I have learned a lot over these past couple years about the importance of self-care. I will say, it did not come natural to me.
Self care isn’t actually hard – it’s just the mental shift of allowing us to care for ourselves that is hard. You have to wrestle through thoughts about it being selfish or self-indulgent.
But as I have allowed and invited more self care into my life, I recognize the huge benefit of inviting it into my life more and tuning into my body more, and asking what it really needs in any given moment.
I would like to share some these practices with you, and invite you to give them a try in your own life.
As for self awareness – that is one I really thought I had down. But there was a large piece of self awareness I was truly missing. Which I will go into later in the article, in case maybe you have some blind spots like I did?
And finally, I will share what I believe separates us from joy. It is one of those things – not easy – but so simple – all at the same time.
Will you join me in in the journey of developing self-care, self awareness, and connecting closer to joy?
Developing Self Care as a Habit
As I said, self care did not come natural to me. Engaging in self care felt like laziness and indulgence.
But when I finally gave in and tried it, I realized it was just the opposite.
I was more productive when I engaged in self care. And, I was a better partner, friend, and co-worker.
You can engage in self care in a variety of ways.
It could be getting enough sleep. It could be taking a break or the day off from something. It could be developing an exercise habit. It could be taking walks in nature after work.
It also could be making your work environment a more calming place. This could mean turning off fluorescent lights and using a floor lamp instead. This could mean bringing in a scented candle of your favorite smell – and when you find yourself getting stressed – taking a “mindful minute” and focusing on the scent while taking a few deep breaths. If you love nature as much as me, maybe this means surrounding yourself with photos or artwork of nature.
I have actually been at work before, found myself stressed with a headache, and I would ask myself the question,
What do I need right now?
The answer I got back was “To be somewhere calming. To be in nature.”
When I tuned in and realized this was my answer, I was initially frustrated, because being in nature was not an option in that moment. I think for some, going on a short walk could be a good idea, but for me, I work in the city and a walk right outside my building would NOT be calming.
But instead of remaining frustrated, I asked myself what the closest to nature I could be in this moment was.
And then I decided to start looking through nature photos online. I actually was NOT confident that this would be helpful at all.
But, as I looked through the photos of trees and trails and sunsets and sunrises…I did find that it began to ease my mind. My mind, even if just for a few minutes, was taken out of my office and into calming nature. I could picture myself walking down the trails. I could imagine how the breeze might feel on my skin.
After a couple minutes of looking at the pictures, I was surprised to find, it was almost as if I had gone on a walk. My mind had expanded beyond my office and brought me a bit of clarity I didn’t have only moments ago.
Why Self Care & Self Awareness are Connected
I believe self care and self awareness are very connected.
First off, I had to realize I was a “highly sensitive person” – which is a term developed by Dr. Elaine Aron. People who are highly sensitive are not only emotionally sensitive, but also highly impacted by their environments and the people around them. We absorb what is around us in a deep way.
So, in this realization, I realized how important it was for me to give myself a calming and comforting environment. And although I have always enjoyed nature, it was through studying more about the highly sensitive person trait, that I realized how truly important nature was for me as a tool for calming.
The other way I believe that self care and self awareness are connected – is getting connected with what you truly need in a moment, and what your intentions are.
Whenever I feel myself getting frazzled or stressed, I ask myself,
What do I need right now?
Not “What should I need” or judgements about how I shouldn’t be so stressed right now.
But, what do I truly need right now?
The answer always varies, but here are some examples of some answers I have gotten from myself before:
I need to pace myself.
I need to take a moment to pause.
I need to take a walk.
I need a cup of tea.
I need to do something positive, and think about this later.
Or sometimes, I just need to tune in to why I am even feeling so stressed in the first place. But again, there are no judgments allowed.
Why are you feeling stressed right now?
Again, depending on the situation, it is always a variety of answers. Sometimes it is because I am feeling like something has to be perfect and other times it is because I am not pacing, and I am trying to get everything done at once.
Here is one blind spot I had with my self-awareness – I believed I was not impulsive. I am an overthinker, so by nature, you would not think I would be impulsive. So here’s the difference, I was not impulsive externally – but I was impulsive internally.
