Inside: Self-care is always important yet easily neglected. In painful seasons of life when it feels like we’re drowning it can feel incredibly hard to see our way forward. These 7 self-care practices help me show up when life is painful.
The choice to keep living fully as we walk through painful or scary seasons of life, in which we feel like we’re drowning or having trouble seeing our way forward, requires tremendous courage.
Fear often looms large in these seasons and it can require every ounce of strength and hope we can muster to keep putting one foot in front of the other – to just do the next right thing.
I’ve been in such a season and here are 7 self-care practices that keep me showing up. Practices that remind me I am rooted, resilient, and though I cannot control all circumstances, I am responsible for my response to life.
Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear. Mark Twain
Sharing our stories and example – imperfect and messy though it may be – invites others to come alongside and practice without judgment. It feels hopeful to know we are not alone and to hear how others continue to keep their hearts soft and to forge ahead with determination through the hard parts of life.
Not one of us has “arrived” nor will we make it through this life unscathed. We’re all just practicing.
(You might also like 10 Science-Based Self Care Tips for Fall & Winter and Resources to Help you Live Whole and Brave after Loss.)
7 Self-Care Practices that Remind us we are Rooted, Resilient, and Responsible for our Choices
1. Notice What I’m Feeling
I choose not to numb and instead live awake to the truth of what I am feeling. Grief, deep sadness, anger, fear… it’s all good. Uncomfortable and physically painful at times but also good.
I learned years ago that if I numb the sorrow or pain I also numb the joy. Because to numb required of me to build a shell or bubble of protection that instead of keeping me safe as I had hoped actually kept me afraid and believing I was incapable of doing hard things. And because I was afraid all the time I couldn’t allow myself to really see beauty, feel joy, or even to be proud of myself.
So I make space for all of it.
It isn’t always convenient – and sometimes we need to do our best to put a brave face on and go to work or on errands. But as much as I am able I allow myself to feel. To notice all of it. To see that it can’t break me and I will be OK.
2. Take Imperfect Action
Sometimes we need permission to hide out Netflixing, to cry freely, to stay in bed more than normal. Sometimes we cannot continue “life as normal” and this is OK. It has to be OK.
But I recognize that for myself, there is a difference between permission to heal or rest and spiraling downward and to keep myself from drowning I need to keep showing up in small ways. I need to take imperfect action.
Imperfect action can look like simply putting in a load of laundry or making one hard phone call. It can mean reminding myself to make a meal or getting out for a short walk. It might look like doing a bit of work even if I cannot do even 20% of my norm. I just do something. Small, healthy, positive somethings.
I have routines or self-imposed rules in place that make this easy even when I’m on auto-pilot. I know what day I do laundry, I have a menu plan to follow, I always drink at least 2L of water… some structure helps me stay afloat.
3. Look For Hope
No matter how bleak, regardless of how heart-breaking the circumstance, even though I’ve buried people I love and I see the injustice in the world and I am clear that life doesn’t always feel kind, I keep looking for hope.
I wrestle with what I mean by this – does hope mean I get exactly what I longed for? Does it mean “things work out for the best?” I don’t think so. Hope is somewhat slippery but I think it means that no matter what, there is still light. No matter what, I will taste joy and experience beauty again. No matter what, I am loved.
It means I don’t quit. I’ve decided. This one thing is settled. I. Won’t. Quit.
As a friend recently reminded me, not everyone has had to consciously decide to live as I have. But I’m guessing that everyone, at some point in their life, even if for a brief season, will need to decide if they will crumble into despondency about the painful parts of life or if they’ll keep looking for hope.
4. Choose To Like Myself
Choosing to like who we are right now – in the thick of our doubts or desiring change, the questioning, crisis, or daily struggle – is important. I’d argue it’s essential for wholeness and happiness.
We can’t pour out if we don’t pour in and it’s hard to fully love others if we don’t love ourselves first. As we offer ourselves compassion and acceptance, as we become gentler with ourselves, this spills out into all our relationships and interactions.
We can choose to like ourselves right now – while we are in progress – and then we practice daily, hourly. We can decide to treat ourselves kindly, to speak life to ourselves and treat ourselves like we matter, in the middle of the storm or the humdrum of life.
5. Own My Thinking
Our thinking directly impacts our moods/emotions and our behaviour and can drown us if we’re not careful.
Always, and especially during painful seasons, I must guard my thoughts. I must examine and challenge the stories I spin, the beliefs or patterns of thought that cause anxiety or suffering, I need to work to consider new/different, hopeful, honest possibilities. It’s critical that I remember that not everything that enters my brain is true or trustworthy.
Learning to examine and/or shift our thoughts requires deliberate practice. Ideally learned when life is calm, we’re often invited to grapple with and build this skill when life is anything but. It’s hard work rewiring old, ingrained patterns but becomes easier and more natural with practice.
This one practice can literally change our life.
6. Seek Community Care
For all our talk about reaching out and asking for help – it requires tremendous strength, persistence, and vulnerability to do so and sadly, we don’t always find the help we need even when we ask. People in trouble often don’t have the energy, mental strength, finances, or even time to advocate for themselves when they need it most.
One of the most important ways I practice self-care in this season is by seeking community care.
A meal, an emergency ride, a listening ear, a friend who drops her plans to sit with my child while I am unavailable, a potted yellow flower, a word of encouragement without expecting a reply or details of what we’re going through, compassionate employers/clients as we’ve navigated choppy waters, friends and family who make space for us to be scared and messy and hurting without trying “to fix” us or thinking they know best, support from health care professionals: these are all important forms of community care.
We can’t always walk our path alone and I think it’s better for our health if we don’t try to.
7. Lower Standards to Simplify
In painful seasons of life, it can feel like all my energy goes to remembering to breathe. I can’t keep up with the tasks and responsibilities that felt second nature not long before.
This year this has meant releasing most of the fun goals and expectations I had for my business – other things have taken priority. Though I’m a make things from scratch gal, I haven’t baked the entire school year – my kids are no worse for wear. My water filter needs cleaning, my house needs a good spring cleaning, I have not read much this year. But I’m breathing and living and I’m proud of myself for keeping my heart soft in a world that can feel unkind.
I choose good enough, loosen my grip, offer myself heaps of grace, and focus on being present for the people and to the needs that matter most.
These self-care practices cannot fix whatever ails you but they may prevent you from drowning. I hope they offer a little light and remind you to choose courage in the painful and uncertain seasons of life.
NOW WHAT? I’ve created a series of 3-4 week mini-courses to help you show up fully to life. SHOP OR LEARN MORE HERE. Or head over to the resource page I made for you For Wholeness And Joy Your Mental Health Matters.