This article is presented to celebrate “The Thirty Day Wellness Journal” – available now on Amazon. PDF downloadable on Etsy.
What is ‘Me Time’ ?
If someone said to you, ‘I’d love to, but I’m having some me-time today,’ what images would spring to mind? You might think about lighting enough candles to illuminate a football stadium and taking a bath with all those scented things your granny bought you two years ago.
You might think of a big fluffy blanket, and even fluffier hot chocolate, and curling up on the sofa with a great book (like ‘A Land Gone Lonesome’).
You might think of finding a country pub and plonking down in a booth with your close friends to catch up on the latest news.
All these are wonderful, I concur. But they take planning and co-ordination to happen. Especially if you’ve stuffed the fluffy blanket so far back into your closet that it’s a legendary expedition just to find it.
Also, they might give you ‘a breather’ – but does ‘me-time’ fix anything, long-term? Also, do you think that it might be better to practice me-time every day so you don’t suddenly crash?
Me too. This is also known as ‘Self-Care’ and ‘Self-Help’.
Why do I need it? What happens if I don’t?
Having a grey mass in our skulls that is always on takes energy (calories). If you’re doing absolutely nothing but staring up at the ceiling, you’re still ‘on’. You’re still firing, you’re still burning energy, physically and psychologically.
Whilst a physical energy drain is easier to recognize, a psychological energy drain is much more subtle, but can have quite severe and sometimes devastating consequences.
We get signals though. How many times have you, for some inexplicable reason, craved a particular food for no conscious reason? That’s your body telling you it needs something (the signal), like carrots or some other particular food or food group. We learn to recognize this, and after a week of cramming them down (initial response) like they’re going extinct, we perhaps adjust our diet to permanently include this food (the adjustment), so we don’t have days every six months where we’re stuffing carrots at every meal because all of a sudden we can’t live without them!
The same can be said for a psychological need. In the same way as the physical, if we don’t learn to recognize subtle signals, they’ll get bigger and bigger. So it’s far more sensible to incorporate ‘me-time’ in small ‘doses’ every day than wait for things to build up. And build up they most definitely WILL:
The most severe signal I’ve ever experienced, was during a time when a family member was terminally ill. I woke up at three a.m. one day, got up, walked into the kitchen, sat down and wailed, and I mean wailed, for an hour straight. I’d have woken up the entire street, let alone the rest of the people in the house, but strangely, no one stirred, not even the dogs. Like I was in some kind of soundproof bubble. This is the extreme consequence of ignoring signals that you have not looked after yourself in some way. And yes, in some circles it’s called a breakdown.
At the other end of the scale it could be that you forget something. You walk into a room and forget what you went in there for. You spend half an hour looking for your glasses and they’re on your head. There might be something going on at work that needs all your focus and concentration – so much so that when you get home you really feel like you don’t even want to talk. How would you feel crossing a busy road in that state?
These are all signals that you might benefit from some psychological self-care. Don’t wait.
Examples of ‘Self-Care’
Doing something for you every day means that you’ll be more present for everything else that’s going on in your life. You’ve heard of the ‘put your oxygen mask on before you help others’ ? – well, think about it. You can’t help the passenger next to you if you’re pinned in your seat, suffocating, can you?
Fundamentally, living mindfully and striving to be better every day can be grouped into three things:
- How we relate (or can be better) to ourselves (Mind, Body, Spirit)
- How we relate (or can be better) to others (Family, Friends, Pets, Strangers)
- How we relate (or can be better) to the world at large (Work, Community, Environment, World)
And they kind of follow on from each other don’t they?
So, quit yapping already, and give me some examples:
SELF-CARE UPON WAKING:
- Wake up and say ‘I am okay’, ‘I am enough.’ – this doesn’t cost anything in terms of time or energy. But it has been scientifically proven to strengthen your self image positively in the face of any adversity you might face. This is also known as an ‘affirmation’. (Further reading: Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience)
- Review your sleep. How well did you sleep last night? How many hours? Was it restful? What can you do to improve that? (Further reading: US National Library of Medicine)
- Make your bed. Sounds like work, but how delicious is it to retire to a made bed every night. It’s an accomplishment, so that even if you don’t accomplish anything else that day, you’ve accomplished that. (Further reading: Psychology Today)
- Take a short moment and ask yourself ‘How can I be better/more than yesterday?’ – this doesn’t mean punish or have a beat-yourself-up session over the pizza you ate yesterday, and it certainly doesn’t mean responding to that with a lettuce leaf lunch, or giving your last penny to charity. It means ‘I can be more patient’, ‘I can be more charitable today’ or ‘I will make someone laugh today’ – anything. (Further reading: Lifehacker, Measuring Happiness).
- Pain Management. Body-Scan Meditation. It’s five minutes or less and probably the most amazing thing you can do every day. If you suffer from a nagging pain, this meditation helps you restrict your reaction to it. Sit comfortably, close your eyes and ‘scan’ your body, however you perceive that to be. Start at your head and move down in waves, noticing how great and pain free everything feels. When you get to your pain, acknowledge it and move on. Don’t dwell. You can also do this if you get a headache, or stub your toe (after you’ve scared the sailors out of port). (Further reading: The Journal of Neuroscience, Study 15307).
