Protecting your emotional health

We all understand the importance of protecting our physical health by eating a balanced diet, getting regular exercise and adequate rest. What we don’t think about as much is the importance of protecting our emotional health. Taking care of our emotional health is important because our attitudes, how and what we think, play a big part in shaping our experiences, our worldview and even our accomplishments.

Just like the food pyramid is designed to help us make the best dietary choices for our physical health, the personal care pyramid helps us make the best choices for our emotional health. The building blocks of the pyramid are self-care, support and self-help.

About self-care

Much as the words suggest, self-care is about finding ways to gentle, loving, affirming, nurturing, supportive and encouraging of ourselves. There are many ways to practice self-care.  Here are some suggestions:

  • Check in with yourself throughout the day. What thoughts and feelings have been coming up most for you? Can you identify their source? Is there anything you need or are ready to do about your feelings? Pay attention to how you are feeling and what you are saying to yourself.
  • Take regular, deep breaths. Sometimes this is all it takes to calm and refocus yourself. It is okay to do this several times a day. Know what works for you and when you need a time out.
  • Make your emotional well-being a priority – you are important enough and no matter how busy you are, you have the time. Decide to make time for things that nurture and restore you.

Check back tomorrow for eight more self-care tips and later in the week for more about support and self-help.

 

 

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Sharing as an act of self-care

 

Comfort Words

Everything that matters is still true. I used to use these words as salve when some small thing, in the larger scheme of things, went wrong. This patch of perspective covered it all. I relied on my raft of words to keep me afloat when troubles, real and imagined, threatened to overtake me. A wildly expensive repair bill, minor irritation, major disappointment… uncomfortable feelings didn’t fester too long with my mantra as salve. Nothing else really mattered as long as dear ones were safe, healthy and well.

Then my brother died.

It happened in the wee hours of a September Saturday. Even before I arrived at the dawn darkened course or took my first step of the Singleton 10-miler, Brad was dead.

The weather was deceptively beautiful. It gave nothing away. Everything that mattered was not still true, but the gentle breeze carried no signs. I crossed off each race mile in blissful ignorance.

I have heard others talk about the sudden death of one beloved. They speak of signs. I knew something was wrong, they brag proudly, holding up their angst. It is evidence of their bond, unassailable and true, with the loved one, cruelly lost. I expected to know, too. But I didn’t. Me, the oldest sister who read Brad bedtime stories as boy, welcomed him for summer visits as a teen and admired his kindness as a man.

My brother died as I slept undisturbed then later toed the start line thinking only of the finish – not his life, already ended. I did not feel any shift or change. I did not dream or startle and bolt upright. I had no hint from my heart or bones. I did not know until the calls came.

They started in the check-out line at Sam’s club. Race participants had parked there before the store opened to the usual throngs eager to check Saturday chores off their lists. Until the calls came, I had counted myself among them – an ordinary person doing ordinary things on an ordinary day.

The cashier looked giddy with surprise. Her pitch had landed a “yes.” Sure, I said. I’ll upgrade my membership to Advantage Plus. You’ll save four dollars on your paper towels today, she said, eager to assure me I had made a wise choice. The phone buzzed in my pocket. It stopped and started again immediately, insistently. I pulled it out, five missed calls, and knew… something was wrong. My sister doesn’t ever call on a Saturday morning, and never so many times in a row.

Filling the gas tank, usually a dreaded chore was a welcome task then. I needed time, just a few minutes more with the pretend comfort of willful ignorance. The tank filled too quickly. I had to call back. Stalling hadn’t helped though, my brother was dead.

Brad died on September 24, 2011. He would have been 36 on his birthday, just two days later. Instead of celebrating we mourned. No, we didn’t really. The shock was still so fresh. We didn’t fully understand yet how vacant the space he occupied in our lives would be. We could still torture ourselves by pretending it wasn’t true that he would be separated from us forever.

Now I need new comfort words.

I am without protection from life’s upsets. Something that mattered is no longer true. A dear one, my younger brother, is not safe or healthy or well. My brother is dead, and I am left without my mantra to steady myself on grief’s rocky path.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prioritize Ruthlessly

Prioritize ruthlessly – Tina Tchen

Don’t let meaningless busyness or petty distractions steal the time you need for restoration, relationships, goals or any must-do’s that are deeply important to you.

