Ditch the self-care checklist and do this instead...
I'm a big fan of self-care... and I also feel like it's taken on a bit of a life of its own over recent years. I see so many pick and mix checklists online full of lovely self-care ideas such as buying ourselves flowers, bubble baths, massages etc. And then there are the more prescriptive morning or evening routines that will apparently change our life...
Whilst these checklists and routines promote self-care and can be good for generating ideas, they are pretty generic and often focus on the nice and fluffy self-care we all love, but that isn't always the self-care we actually need to feel better.
So in this article, I'd like to explore with you my view on what self-care is and isn't and offer you an alternative to a generic self-care checklist that is unique to you.
What is self-care?
My definition of self-care is anything that is good for you! Notice I didn't say anything that feels good for you though! Because what is good for us doesn't always feel good in the moment. Yet it's what we need to do to feel better long-term. And what feels good in the moment can sometimes end up making things worse or keeping you stuck in a situation.
Contrary to what is written on so many of the self-care checklists I see, sometimes the self-care we actually need is:
- to do the thing we are putting off
- face whatever we're avoiding
- be honest (with ourselves and others)
- cancel the plans
- say no and set boundaries
- speak up and have the hard conversation
- make that difficult decision
- ask for help
- tidy up your space
- do the exercise
- eat the vegetables
- choose water instead of wine (sad times)⠀
Self-care isn't always nice, it's about meeting your needs instead of numbing them.
I know, I'd prefer a massage and a bubble bath too. But if you are lying in the bath ruminating on 'all the things' whilst supping the wine to try and wind down from your super stressful life, then that kind of self-care probably isn't going to cut it!
What self-care is not
In my opinion, self-care isn't:
- a pick and mix from a generic list of things
- a tick box activity
- another thing to add to your to-do list
- a prescriptive, rigid routine
- what Karen next doors does
- the latest celebrity fad
I always tell people that self-care is personal. One size does not fit all. We are all unique and what we need changes daily, sometimes even hourly!
Only you can truly know what you feel, want, and need. But that will require you to quieten all the noise from the outside world to reconnect with what's really going on inside and be honest with yourself.
That is why I believe it is so important to learn how to check in with our emotions and to do it regularly. When we have this skill in our well-being tool bag we are better able to take care of ourselves and make choices and decisions that will benefit us.
Emotional check in
I bang on about this ALL. THE. TIME, but the key to identifying your needs is to regularly check in with your emotions.
It really is (in my opinion) the most important form of self-care we can give ourselves - the time and space to reflect and really feel and listen to what is going on inside.
Most of us want to feel better, for our difficult feelings to go away; however, often we find it difficult to identify and really articulate how we are feeling. And this in turn makes it super difficult to figure out what we need to improve our situation.
We live in a busy world that is full of distractions that makes it super easy to stuff down and numb our feelings, and often we feel like we don't have time for all this 'emotional stuff' - we've got important things to do.
This explains why self-care checklists have become so popular - we want a quick fix so we jump on google looking for the quickest, easiest and nicest way possible to get rid of our uncomfortable feelings.
However 'this emotional stuff' is ultimately what self-care is all about. Taking care of our emotions is the foundation that underpins our ability to get all the other stuff done!
How to check in
An emotional check-in is simple but that doesn't mean it is easy. It's about developing the ability to be in the present moment and allow yourself to feel your emotions. It's normal for that to be difficult when first learning this skill so be gentle with yourself.
To start with, I always suggest to my clients that they use the 'Emotions Wheel' by Dr Robert Plutchik to help them identify and explore their feelings. You can find a copy of this on Google.
I then recommend having a journal (paper or electronic) and using the following prompts to explore your inner world:
How am I feeling today?
Scan the emotions wheel and see what resonates with how you are feeling right now. Write a list of these words and then try and elaborate on what is causing these feelings.
Where do I feel these feelings in my body?
Scan your body, starting at the top of your head and working your way down to your toes. What sensations do you feel? Maybe you notice your shoulders or neck are tight? Or maybe you have butterflies in your tummy? What is your heart rate like? Are your palms sweaty? Maybe your head hurts or feels full?
What do I want?
Wants or desires are things we'd love to have but they aren't required for our survival. If someone asked you right now what you want, what would you say?
What do I need?
Our needs are more visceral than our wants. They are required for our physical, mental and emotional well-being. They may vary based on our situation. What do you really need right now to take care of your well-being?
What's important about that?
Reflecting on what you have written. What's important about that for you?
How will you meet your needs today?
What one thing can you do today to take care of yourself and meet your needs?
Now make it your own
The exercise I shared above is a template. Take what works for you and make it your own. An emotional check-in doesn't have to be prescriptive or rigid, what's most important is that you do it regularly!
You don't have to sit in peaceful solitude surrounded by calming incense and monks chanting whilst you write chapter and verse (although you can if you want to). You get to do it your way, acknowledging that what works best for you may differ day to day!
Often I take five to 10 minutes. Sometimes I'll pull out my journal and write about what's going on using the prompts above. Sometimes I use the notes app on my phone or a document on my laptop instead. And sometimes I check in with myself in my head whilst doing the dishes! It really doesn't have to be difficult.
So my challenge to you this week is to ditch the routines that aren't working and the generic self-care lists and instead try a regular emotional check-in.