How people choose to take care of themselves is personal, we all have different needs, and although they are definitely nice to have, I’ve always known that self-care is not defined by blowouts and manicures in my books. Self-care to me is multi-faceted and taking responsibility for my own physical, emotional as well as mental health is one main aspect of it.
Every morning after I exercise, I choose to make time to meditate as a daily reminder to connect to myself, practice mindfulness and stay grounded. Over time, I have noticed that I am fused with my thoughts and feelings so I unconsciously respond to events. Meditation has allowed me to learn that I am not my thoughts and feelings – yes, turns out it is not just a cliché! There is a space between us, and as that gap widens with practice, I become more aware of myself thinking or feeling, so I choose my response, and react less – with less being the key-word here, it is a matter of practice.
I am not a morning person, so getting woken up by the cacophony of (needy, whiny) kids and getting sucked into the whirlwind of taking care of them without having my alone time first is draining for me on so many levels – I find myself being extra snappy and irritated on days that happens. Alone time first thing in the morning makes a world of a difference in my mood, approach to dealing with my children and ability to cope with the demands of my days. It usually means having my morning coffee in peace, but during lockdown and everyone spending more time at home I had to reshuffle my daily schedule and fit in my exercise and meditation sessions somewhere – I had no choice but to wake up at 5 am. Oh the difference that made! I mean don’t get me wrong, I still had to drag myself out of bed, but the satisfaction I got from having an hour of peace and completing my exercise and meditation before the kids woke up was akin to no other.
Self-care is all about making more informed choices. We literally are what we eat – our bodies breakdown the food that we ingest to build our cells – so I prioritize eating fresh food and loading up on vegetables and fruits, and shy away from eating anything with preservatives. Although I have found better options for a lot of food items I like I will still indulge every once in a while in conventional products/eating out, fully knowing I will experience bloating and pain afterwards, because who can resist? I am not rigid with my eating, I have just learned to be more mindful of what I am putting in my body, making better choices MOST of the time and knowing that I am conscious of when I am not.
More importantly, self-care in my books entails taking responsibility for my own happiness, a lesson I have learned years and years ago. Transcending victim mode requires a lot of awareness and introspection – I have learned that playing victim leaves you feeling helpless, while taking responsibility makes you feel empowered. Seems like an easy choice when I put it this way, but the reality is a paradigm shift is needed for this awareness to ensue; all the effort in the world will not rid you of feeling victimized, but a shift in perspective will free you in an instant.
Respecting the sanctity of my physical and mental space is another important element of self-care for me. As an introvert, social interactions (including familial ones) literally drain my energy so I require a hefty dose of silence and alone time to recharge on a daily basis. As the eldest offspring in an Arab family, I seem to have sponge-absorbed societal favorable manners; saying ‘no’ and putting boundaries is innately very difficult for me to do, even when the ‘shoulds and shouldn’ts’ trespass my mental, physical and emotional wellbeing limits. I am slowly working on putting my needs first and learning that I am still likeable without needing to please people, and whoever feels differently about me with more boundaries does not belong in my space.
Self-care is also about accepting my anxiety and being curious to what it is trying to tell me as opposed to resisting it, but that’s a tale for another day…