. You spill coffee on the one shirt that isn’t wrinkled, and you’re heading into nervous breakdown territory.

And then there are the days where you are feeling amazing! Traffic snarl? No worries, you’ll just turn up the music and enjoy the alone time. Big stressor at work? You got this and save the day! Friend comes to you with all of her stressors. You are as solid as a rock.

What gives? How is it that you can manage stressors so well in some moments, and other times you feel that you can barely keep it together?

The Coping Tank

How you respond to stressors is largely influenced by the level of reserves in your coping tank. You tap into your reserves when there is a need for stress management. You also need to refuel your tank. You do not have an infinite reserve of coping fuel.  You have to make conscious choices that will help you refuel.

What happens when your coping tank is running low? You start having a really hard time when stressors happen. You may feel exhausted all the time. You may feel tearful or on edge. It feels like there is nothing left for you at the end of the day.

What happens when you are running on fumes? You find it hard to meet other people’s needs.  Everything feels like it is a huge effort. Your mood is volatile.  You may start experiencing physical symptoms like hair loss, headaches, skin conditions flare up.  You may start struggling with feelings of depression or anxiety. Things feel so hard.  

Eventually you may even run out of fumes and all you’re left with is an old, rusted out tank. This is bad.

How to refuel your coping tank?

Self-care, self-care, self-care (and some more self-care for good measure). Easy, right?

Not so much.  There are many obstacles to self-care. However, it is critical. It is no longer optional. So, here are a few ways to refill that tank so you don’t end up sputtering at the side of the road one day.

·         Sleep. This one of the most basic, yet most overlooked, building blocks to self-care. If sleep sucks, everything sucks.  Chronic difficulties with sleep drain you physically and emotionally. When you are tired, everything feels so much worse. Go to bed at the same time every day. Get up at the same time every day. Develop a bedtime routine to wind down (they’re not just for toddlers!).

·         Eat properly. You can decide what eating properly means to you, but make sure you are regularly fuelled with good nutrition. I know that I easily fall victim to feeling “hangry”, and I can’t even cope with a hangnail if I’m not properly fed. Your physical body needs to be nourished so that you can functional optimally.

·         Be careful if you’re using food or alcohol as a coping mechanism. Sometimes a nice meal, a sweet treat or the occasional glass of wine can be a part of your self-care regimen. However, if you feel  guilt or shame afterwards, it can drain the tank rather than add to it

·         Self-care doesn’t have to be complicated. Go outside for a few minutes. Belt out a favorite song. Find something that feels good to you.

·         Notice when your tank is getting low. Are you more irritable? Do you feel exhausted? Do minor stressors feel incredibly overwhelming? Know your signs early on and fill up that tank!

In my London, Ontario counselling practice I regularly work with women who are running on fumes. I talk to friends and they are running on fumes. I talk to other professionals in all sorts of industries and they are seeing clients who are running on fumes.  This is a common and serious problem! We need to start addressing our general lack of self-care and start letting go of the guilt that is often associated with taking time for ourselves. Please share this post and let’s start filling up our tanks!

6 Reasons Why We Suck at Self-Care and How to Break Through the Obstacles

Self-care | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

Self-care | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

Self-care gets a lot of attention.  We know it’s important. We know that making time for ourselves should be a regular part of our routine.  We know that the wheels start coming off when we don’t do it.  And yet, it can be such a struggle!  As a psychologist, I know the importance of self-care.  I talk to everyone that I work with about the importance of self-care. I even have a board on Pinterest that is dedicated to self-care.  But here’s the truth – even I struggle with making it a priority.  Why do we have such a hard time with incorporating enjoyable, rejuvenating and fun activities into our lives? 

Here are 6 reasons why we suck at self-care and how we can start making it a priority:

Reason 1:  It’s not even on our radar.  In theory we know that self-care is a good thing, but we don’t actually put it on our own priority list.  It doesn't actually occur to us that this is something we need.

Solution:  Put it on your to-list, on the family calendar, in your phone schedule.  We are more likely to do something if we write it down.  Bold it, underline it, highlight it.  Make self-care stare you in the face!

