Give Yourself the Gift of Self-Care

I’m starting out with a bit of an apology for my infrequent posts.  I mentioned last summer that I am taking classes until the end of this month (the end is near!!!).  The classes are an addition to an already full life.  I realized after starting my blog that it was going to have to go on the back burner. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to post at all during this time.  I have gotten a few in.  I am one of those people who like to be busy but not THAT busy.  As a therapist, I frequently remind my clients to do something good for themselves each week.  I’m a self-care pusher.  If I mean what I say, than I better be doing it.  I have to take time to fill up on a nearly daily basis in order to be effective with the time I have.  I didn’t intend for this particular blog to be about self care, but here we go again.
Maybe during the holidays it’s helpful to be reminded of our deep need to care for ourselves.  No one else is going to do it for us, nor can they.  Back to square one, the definition.  Self care is anything that you do that feeds your soul, your body, or your mind.  It has to be something you connect with, not something someone else connects with.  I love getting a massage.  You might not like being touched.  A massage is simply not going to be self care for you.  I like walking, especially outside.  You might find that boring or too slow.  Walking is not your thing.  I like reading the Bible and understanding who God is.  You might not care at all about who God is.  Reading the Bible isn’t self care for you.  Have I made my point?  If it’s not something that you enjoy or is meaningful to you, it is not self care.
There are some actions you may have overlooked that count as self care.  Things like eating (healthy food that your body needs to function), bathing, sleeping, and exercise.  If you read that and realized that you aren’t even doing the basic self-care, we need to talk!   If you are just trying to get a handle on self-care, start with the basics.  Make sure each day that you set aside time or create a system that allows you to eat healthy food.  I believe fast food is better than the chocolate bar you count as lunch.  Fast food is not ideal, but we have to be real.  A salad with grilled chicken is going to nourish your body better than that chocolate bar.  It’s possible that a chocolate bar is part of your self-care because you savor the treat, not because it is a regular part of your diet.
When you shower or take a bath to get clean, comment to yourself that this is a way that you care for your body.  As you go to sleep or upon waking, congratulate yourself for making sleep a priority.  The benefits are far reaching.  Our brain desperately needs REM sleep to process the happenings of the previous day.  Studies have shown (and we can all attest) that under-rested people tend to misinterpret the emotions of ourselves and others.  We have a harder time dealing with emotion and we tend to be grouchy.  I know that first-hand.  Under-rested people tend to make more mistakes than those who are well rested.  Exercise is well-known to enhance our mood.  Those awesome endorphins that our bodies produce when we exercise help us feel better.  Exercised bodies are generally healthier bodies.  Although it might feel grueling at times, we are helping ourselves to have more energy.
If you have mastered the basics, start adding something extra to your daily or weekly routine.  Think about the things you really enjoy.  Is it sitting at Starbucks with a friend, relaxing and catching up?  Is it curled up under a blanket watching your favorite holiday movie?  Do you savor soaking in knowledge? Do you get pumped up watching a sporting event?  Maybe for you it’s creating something: in the kitchen, the garage, a studio?  If it’s something that takes a bit of time, it might have to be a once a week or twice a month event.  Make sure you get at least an hour of self-care, above the basics, each week.
It’s especially important to get self care in our schedule when life gets busy, like right now.  It helps us be more balanced.  It increases healthy perspective and clarity.  We are more effective in the way we live life when we are caring for ourselves versus when we are not.  I know this is true.  I have experienced times in my life when I have been horrible at self-care.  “There just isn’t time!”  “This is a ridiculous expectation!”  I experience internal chaos when I am low on self-care.  I cannot think as clearly, I am more likely to get defensive; I throw my skills out the wind and say, “Screw it!”  All hell seems to break loose eventually.  The times when I have been the unhealthiest emotionally are the times when I have not taken very good care of me.  When a few days go by and I haven’t done much to care for myself, I stop and tell myself I’m headed for a train wreck.  Do I want that? No!  I find inspiration to take care of myself when I realize the consequences of ignoring my needs are tragic.  Self-care is a need…not a luxury.

