Since the day I began volunteering in the mental health community, I have been hearing about “self-care”, and I’m definitely not the first person to write about how important it is, how critical it is to recovery, how much of an impact it can have on caregivers, how it is often neglected, etc. These statements are all true. They are incredibly true. Self-care is paramount and can sometimes be ignored in one’s journey with mental illness, be it directly or indirectly. Since I’m not the first or last person to write about it, I’m not going to remind you that you have to practice self-care. Instead, I’m going to talk about how we can make it easier for ourselves, especially when it seems like our world is the first scene from the Wizard of Oz on repeat.
There are different schools of thought when it comes to what self-care looks like. For me, what it boils down to is committing to yourself and your own health, while funnel clouds may be tearing through your world. Self-care is when and how, amidst the carnage, you click your heels and take yourself to another place where you can breathe and think about yourself. Sounds easy, right? Unfortunately not. As we all know, there are no ruby red slippers that can take us away from what we are up against, twister and all.
Taking time to care for ourselves has proven to be incredibly difficult. In its most basic form, let’s imagine self-care as simply eating well and exercising. Oprah and Jillian Michaels would not have careers if these things came easily to human kind. Self-help books wouldn’t sell, diet pills wouldn’t exist, and gossip magazine “hot or not” editions wouldn’t be published. I wouldn’t have just read “Balancing in Heels” by Kristin Cavallari (Yes, the one from Laguna Beach, and yes, I’m Team Kristin). The reality is that we, as humans, are just not very good at taking care of ourselves.
What does this mean for those of us who are dealing with mental illness directly and indirectly? Well, it simultaneously gets more difficult AND more important. It is imperative that we commit to taking care of our whole selves, head to toe, yet we struggle to find the time. How could we? When life is a constant whirlwind, “go to the gym” becomes the lowest item on an ever-growing to-do list.
But, the body and the mind are not separate. In order for our mind to be healthy, our body must be as well. For years, philosophers and big thinkers treated them as two separate entities. They aren’t. The mind is the body, and the body is the mind, plain and simple. So when we are working on one, we are inherently working on the other. When we neglect one, we neglect the other.
I worry that we might be looking at self-care the wrong way. I worry that it just becomes another item on an endless to-do list… another thing that we won’t get to. It shouldn’t be that way. There is nothing more important in this universe than making sure that we are well enough to face the day, especially if we are helping those around us.
So, great, now what? Well, one size does not fit all when it comes to self-care. What works for me may not work for you. What I think can fit all, though, is the way in which we see self-care. Self-care is not homework, nor is it a chore. Self-care should be synonymous with living. It should be as deeply ingrained in our day as breathing in and out.
Instead of feeling guilty that you didn’t make it to the gym (most likely because your world was swirling around you in a cloud of chaos), think about other ways in which you can care for yourself. Why not look at what is going to happen today, and then change the way you approach it so that it becomes self-care? For example, instead of hurrying to catch your train, approach your walk as some time alone to engage in self-care. Breathe deeply, look around and enjoy the moment. If you have to go to the drug store to pick something up after work, walk there. If the sun is shining when you wake up, sit by the window with your coffee for a few minutes and let your mind wander. When you do find the time to exercise, approach it as caring for yourself, not as a chore… It may just become enjoyable.
It’s the little moments in the day that we can use as self-care – especially when the idea of finding 2 hours to get to the gym seems absolutely ludicrous. A cup of coffee is just a cup of coffee unless we think about it as something more.
It might not seem like much, but it may be enough to get us through the tough days in a healthier way, and to prepare us for what tomorrow might bring.
About Kathryn Christie
As an HR Consultant with a deep passion for Mental Health, Kathryn spends her days pushing paper and her nights volunteering with the Canadian Mental Health Association as a co-facilitator of the Family and Caregiver Education program. Her passion extends beyond the realm of her volunteer work which has brought her to Healthy Minds Canada to share stories, support and inspiration with her community.