Reason 2:  We feel guilty about taking time away from our family or work .  It feels indulgent to do something that is just for us.

Solution:  Guilt is a tricky one.  It is the response to feeling that we are doing something wrong.  Is taking care of yourself wrong?  Of course not!  In fact, you need to be well taken care of in order to take care of everyone else (i.e. put on your own oxygen mask before helping others put on theirs).  We may have very real restrictions on our time, but sometimes it’s not about finding time, it’s about making the time. 

Reason 3:  We have unrealistic ideas about what self-care should be.  A lot of advice about self-care include similar suggestions; yoga, meditation, going on a long hike.  These are great suggestions, but not necessarily for everyone.  I remember when I tried to take up meditation; it was a disaster.  I was warned that the monkeys in my brain would be active and I just needed to observe non-judgementally.  However, no one warned me that my monkeys would throw poop!  It was not a good fit for me.

Solution:  Self-care does not have to be fancy, complicated or take a lot of time.  It just needs to feel good!  Have a dance party in your kitchen.   Grab a colouring book and some pencil crayons.  Read some really fluffy chick lit.  Self-care does not have to be a spiritual journey! 

Reason 4:  We have unrealistic expectations about what self-care will do for us.

Solution:  Self-care is not a quick fix for all that ails you.  We need to maintain a regular self-care routine especially if we are feeling really stressed.  It is unrealistic to expect that a few minutes of an enjoyable activity is going to make a huge difference; however, over time, it may.  

Reason 5:  We wait for motivation to strike.  Once the motivation appears, we'll totally do it!

Solution: Um, no.  If we sit around waiting for motivation to magically appear and grace us with its presence, we could be waiting for a very, very long time.  Sometimes we just have to force ourselves to do something.  As the brilliant ad executives at Nike told us, "Just Do It."

Reason 6:  We mistake zoning out for self-care.

Solution: I love binge watching a show on Netflix as well, so definitely no judgement!  However, plopping in front of the TV for hours on end isn't necessarily self-care.  We get to escape and not do anything for awhile, but is it really recharging?  We need to balance our screen time (computers and tablets included) with activities that we actually have to engage with.

It can be really challenging to incorporate self-care into our lives, but it is so, so important.  Start small, with just a few minutes at a time, and see what happens for you.  It may take a few tries to find something that is a good fit for you.  It will be worth it though!  

4 Ways to Boost Your Sense of Gratitude and Your Mood

When was the last time that you felt truly grateful for something? Feeling gratitude is fostering an appreciation for the things, people or experiences that you have in your life.  Fostering gratitude can create an immediate impact on our happiness levels.  Studies have shown that participants who write about things that they are grateful for endorse higher levels of happiness than those who write about neutral or negative things.   Feeling gratitude can also have long term effects on our emotional well being.   If we make gratitude a regular part of our routine, we are more likely to tolerate distress better when negative events occur in our lives.  Fostering a sense of gratitude can also increase our overall mood.

How do you foster a sense of gratitude?  As with most things in life, there is no one-size fits-all approach.  Here are some ways to foster gratitude that may work for you.

  1. Feel gratitude in the present moment.  If you are having an enjoyable moment, take a minute to truly experience gratitude for that experience.  You may want to include your senses in this experience i.e. I feel grateful for being at the beach, feeling the warmth of the sand between my fingers, hearing the waves crash against the shore, smelling the scent of sunscreen, seeing the bright sun and tasting the salt of the ocean.  By incorporating all of our senses, we can connect with our own experience and intensify the feeling of gratitude
  1. Start a gratitude journal.  Some people find the process of writing very grounding and foster a sense of reflection.  Writing in a journal also provides us the opportunity to take a few minutes for ourselves where we are not tending to other people.
  1. Reflect at the end of day about what you are feeling grateful for.  This can become a part of your bedtime routine and is a great way to wind down and focus on the positives in your life rather than focusing on the stressors (which can interfere with falling asleep).  You can even start this routine with your children as part of their bedtime routine.  Children tend to enjoy reflecting on their day and describing their favorite and most enjoyable parts.  It can also be a great way to minimize bedtime crankiness!
  1. Tell someone that you are grateful for them and the things that they do.  Often we focus on what is lacking in our relationships so this can provide us with a new perspective.  Showing gratitude in a relationship can also increase our feelings of connection.