Holidays, Family, and Boundaries

With the arrival of the holiday season comes a variety of stressors. Where to spend the holidays is a big deal. For some families, the decisions made by a renegade can spark World War III. We typically don’t enjoy doing that and so we quietly acquiesce and do whatever we are told all the while dreading the holiday. Is that really how you want to spend the time? Continuing on with my most recent “boundary” post, remember that boundaries are about protecting and defining. You are the keeper of the gate when it comes to your boundaries. You decide what comes in and what goes out. This applies to families and holidays in addition to everyday life.
My family has a tradition of gathering together for Thanksgiving. We usually go to Aspen, where I grew up and my family owns a hotel. It is actually the perfect situation because we all have plenty of room at the hotel. My parents, seven siblings, and I gather together with all our spouses, significant others, and children. Most of the “children” are now adults and have added the fourth generation. We generally love gathering together. We have our issues now and then, but it’s usually a good time for all. The best part: we get to choose if we are going to be there. No one pressures us and tells us that we “have” to be there.  It’s no surprise that most of us are there every year.
Christmas has been different. Christmas is a popular time in Aspen. There usually aren’t rooms available at the hotel so we choose other locations. I can think of three Christmases when we travelled to my in-laws in New York (this was during my first marriage). Although my mother-in-law expressed a desire for us to be in New York more often for the holidays, she never demanded it. She said what she wanted and honored our choices. She never brought it back up as a way to “punish” or coerce us to be with them. I so appreciated that, more so now as I see others struggling with demanding, manipulative parents or in-laws. We typically made the trek from Colorado to New York in the summer when it was a better time for us to travel with the kids.
If you are the adult child of a manipulator/punisher, my words are this: do what you (and your immediate family) want to do. Talk about it. Do you feel pressured to travel when really what you all want to do is be at home? Is the reason you are travelling to someone else’s house because you feel obligated to be there. Obligation is not choice. Obligation comes out of an expectation that has been directly communicated or you are assuming exists. Give this idea some time…let it percolate in your mind and heart.
If you are in a significant relationship or are married discuss the ideas in the following paragraphs with your spouse or significant other. The ideas may be helpful in making a decision. Remember to process this together. It is important to honor one another’s opinions and desires. Coming to a solution may be trickier than just deciding by yourself. This may take a lot of time. Be patient with one another and figure out how to be responsible for your own boundaries while being respectful of the other’s. Spend time really listening to each other. Try to understand the other person’s point of view. This will not guarantee a solution to your problem but it will help you stop demanding your position and shift your stance to understanding the other person.
So, here’s the process. Ask yourself, “What do I want to do? Where do I want to spend the holidays?” It is your life that you are living, so why not live the way you want. If being with extended family is more stressful than you care to deal with, create your own holiday traditions. Free yourself to live your life in a way that is satisfying to you. Chances are pretty good there will be some hurt feelings. Be gentle and kind as you speak your desires. Let your family know that you love them, but you are choosing a different way to spend the holiday.
If you are choosing not to be with your family because being around them usually ends up in some sort of battle or manipulation-fest, you can address that. “When you berate me, manipulate me, criticize me (or whatever it is they do that is hurtful), I feel hurt, sad, angry, (your emotion). Since this happens during times when we are together, like holidays, I am choosing not to be there. I love you and I want a healthy relationship with you, but until that happens, I will spend my holidays in a way that works for me.”
Be assured, you will not likely hear a “thank you” after that statement. You are drawing a solid boundary that clearly states what you are OK with and what you are not OK with. Usually manipulative controlling people do not appreciate when others set boundaries. They thrive off the control of others. You do not have to own this person’s issues or responses to you. If he is angry, let him be. You do not have to listen to the insults or barbs sent your way to hurt you with the intention of manipulating you to change your mind. It will be hard but you can do it. It’s all for the purpose of regaining the reins of your life. Take a deep breath, tell him you hear his anger, but you will not continue to listen since it is becoming hurtful. You will be ready to talk when he is ready to work out how you can have a healthy relationship that honors one another. The end. No more listening, emailing, or texting. Let it go for now.
The barrage will probably start up again. Get really good at what parenting experts Jim Fay and Foster Cline say, “become a broken record” by calmly repeating yourself and ending the conversation. Most likely, you are dealing with someone who is sort of stuck as a two year old. You know, the temper-tantrum-having kind. She demands to get her way now because something went terribly wrong for her when she actually was two or at some point in her development related to setting her own boundaries. You are not responsible for that. It may be by you modeling healthy behavior and not owning her responses and feelings that she may decide to change; however, the decision for her to change is not up to you. You are taking care of your own boundary.
I’m hoping that you enjoy the holidays this year with people who sincerely encourage you and embrace who you are.
Cheers to healthy holidays spent in ways that honor your unique self!