- Even if you perceive your day ahead to be a difficult one, before you open your bedroom door, stand in front of the mirror and say ‘I got this’ – sounds cheesy but, if you do nothing else, your day is still going to happen, so you may as well ‘get among it’ and see it as a new adventure.
- Nourish yourself. Take your supplements, invent a ‘power drink’, do something that can prepare you for your day. (Further reading: Nourish on Facebook)
- Make someone/something smile. If your partner/dog/cat/iguana is ecstatic to see you in the morning, be ecstatic back. In no time at all, you’ve uplifted a thing other than you.
- During breakfast, write down a summary of your day, especially if it’s going to be astonishingly busy. If you have a lot to do, make a list, read it, get familiar with it. If you don’t have time, make the list in your mind. If you commute, do it on the train. (Further reading: BBC, The Psychology of the To-Do List)
- Organize it. If you have time, use a decision matrix (like ‘Eisenhower’), organize things you have to do into groups: (Further reading: The Eisenhower Matrix)
- Things that should have been done already that you have left ’til the last minute (Important and Urgent) e.g. Pay the tax bill
- Things that work towards your personal goals and should not become urgent (Important but not Urgent) e.g. launch your business web site.
- Weed the thorns in your side. Things you can potentially re-schedule or pass on to someone else. These are the nagging things that seem to hang around and get moved ‘down the list’ (Not Important but Urgent) e.g. clean the fridge
- Distractions. These are things that are not important and not urgent and distract you from your personal goals, or veer off away from something you should be doing. Things you can say ‘no’ to. e.g. organize a work raffle.
SELF-CARE DURING THE DAY:
- Step out of your comfort zone. I don’t mean cross the road with your eyes closed, I mean say hello to a neighbor, talk to your boss about that promotion, crack a joke in the coffee queue. This will free up space in your mind (i.e. energy) that was occupied with labels like ‘Oh, I could never do that’. The human brain is wired to keep us safe, but this same thing prevents us from progressing or growing. (Further reading: Inpathy Bulletin, The Psychology of Comfort Zones)
- Practice listening. Harder than you think I promise. You have many several things on the go at once and someone comes to you for help about something, or the phone rings. Do you carry on what you’re doing while they are talking? Do you cut them off before they’ve finished? Do you browse your phone while they are talking? Imagine what might happen if you truly listened. Try it! (Further reading: Mindtools, Active Listening).
- Practice reacting. Think of situations where you might well react emotionally. Put a little mind-space between the situation and the reaction. In that little space, consider how you will react. Are you being judgemental? Are you generalizing? Do you understand? How might their day be going?. How you react, is the only thing you have control over. (Further reading: VeryWellMind, Reacting vs. Responding)
- Practice noting. This is a form of meditation you can practice while you are working. Be aware if your mind wanders away from the task at hand. Simply recognize that fact, and re-focus on your task. If you find that difficult, try standing up. (Further reading: Headspace, Noting)
- Stretch and Move in a different way. What I mean by this is, if you’re hunched over a desk all day, stand up every fifteen minutes, stare at something in the distance, and stretch in the opposite way. Imagine your energy as a light that has pooled up around your shoulders. Unwrap yourself so that this light can re-distribute. Shake it out to the rest of your body.
SELF-CARE END OF DAY/EVENING:
If you’re anything like me, if you get home from work after a long and/or particularly crappy day, there’s not much you’re going to be motivated to do. Here are some suggestions:
- Leave work at the door. Before you step into your home Try and take a moment to leave as much as possible at the door. Your home is not only your castle but your sanctuary.
- Connect and Communicate. Greet family, friends, pets, whoever and whatever is in your house. Ask how their day went. Listen. I know it doesn’t sound like ‘self-care’ but honestly, the atmosphere you create in your home is for your benefit also.
- Eat. Nourish. Relax. However that may be in your home. (Further reading: Nourish on Facebook)
- Practice Sleep Hygiene. Getting ready for bed isn’t just brushing your teeth and whipping off the bra. Finish your day BEFORE you get into your bedroom. Resolve any negativity or disagreement. Finish your browsing and social media cruise. Write a list of what’s needed tomorrow. Ask yourself whether there’s anything more you can do to improve the sleep coming up. Remove electrical equipment from bedroom? Open a window? Turn the heat/air down? Change pillows? Switch on a diffuser? Eye mask? Binaural music? (Further reading: Nourish on Facebook)
- Sleep Meditation: When you’re ready to actually sleep. Lie on your back and close your eyes. Switch Off Your Day – file it: Your meditation at night should be to replay your entire day from when you woke up. You will need to speed it up, (obviously!) but it must finish right where you are at the moment. Switch off your body – like a light switch: At which point, starting at your toes, ‘switch them off’ – visualize the muscles in your toes switching off, the fibers, bones, cells, everything. Work your way up. Nighty-night. (Further reading: Headspace, Switching off)
Cue the Self Care for Beginners 1-0-1 Challenge!