You can make it happen – whatever “it” is – when you give yourself permission to clarify priorities and focus on them with deliberate intention.

Planning for self-care

Women are often urged to look everywhere except within for comfort, centering, love and self-care thus reinforcing the idea that we don’t have what it takes to restore, heal or encourage ourselves. We do. We just have to find the strategies and connections that work for us. Consider combining community services and support with your own internal resources for a self care plan that you can build, direct and own. Here are a couple of strategies to try.

  • Cognitively Based Compassion Training (CBCT), Mindfulness and Meditation Practice – learning to observe your feelings as they come up can make not identifying with them or not letting them lead you astray feel easier.
  • Exercise and yoga (can be as effective as antidepressants) are good ways of claiming and using “me” time.
  • Sister Circles – join with other women to harness the power of community caring, concern, accountability and support. Choose women that are emotionally healthy enough to support you in ways that are meaningful, and meet at least once monthly. Be sure to establish important group rules, for example – you may agree that members must observe confidentiality and agree to disagree respectfully.
  • Journaling – Use the pages to explore your truths, values, fears and hopes.
  • Counseling – Regard your therapist as a partner. You can choose the right one for you and fire therapists that are not a good fit. You don’t have to accept just anyone

Just say no

Set up and honor personal boundaries. Yes, you can say “no” sometimes without bringing the world to an end – it really will keep spinning.

Be intentional. As much as possible, avoid doing anything that contradicts what you say is important to you.

Seek out people and places that nurture and restore you. Limit or avoid people, places and situations that leave you feeling drained or like a loser. You are not a loser and you deserve to be in good company. Protecting your time and space is one of the most important ways to practice self-care. Yes, you have the right to do that.

Tenderly explore wounded places

With pen and paper close by take some quiet time to let a past resentment or hurt fully bloom in your consciousness. Notice how you feel – is your body tense, has your breathing become more rapid?

Now pay attention to what you are telling yourself about what happened. You might hear something like, these things always happen to me or what did I do to deserve that or why is life so unfair? Write down exactly what happened along with all of your questions and feelings. Is there someone you trust that is emotionally healthy enough to explore this with?

As you go over past hurts think about changing the question from why to now what. Asking why can keep you in a position of powerlessness because your focus stays on the person and the pain he or she caused. Asking why is not always useful because you may never be able to come up with a satisfactory answer. Asking now what can be a more helpful question because it puts you in the driver’s seat. Now what reminds you that you can decide where you go and what you do next.

Other questions…

How does it help me to hold onto painful feelings?

How would it help me to let them go? What would it take if I decide to let go?

Eating with self care

Not quite ready to overhaul your diet? It is okay to start where you are. One easy way is to add instead of subtract from your diet. Look for ways to include a serving of fruits or vegetables with all meals and snacks. For example, have a small salad before the burger, add some broccoli or zucchini to your eggs, or enjoy an apple before the chips. You will create a win-win by eating more of the foods that nourish you and less of those that don’t really do a body good….all without feeling deprived.

You don’t have to earn the right to self care

Acts of self care don’t have to be earned – you always deserve them. You can show yourself some love even if the house isn’t clean or you don’t have a house. You can be kind to yourself when the kids aren’t on the honor roll, you didn’t get the promotion or your GED. It is alright to take time for yourself when your money isn’t right, you haven’t lost the weight and even when you feel like a complete failure. No matter what is happening in your life it is okay to cherish you. The goal of revolutionary self care is to add to your physical, emotional, spiritual, mental and even your financial well-being. You don’t have to wait until everything in your life is perfect. You can always practice revolutionary self care. 

Some of us did not die

The title of June Jordan’s essay collection – Some of us did not die – can sum up the miracle that is our daily survival. We continue to live in spite of a deeply embedded cultural hostility that threatens our emotional, mental and physical well-being. Still, though we did not die, many of us are sick. Women, and particularly women of color, must commit to self-care as a strategy of defense against systemic forces designed to undermine our sense of self and, ultimately, to destroy us. We cannot effectively resist our individual and collective oppression when we are physically, spiritually and emotionally spent. It is not always enough to not die. We deserve more. If we give up, stop trying, use up all our energy, burnout and stop caring, we certainly won’t get it because we won’t be up for the fight.

Job One

Regardless of your occupation the most important work you will ever do is on yourself. What skills, resources and support will you need for your revolutionary self-care practice?