Try these gratitude boosts and see how you feel!

Balancing Self-Care and Care Giving

Care giving can come in many forms. You might be caring for children, for elderly parents, an ill spouse, siblings who turn to you at a time of need. Your profession may involve care giving. Care giving can be physical acts (feeding, clothing, wiping snotty noses!) or providing emotional support. Regardless of whom you are caring for and what that care looks like, it can be exhausting! While there is no doubt that taking care of others can feel good (and is often necessary), it can be tricky to balance the care of others and your own self care. Self care is critical to your own emotional well being. There is basic self care such as eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep and engaging in physical activity. Even these basics can be neglected when caring for other people. Sleepless parents can definitely relate to the experience of having their own sleep affected by care giving to a child in the middle of the night. In addition to basic self care, we greatly benefit from participating in activities that we find enjoyable. Having a hobby is linked to greater creativity, increased problem solving skills and overall emotional well being. Self care can also include seeing friends and engaging with our support system. Feeling a sense of connection is associated with better mental health, decreased levels of depression and anxiety and can help us cope better with stressors.

Often caregivers feel that their own self care is very low on the priority list. There may even be guilt associated with engaging in self care. This lack of self care however, can have detrimental effects. If we do not engage in our own self care, we can start to suffer both emotionally and physically. Our ability to cope begins to decrease and we start to feel overwhelmed. When we feel overwhelmed, we are unable to provide optimal care giving. We may start to feel frustrated with those that we are caring for. Requests for our help can feel enormously stressful. We may eventually feel so burnt out, that we are no longer able to provide care giving.

In order to avoid these feelings of being frustrated, overwhelmed and burnt out, we need to make self care a priority. It is not a luxury, but a necessity in order for us to be able to take care of those that we love and value. By taking care of ourselves, we are taking care of others as well. Take the time today to do something that is just for you, something that you enjoy and value. Banish feelings of guilt, as you are not doing anything wrong by taking care of yourself. Just enjoy, recharge and reap the benefits of self care.

Do you feel connected?

If you think back over the last 24 hours, how much of that time was spent feeling truly connected to another human being?  Many of us are severely lacking in true connection despite the constant communication with others (in-person, e-mail, text, Facebook).  How many discussions have you had about superficial topics like the weather with people in the last little while (although I have to admit, with this winter, it’s hard not to talk about!).  We don’t spend a lot of time trying to understand how another person feels or talking about our own experiences. This lack of connection can have a negative impact on our emotional well-being.  As human beings, we are driven to connect with others.  Babies seek attachment and comfort from the moment they are born.   Social support is a strong predictor of good mental health, physical health and even lifespan.  Having positive relationships just feels good.  In the next 24 hours, try to find one person that you can connect with.  Maybe strike up a conversation with another parent in the school yard.  Turn off the TV, and spend some time talking with your partner.  Bond with a co-worker by discussing some of the shared stressors you have.  Connect and recharge your own sense of well-being.

Busy, busy, busy

A common problem that individuals find themselves struggling with is feeling too busy, too overwhelmed, being stretched too thin.  It seems that once you check one item off the to-do list, five additional items seem to appear out of nowhere!  Between the demands of home, work, school, family, friends, children, activities, it may appear that there is no time to meet your own needs (or actually figure out what your own needs are!)  This can lead to feelings of exhaustion, anxiety and stress. While there are absolutely things that must be done, sometimes we may have a tendency to pile on obligations for ourselves.  This can be due to unrealistic expectations (whether priorities are self-imposed, or from people depending on us), distracting ourselves from other issues or we may feel guilty if we are not busy.  However, taking downtime for ourselves is critical for our well-being.  It can help hold at bay the feeling of being burnt out, it allows accumulated stress to decrease and it can make us more content.  Relaxing and taking a break has its virtues.

Here is a challenge for you.  Take ten minutes today to do something just for you, something that you enjoy, something that makes you feel good.  How did that feel?