What I mean by this is, if I began to feel an emotion, I would immediately engage with it, without question. There was not a moment of pause. There was no moment to think through how engaging in this emotion might make me feel worse. I have worked with youth through my career, and taught them anger management skills to decrease verbal altercations and physical fights. It’s all about taking a moment to pause (not being impulsive with your words and actions) and looking at why you are feeling the way you are feeling – because a fight will not solve that problem.
So, the same with the internal. It is about taking a moment to pause – instead of engaging the experience of stress – and simply asking yourself Why am I feeling this way? and What do I need right now?
Separating Anxiety from Wisdom
So, another blind spot I had with self awareness was in regard to what was wisdom and what was anxiety.
You may have heard me talk about this in the blog before as intuition and ego. It doesn’t really matter what you call it. However, what I will say is, I was someone who DID NOT believe I was someone that had any issues with my ego. (Huge blind spot!)
The reason for this is probably because when I thought of the word “ego” I more thought of the mainstream use of the word – meaning self righteous or prideful. And ego can mean this. But ego can show up as anxiety too. The ego wants to protect us – but often takes the worst approach imaginable – whether through pride which disconnects us from others or anxiety which causes us to live in fear.
So, once I realized the ego could show up in anxiety too, I soon realized, I had a VERY big ego. Again, not something to judge myself for, just something to gently work on, one step at a time.
The good news is – on the surface, your anxiety might be everywhere. But inside of everyone, is a deep reservoir of wisdom. It is already there. You just need to learn how to better access it.
Like anything else, it just takes practice.
I will give you an example, on how you can work on practicing it.
In my job, I lead groups for my clients. For some reason, this always causes a bit of anxiety in me. But this day in particular, I was having more anxiety than usual as I was planning the group. I felt myself beginning to become stressed.
Before allowing the stress to go too far, I decided it was time for a “mindful pause.”
I grabbed a piece of notebook paper. On the top part I wrote:
On the second part I wrote:
And then I filled out each section – identifying first what my ego/anxiety was saying, and second what my intuition/wisdom was saying. It was helpful to be able to separate the two from each other.
Then I asked myself,
What do I need right now? Why am I getting upset? What are my intentions? Am I making this more complicated than it needs to be?
What it came down to, was a very common experience for me, my ego was trying to make something perfect, and in the process was causing me feelings of stress and anxiety.
When I tuned in to my intuition and wisdom – it was much more clear what I needed to do. I was complicating things I didn’t need to. Once I was able to have some clarity around this, I was able to move forward planning the group, without the feelings of stress hovering over me. They still popped up – but I just reminded myself what my inner wisdom had directed me to do.
How the Ego Separates us from Joy
I believe the ego separates us from joy. But the more we can move beyond the ego, the more joyful we will become, and the more decisions we will make that will lead us to joyful experiences.
The ego causes us to be too anxious, too embarrassed, and too afraid to live our lives fully. And although the ego will always be there to some degree, we can decide if we want to believe the ego, or if we would rather believe another part of ourselves. You get to decide “who” you trust.
And again, it takes practice. But with a little practice, brings a little progress. And with much practice, brings much progress.
As I have said before, I come from a Christian perspective. I am going to share a bit of my perspective, but please know, these are very helpful practices whether you add spirituality to the mix, or it is simply done as a secular practice. If this part doesn’t resonate with you, that is okay!
For me, I understand God as synonymous with Joy, Peace, and Freedom. I believe to experience Joy is to experience God. I believe that we find Peace, when through God, we are able to trust. And I believe we find freedom, when we allow our minds and lives, to be transformed by God.
So, for me, the ego represents sin. I know “sin” usually is associated with “doing wrong” – but my understanding of sin is a bit different. I believe sin is anything that separates us from God, and in turn, anything that separates us from Joy, Peace, and Freedom. I don’t think we need to be filled with shame for our “sin” – I just think we need to recognize how it is separating us from God, and in turn, an abundant life.
The word “repent” is often associated with a begging for forgiveness of our sins. However, the word actually means to turn and face God. Again, to turn your direction so that you are taking a path that leads to Joy, Peace, and Freedom.
