Every day we hear messages that encourage us to practice self-care—on the news, in magazines at the checkout stand, from friends, social media, even from Oprah and other celebrities. This self-care mantra has become a trendy buzzword and is often used to suggest that we need to spoil ourselves. Even therapists might often find themselves encouraging the people they work with to practice self-care as a means to regulate emotional well-being and find equilibrium.
Taking a bath with essential oils, candlelight, and soft music in the background is a beautiful concept, one that certainly has benefit in helping a person relax after a long week. Some people might prefer to treat themselves with chocolate, a special dinner out, or any other thing that helps them feel special and pampered. These, and many other, techniques can bring joy while also helping the body, mind, and spirit to relax and rejuvenate.
There is another type of self-care, though, that may feel a little bit radical. At the very least, it might be considered to lie outside the typical parameters of spoiling or treating yourself. This type of self-care involves speaking up for yourself, setting clear boundaries, and “cleaning up” any negative or draining energies around you. In short, instead of creating a temporary escape, this type of self-care focuses on creating a life that you don’t constantly need to escape from or repair when it overwhelms you.
Let’s take a look at some of the techniques that can assist you if you’re struggling to mange life effectively and help you take self-care to a whole new level. These techniques aren’t necessarily “pretty” or easy, and they may feel a little jarring, but they can open up space in your life in new and powerful ways.
1. You own your schedule. Your schedule doesn’t own you.
A hectic schedule can be a major cause of high stress and can easily contribute to overwhelm. While society may view constant rushing from one activity to the next as a sign of success, when we push ourselves to try and do everything, the body and mind rebel. Stress levels rise, energy levels sink, and unhealthy connections to food and substances can develop. You can simplify by reducing the number of commitments in your life to the essential ones. If you don’t want to commit to the rest, don’t. It may take some time to learn to say no, but you can learn to do so.
When we set clear boundaries, learn to say no to activities and events we really have no interest in, and contain the length of our workday, we will likely find it easier to manage our time without overwhelm. Doing less is a radical approach to self-care that might seem to contradict societal expectations. But in the end, it can open the doors to a more fulfilling life.
2. Multitasking is the myth of our time.
This may be hard to believe, but when we try to multitask, we are putting our brains into a high-stress environment where they are likely to become fatigued and overwhelmed, and we are unlikely to be able to perform any of the tasks we are attempting effectively. In the practice of radical self-care, the focus is instead placed on doing one thing at a time. Do only that one thing with no distractions.
When we set clear boundaries, learn to say no to activities and events we really have no interest in, and contain the length of our workday, we will likely find it easier to manage our time without overwhelm.
Rather than trying to drive the car, manage the kids, eat lunch, and talk on the phone all at the same time, put the phone away and enjoy the drive. Chat with your kids about their day. Once you arrive at your destination, take a moment to make the phone call in a quiet, contained environment. This is a challenging concept for people who have been raised with on the myth of multitasking. But with practice, a more efficient and focused mind—that is able to soothe itself—will likely develop.
It’s important to choose a life that feels good, not one that just looks good.
Marketing and media have effectively developed an aspirational lifestyle that can be represented by the desire to purchase the newest car, own the nicest house, and even have the best hair. The idealization of these “successes” has helped create a society that experiences stress over the need to achieve and, often, a hyper-aroused state of constantly feeling the urge to chase the next “best” thing. In addition to contributing to stress, this constant striving can create an unmanageable lifestyle that may leave a person exhausted with the work they are doing to achieve and the feeling that, no matter what they do, they will never catch up to their peers.
Instead, open up to the possibility that a slightly messy house may actually be a sign of the fun that takes place in that environment. Last year’s yoga clothes may feel even better than brand-new ones, because the old ones, already worn in, are more comfortable when you work out. By relieving yourself from the social construct of needing the newest and shiniest toys, you may find you have more energy and capacity to relax and celebrate the achievements already occurring in your life. Keeping up with the Joneses may be a facet of the American Dream, but in my opinion, that race is a hamster wheel of stress and futility that can interfere with the celebration of life.
These concepts of radical self-care aren’t always elegant, and they often feel as if they go against the grain of society. But if you engage in them on a regular basis, I believe you will find they assist in resetting your priorities and opening up space to better enjoy a powerful and engaging life. Then taking a long bath or eating some chocolate becomes an aspect of your enjoyment of this life—not a prescription to escape it.
Hamilton, J. (2008, October 2). Think you’re multitasking? Think again. NPR. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=95256794
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