Have you ever come home feeling socially or emotionally depleted? Everyone recharges differently though some ways are better than others and making it a small daily recharge is probably better than a major boom-bust cycle. I teach corporate self-care workshops.
Definitions of Self-Care
One definition of self-care is a self-directed practice of getting your health and wellness needs met including all emotional, psychological, and physiological needs. This is my simplified version of technical health care and Wikipedia definitions.
Some Basic Self-Care Strategies
Part of self-care is the mindset one is in while doing it. This is important because self-care is at times, an appeal to one’s emotions and psychological needs for nurturing. The very act of setting aside “me time” and making an effort to focus on oneself may feel like attention, love, and even worth. This is especially true if it’s a regular preventative practice.
Not putting oneself under load, demand, obligation, or duress can be feeding as it reduces demand and lets any comforting background reasons to be productive help charge you up. They might be a passion to make a difference or help one’s partner or children or family.
Passive Coping: Avoidance/Procrastination/Distraction
Have you ever let stress or anxiety lead to procrastination but then felt like the rest time didn’t help?
It’s important to recognize passive coping as a form of self-care for two reasons: 1) Because this allows you to recognize when you are reaching for needs fulfillment. Just as when one is lifting heavy boxes all day, the state of not lifting heavy boxes is both a relief from strain and a far cry from relaxing in a hot tub, so too is avoidance sometimes a mental relief from strain but not necessarily relaxing. Just as dehydration happens before one feels thirst (procrastination), practicing self awareness and reading signs of lack sooner and sooner allow for better self-management and self-care.
2) Because sometimes you will genuinely be unable to change a fact of life. When one is experiencing severe life stress like a divorce, break-up, death, job loss, lawsuit – sometimes thoughts can enter a toxic cycle and distraction can be a very healthy thing.
It’s important to note that needing self-care isn’t abnormal or of itself a sign you are a flawed, broken, or bad person or come from such people. Instead, my experience has been that healthy individuals receive socialization to do self-care and have incorporated it into their lives already. Some call it “me time” or say they “need an evening alone” or “can’t wait to get home to have a bubble bath” but it results in something similar: self-directed, self-focused time working on meeting one’s needs.
Making Your Experience of Life a Priority
If physical maintenance like showering or brushing one’s teeth isn’t selfish, then it follows emotional/psychological maintenance, included in self-care, isn’t selfish either (though knowing that and feeling it are different things). As with showering, self-care isn’t ideally an intervention for burnout but a regular maintenance activity built into your life.
Self-Care: A Needs-Based Approach
It may seem similar to play computer games, get a massage or drink – if those three things all feed you; however each of them would be feeding in different ways. A massage might help with touch-hunger. Gaming might help with intellectual or social stimulation or even community needs. Certain substance use (alcohol, marijuana) might create chemically induced physical relaxation, especially if you laugh a lot. As always, mileage may vary for you.
What is often lacked in these discussions is a clear vocabulary of needs. For inspiration, I turn to the NVC needs inventory. It’s not perfect, but it’s a great start.
Needs are often an exchange. Simplistically, we give something and get something else in varying amounts. In that context, self-care may replenish our reserves of psychological resources – but maybe only in ways we know about or are able, only for types of resources we’re practiced or competent in replacing. Some resources may always be a slow trickle in.
Needs don’t replace each other. No matter how physically relaxed you are, it won’t ever be a substitute for feeling loved or feeling a sense of purpose or of mattering. Taking iron to treat scurvy doesn’t work.
Thinking in Love Languages
Some prefer thinking about getting needs for love met in terms of love languages. For example, caring for a pet or family member can be incredibly feeding for some as they get needs for self-expression, community, and other connection needs met in that interaction.
The Five Love Languages (written by a wealthy Christian talk show host who asserts women don’t have biological needs for sex) does offer some value in providing categories for love such as: Words of Affirmation (i.e.: hearing “I love you”), Quality Time (i.e.: spending time paying attention to someone), Gifts (i.e.: thoughtful ones or perhaps monetary ones), Service (i.e.: doing tasks for someone), and Touch (i.e.: giving a massage).
My perspective is that people are capable of receiving all of these especially with training, but that we have a main focus on a language of love based on the state of our needs. Thus, I think about love languages in the context of the needs those languages tend to meet for me.
Reducing Resource Drain
Psychological repetitive strain is also a thing. Lifting a light object, our joints can support odd motions and positions; however done too often or with weight, we get injured very easily.
If work is demanding too much, it’s often (though not always) possible to modify duties such that they work for us even if it seems implausible at first.
It can be easy at first to confuse the mood/tone of joy in one’s life with a pursuit of the temporary pleasure. In my experience of depression when I’ve forgotten what happiness feels like, pleasure can be therapeutic even though it isn’t happiness. Similarly it cancommunicate worth, love, care, or attention, filling many needs for me. Watch out for pleasure seeking so frequent or intense it affects your relationships or work though, a sort of hedonic treadmill or addiction.
As always, it’s okay to ask for help.
Improving Your Mental Wellness
Needs Exercise (optional, 2 – 5 minutes)
Suffice it to say it’s hard to get every need met without some planning.
i) Take a few minutes to look over the NVC needs inventory and find two needs categories you want to make a focus. (i.e.: Connection, Play)
ii) Pick 1 – 2 needs words each that frame your specific need. (i.e.: Connection -> belonging, community, security; Play -> being humorous, experiencing humor)
iii) Consider the ways you currently get that need met (i.e.: Currently I volunteer in my community a lot.)
iv) Consider things you could do to help meet those needs further. (i.e.: Moving forwards I could spend time with friends or go to more events.)
Costs Exercise (optional, 3 – 5 minutes)
v) Think about your willpower and energy then identify two or more things that demand those resources from you. (i.e.: work, volunteering)
vi) How do those things help you get your needs met? Is it worth it? (i.e.: Sustenance, Community; yes, yes)
vii) Are there expensive or demanding tasks, roles, or individuals that are not worth it? (i.e.: categorizing my media, unenjoyable volunteer roles, toxic family member)
vii) What can you do to reduce or limit (or ideally end) your exposure to those situations, circumstances, or people?
viii) What is the worst case scenario for taking steps to do so?
Some Self-Care Activities
+Have Hot bath (touch/warmth, worth/self-attention, peace/safety, support/nurture)
+Get Massage (touch/closeness, trust, intimacy, love/mattering-to-others, being seen)
+Drink Hot Tea (peace, attention, self-attention, self-love, authenticity)
+Taking care of family/pets (stability, love, belonging, nurturing)
+Hiking/Walking (movement, exercise, participation, efficacy, stimulation, clarity)
+Time with select family / found-family (community, companionship, empathy, support, acknowledgement, understanding, authenticity, belonging)
+Time in a clean/organized space (order, security, belonging, fairness)
+Time alone (clarity, peace/ease, rest, safety, consistency, intimacy, self-nurturing)
Being accountable to your needs by setting aside regular time where you get them met is part of looking after yourself and being healthy. This looks different for everyone and it’s common that our weekly routine or habits fall short of meeting every need. Thinking about our wellness in the context of needs and love languages helps to clarify specific activities we can do and understand the ways they’ll help. Spending time thinking about self-care may benefit you, but if you don’t want to do them, some suggested self-care activities are listed above along with some needs I find they help me meet.