One thing that I have to be much more mindful of now is self care. I’ve always believed in the importance of self care but have found that I don’t have a choice in the matter anymore. The cost is way too high if I don’t spend some intentional time out of my day just for me.
Another thing I’ve realized is that improving and managing my own self care isn’t as hard as I had perceived it to be. In fact, I’m finding that small, simple changes can bring the highest reward. So just by shifting my mindset about self care, I’m doing a much better job of it.
And here’s how I’ve discovered this lesson.
Winter in Illinois is tough, I have to say. Not only is it dark and gray and brown, it’s really cold and some days are rather unpleasant. It is also the time of year that I find myself really mourning Lucy because it was in December that she took her final journey home.
So coming out of that, plus mourning my dear friend Emily on her birthday, four years since she’s passed, March proved to be a tough month to get through as well. Thanks to a loooooong road trip to some sunshine with my family and the seasonal change to spring and summer, I’ve turned the corner and the worst of it is over for now. And I’ve discovered some things that I know can help me stay more focused on my own self care.
Once I started to really reflect on how hard it is for me to get through winter, mourning Lucy, and how sad I still feel sometimes, missing my dear friend Emily, I was able to accept the pain and forgive myself. I forgave myself for not being able to do the things I needed to because losing your daughter and your best friend is tough stuff to live every day. I forgave myself for feeling angry. I forgave myself for my mistakes.
Self compassion is the muscle I’m still learning to flex.
But before I could see the light, mostly because I hadn’t reflected on all of the things that I was struggling with, I received a sign. I was thumbing through a magazine rack in a waiting room. I shuffled through the trashy entertainment news mags and there it was. It was the cover of Yoga Journal April 2018. It was a headline that seemed to be written just for me. It read ‘Simple Steps for Positive Change’. And instantly, something clicked.
Did I start doing yoga every day, no! But I did realize that I could start taking simple steps for positive change in my life.
Less can be more. So, what if I tried to apply this to my own self care? Not that doing less self care would result in more reward for me. Instead, what small, manageable steps could I start to take consistently so that I’m able to handle the stress from daily life and stay true to my journey for self improvement?
Perhaps most important, I’ve been paying close attention to my mindset, which is largely controlled by my own self talk. The things that we tell ourselves become true to us. I’m able to coach students on this everyday and realized I needed to do the same kind of work for myself.
If students are struggling and saying things like,” I can’t do that” or “This is really hard”. I say, “Maybe you could talk back to that with I’m going to give it my best shot or if I do my best I’ll get through it”. Instead of saying “I’m really bad at this”, it’s “I wonder what I can learn about ________ or myself by trying this today?”
When we are compassionate with ourselves, our self talk starts to change. Because I was having a hard time emotionally, I was unmotivated. And then I started feeling some shame in that. And that can become a vicious cycle. You repeat the negative self talk and become even less motivated.
So rather than continuing to beat myself up about scratching nothing off my to-do list or finding time for self care, I told myself that I would try again later that day or tomorrow. Rather than letting negative thoughts prevail, I started telling myself to talk back to those dark words. And then surprisingly, I was able to start taking the small steps toward self care and self improvement that had been missing from my day to day and are now becoming habit again.
I’ve written before about wanting to explore meditation. I’ve finally found a way to make that happen on a regular basis. Five minutes is all I need and I’ve found it’s a lovely way to start the day. I think the reason I wasn’t able to meditate regularly before was that ten, fifteen, or twenty minutes uninterrupted was difficult for me to find in the day. But five minutes just before or after my shower in the morning, totally doable.
And some days my six year old is already awake, so she joins me. One morning, I knew it was going to be a great day when she skipped into our bedroom proclaiming, “Mom, it’s time to meditate”. And from there she found us a 20 day meditation course through the app I’d been using.
What I’m learning is that the most important thing about meditation is the make sure you sit, everyday if you can. Sometimes weekends get hectic and with it being summer, we are travelling a lot, so I may miss a day or two here and there. But I’m drawn back to it, almost without it being a deliberate decision. Some days I just find myself there, because that is exactly where I need to be.
I would say I’ve been meditating, usually daily, for three to four months now. And I can feel a significant difference. I haven’t felt anxious at all. At all. My eMotIOnaL reGuLatiOn has greatly improved. I’m able to handle little ups and downs in my day feeling calm and grounded. My focus and attention to task have increased. My ability to stay present is better, almost inherent.
These have been the most difficult symptoms of PTSD for me to manage the last three years. While I’ve learned the lessons, living them is the tough part. Some days are better than others, but I finally have the emotional stability to just be and live the lessons.
When managing my time, I also try not to let a lack of it interfere. On the days that I workout, I often only have twenty to thirty minutes for cardio and a few weights. And instead of scrapping it because it’s not enough time, I steal those moments because I know that twenty minutes of cardio is better for my mind and my body than zero minutes.
Instead of dreading or putting off going to the gym, I try to think about what new things I will try there or simply look forward to going there alone. Alone time is hard to come by and I crave it sometimes.
Another thing I realized I had to do was take some of my time back from things that don’t really contribute to my self care. Do I want to spend five or twenty minutes on my phone, scrolling through social media, or do I want to use that amount of time to meditate, run, stretch, or read a book?
And once you start setting social media aside, like any other addiction, you find yourself being able to go without it more often. The less you get on FB or IG, the less you have to get on. Now, I will say that I’m relatively new to social media, so I will defend my habit a bit. The point being, I see how addictive it is and am learning to set it aside so that I can spend that time on me, doing things that make me feel content, calm, and grounded.
I promise myself to meditate daily for at least five minutes and be mindful of my self-talk so that I can be more compassionate with myself. As often as I can, I will read books, workout, and drink coffee in the sunshine on my back porch. I’ll spend time in my garden, go on adventures with my family and every once in awhile, I’ll even go without them. Yes, I am a mom, a wife, and a teacher but if I don’t take care of me, I certainly can’t take care of all those people.
Taking care of me doesn’t have to be complicated or take up a lot of time. It just needs to happen.
So, ask yourself, where can you find time just for YOU today?
My name is Lou and I am a mom of two girls living outside of Chicago. I never would have imagined this, but our oldest daughter is at home and our youngest is not. She will be in our hearts forever. Lucy was an amazing soul and we continue to learn lessons from her today.