The ego shows up a couple different ways in the Bible. Jesus eats with those of “lowly position” and you see the Pharisees criticizing him – saying things like “Why would you spend time with people like that?” and the Pharisees believing that they are better than them. Although the Pharisees were keeping all the “laws” – they were missing the whole point. They were missing God, because they were “too good” to be where God was.
And then the other side of ego shows up too. Moses doesn’t trust that God could use him for a greater purpose. After all, he is a stutterer – if he can’t even speak well – how could God have any kind of plans for him? Moses’ ego is filled self doubt. And if we let that self doubt get the best of us, we miss out on the abundant life God has for us.
Again, although I am speaking of this spiritually, please know the message is the same, even if you do not identify with Christianity or spirituality at all.
We have fear, anxiety, and self doubt which shows up as our ego. This ego side of us separates us from joy, peace, and freedom. But, we have the choice to turn ourselves toward joy, and we do this by tuning in to the inner wisdom that is already inside of us.
Developing a Morning Ritual
I have found it very important to develop a morning ritual for each day to center myself.
Some people call this meditation.
Some people call this prayer.
Some people just call it a “quiet time” before a busy day begins.
You can call it whatever you want.
In Christianity, prayer is considered one of the most important spiritual disciplines. The word discipline comes from the word “disciple” and the word disciple means “to teach.” We must teach our minds how to embrace the world differently – we must spend time training our minds and renewing our minds.
I will be the first to say, I have been guilty of a reading a blog entry or book – becoming very inspired – and then, well, that’s it. I don’t develop any kind of meaningful practice around it that will actually change my life. Don’t get me wrong, inspiration is a wonderful, wonderful thing. But, it really is the small everyday practices that truly change our lives.
Also, it is going to be a lot easier to deal with certain challenges in your day, if you first equip yourself in the morning, before the challenges even arise. Put on you armor, so to speak.
Going full circle, I believe self-care starts in the morning. Are you going to rush out of your house in a frantic state? Or are you going to offer self care by brewing a cup of coffee or tea, sipping slowly, and equipping yourself for the day ahead?
Some ideas for a morning ritual include:
Setting your Intentions:
What are your intentions for this day? Who do you want to be in this day?
Developing a Mantra:
Develop a mantra for the day that you will tell yourself when things become stressful.
Record your gratitudes from the previous day – this will help your mind to remember the positives and be looking for them in the day ahead of you.
Take a Mindful/Meditative Moment:
Close your eyes and quiet your mind. Focus your attention on your breathing. Focus your attention on the sounds around you. Have a candle nearby and focus your mind on the scent. Take a moment to simply be, in the present moment.
Read Something Inspirational:
Read an inspiring book or blog. Take time to reflect or journal on how you would like to embody this in your upcoming day.
I hope that some of the ideas and concepts that I discussed in this article, sparked changes of thoughts and ideas of how you could implement your own self care / self awareness practices in your own life, so that you might be able to connect more with joy, peace, and freedom.
Joy, peace, and freedom are already in our midst, we just need to learn how to access them. But through self care, self awareness, an understanding of what separates us (and lots of practice!) – you will find it. Never will things be perfect, but a more joyful, peaceful, and free version of yourself exists – and I encourage you to find her!
Take care of yourself. : )
- What are your current thoughts on self care? Are you willing to offer yourself more self care? If so, what are some ways you could start doing this?
- Look back on your past week – were there any stressful events? Were you able to take a “mindful pause” in these moments? If so, great! How did this help? But if not, how do you think a “mindful pause”might have helped in these moments?
- Think about something that is causing you stress or anxiety right now. First, write out the perspective of the ego. Once you’ve done that, write out the perspective of the inner wisdom. Are you willing to trust the inner wisdom over the ego?
- How do you see your ego keeping you from joy, peace, or freedom in your life currently? What could be some baby steps in making changes to this?
- If you don’t currently have a morning ritual practice, would you be willing to start one? What practices mentioned would you be willing to try out and start using regularly? If you already have a morning practice, how do you notice this practice impacting your days? How would you like to strengthen this practice?