Self Care: Because I Said So
If you would have asked me a few years ago about my self care routine, I probably would have rolled my eyes and laughed hysterically. I might have even started sobbing uncontrollably and then collapsed into a puddle at your feet. I was a stay at home mom. I took my position very seriously. I was in charge of all the things. I cleaned, I schlepped, I chauffeured, I prepped, I cooked, I shopped, I organized, I orchestrated and I coordinated. I was a super big deal. If I stopped for a single minute the Earth surely would have stopped spinning and life as we know it would have ceased to exist. I was the boss. Everybody needed me and I was in control. I spun my wheels and kept the train moving and couldn't possibly ever ask for help. My plate was full but I kept piling it on. No time for naps. Too much to do. Can't stop, won't stop. Nobody could function without me. I was it.
Then my husband died. All the plates I had spinning in the air came crashing down. I could no longer do it all. I was anxious and exhausted and depressed. I was numb. For a long time I was in shock. I went through the motions and tried to keep up. I felt like I was crawling through quicksand. I was working full time and juggling life, childcare and my grief. I was pushing my feelings aside. I was powering through. I was numbing all my pain. I thought I was being strong but the volcano was starting to erupt.
I had certain friends on speed dial who knew exactly what to say when I would call. My hands shaking, my heart racing and the panic rising in my throat. I would hide in the bathroom and whisper into the phone while choking back the tears. I was overwhelmed. I felt like something was wrong. I felt like I might die. "You're okay," they would say. "I promise you're okay. You can do this. You've been through so much. Of course you feel this way. Take a deep breath. Let it out."
I knew I had to make a change. The anxiety attacks were coming more often. I wasn't taking care of myself. I wasn't present for my son. I wasn't allowing myself to grieve. It was time to put myself first. I always thought self care was being selfish. Like who has time for bubble baths and pedicures? Not me. But I started to realize it's so much more than that. It is necessary to take care of my mental, emotional and physical health to keep from losing my shit on a regular basis. Self care is love. It's about little things I can do for myself to make me feel well. It doesn't have to be an entire day at the spa (although I wouldn't hate that) but it can be something I do for ten minutes that makes me feel some peace.
Exercise - Even as a fitness instructor I struggle with the myth that if I'm not hyperventilating for an hour straight it doesn't count. That isn't always what my body needs. I don't run 10K's or teach HIIT classes anymore. I had to put my pride aside and start from scratch. Walking along the beachfront pathway in the morning helps to clear my head. Jogging on my treadmill for 20 minutes listening to a podcast makes me feel energized. Gentle or restorative yoga helps me release the tension I am constantly holding in my body and reminds me to take slow, deep breaths. Yes, I have to be reminded to breathe.
Fuel - I realize not everybody loves kale the way I do and that's okay. Healthy food is my jam. It took me years to figure out that when I put good nutrition into my body, I feel great. But when I get super stressed I have a hard time eating. Not eating makes me feel shaky and confused until I eventually panic. Lack of water does the same. The formula for me is breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner, herbal tea. Water ALL DAY LONG. I may not be eating as perfectly as I used to but at least when I eat, I do it sitting down. Baby steps.
Rest - Without rest I am a toddler tantrum waiting to happen. I can't function, I am overly emotional and show up like a complete mess. I love my alone time. I can easily get lost in a book, Facebook, a TV show or googling all the things I've ever wanted to know late at night. I eventually reached a point where I realized that sleep was better than any amount of wine or any show I could binge on Netflix. There are also times when I just need a break. I make a point not to schedule too much into one day to avoid the dumpster fire affectionately known as overwhelm.
Silence - I'm not going to lie. It isn't always easy to sit in silence. In fact, the only word to describe it at first is uncomfortable. I was so used to filling up every moment of every day that when I stopped, the silence was deafening. It took some getting used to and after time I started to crave it. I like ten minute guided meditations to take a mental break. I also use an EFT (emotional freedom technique) tapping app to lower cortisol and calm my nervous system. When I'm feeling really brave I set my timer for twenty minutes and just stare out the window. All of these help me to be more present in everyday life and keep calm when shit starts to fall apart.
Nature - I don't think it's a coincidence that meditation apps use birds chirping and waterfalls flowing as their background sounds. When I can get outside and out of my head I feel more calm. It's so easy to rush from point A to point B without experiencing any of it. Putting my feet in the sand, floating in the ocean, searching for seashells, listening to the rain and feeling fresh air on my skin help to ground me. Even just forcing myself to sit outside is better than hiding in my house all day.
Outlet - I'm emotionally strong but I'm also super good at denial. I like to blow off my feelings in an attempt to trick myself into thinking I'm fine. I've learned the hard way that this creates nothing more than a dumpster fire. When I don't feel my emotions and get things off my chest I spontaneously combust at the most inconvenient times. It's awkward. Journaling lets me get all of my thoughts out of my head and onto paper so I can see what I'm actually thinking in written words. I also have a few trusted friends that I can spill my guts to and say all the things I could never post on Facebook. I have one therapist for every day life stuff and another for the deep shit. Did I mention I also have a life coach? It takes a team of experts for someone this special.
I'm not going to pretend that yoga and long walks cure everything. It's still a difficult road. I have bad days. I am human. I still try to pretend that multitasking is a thing. But I've gained a new perspective. Certain little things no longer matter anymore. I try not to dwell on what is out of my control. The award for the cleanest house and most perfect child are not my end goal. My life has become less about gold stars and more about wellness. I make myself a priority now. I go out of my way to put myself first. And no matter what, I schedule in self care every day like it's my religion.