You made it to week 4. I am so proud of you! By now I hope you have lots of tools in your self-care toolbox, and are using them liberally.
This last week of of the course revolves around what you need when you forget your tools and don't make time for your self-care: Self-Compassion. If you're anything like me, you might be your own harshest critic--and not even realize it. In the video to the right I share my own experience with learning about self-compassion, and how it changed my relationship with MYSELF.
The important thing to remember is that you are just practicing self-care. You won't get it perfect every time--and that's OK. You can't change old habits instantaneously. You are going to forget your tools sometimes. The key is to have patience with and self-compassion for yourself. Practice non-judgment. You are still a good person.
Here is a visualization one of my teachers shared with me about self-compassion: Visualize two children who are really upset about something--maybe they hurt themselves, for example: To the first child you say, “Why did you do that? What is wrong with you? You're so clumsy.” To the second child you say, “It's OK, come here and let me give you a hug. What do you need right now to make it feel better?" Now, maybe you're saying, 'I'd never talk to a child like that first example.' BUT...how do you talk to yourself? The sad truth is, we all have that inner child inside of us who may not have gotten enough support, validation, and encouragement growing up. You might go to therapy for many years to resolve those family of origin issues...OR you can accept that YOU are the only one who can give yourself the love and compassion you need...and DESERVE...and teach yourself SELF-COMPASSION.
What are some ways you are NOT compassionate with yourself?
*Being a perfectionist in all areas of my life.
*Getting upset at myself when I forget something.
*Believing stories I make up in my head about why people don't like me.
*Comparing myself to other people
Many spiritual teachers remind us that the first step to developing self-compassion is to practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness teaches us to be self-aware, to be able to pause and observe that we're suffering. With practice, you'll start to notice all the times you put yourself down, get angry at yourself, etc.
The second step is to normalize your experience.
Remind yourself that suffering and feeling personal inadequacy are part of the shared human experience – something that we all go through.
The third step is to practice loving-kindness toward yourself.
Think about how you would nurture a child, or how you would like to be nurtured yourself: Give yourself a loving touch (like placing your hand gently on your chest, a pat on the shoulder, or even hugging yourself). Reassure yourself by saying things like "It's OK," "I am still a good person," "I am safe," "I have a lot of people who care about me," "Have mercy."
So last week’s exercise of “How do I feel right now? What do I need?” might become:
“How do I feel right now? I feel _____.
It makes sense I’m feeling that way because____ (normalizing and validating your experience).
I’m still a good person (lovingkindness toward yourself).
What do I need?”
Interesting side note: Recent research shows that people who are most successful are not the people with the highest self-esteem, but the people who have the most self-compassion.
Spending Time in Nature
Nature is the ultimate stress reliever and the ultimate healer. Research has shown that spending just 20 minutes out in nature can lower cortisol (the stress hormone) levels in our body. Fresh air, sunshine, vitamin D, exercise--what more could you ask for? Not only that, but I believe that when people spend more time out in nature, they have a greater appreciation for the planet and all living beings, and become more mindful about how they care for these things. Just another reminder about how self-care is not selfish--it's good for the whole planet.
Of course, we'll often come up against mindsets or obstacles similar to the ones we've seen in our past weeks' work when it comes to spending time in nature. What are some mindsets or obstacles to you getting out in nature more often? Examples:
*I really should stay at my desk and keep plugging away at my work.
*I'm too busy to do anything outside today.
*It's too cold.
*I'm too tired. I'm just going to lie on the couch and watch TV.
I don't know about you, but the pandemic gave me the perfect opportunity to challenge myself to get outside more. For one, that was the only way I socialized with friends. I never thought I would do this in a million years, but I bundled up in my parka, boots and a blanket, and sat outside on my snowy patio next to a bonfire. I loved it, and I plan to do it again this winter! (What's that saying, 'Don't knock it 'til you try it?') We also got a pandemic pup--which means more walks and hikes. Yay, another easy way to incorporate some movement and exercise into my day!
If getting out in nature is not already part of your daily routine, here are some tips:
*Start small by taking a 'nature break.' Go outside for 5-10 minutes just to feel the sunshine or fresh air on your face.
*Even better, take out a book or magazine and make it a 1/2 hour nature break.
*Take your dog (or a friend's or neighbor's dog--they will really appreciate it!) for a walk. Even just a 15 minute walk around the block is great.
*Or perhaps you always get stuck walking the dog, and you're a little resentful about it. Go for a walk by yourself. If you feel guilty about it at first, practice self-compassion. You're still a good person.
*Plant a flower or vegetable garden--and take care of it. ;)
*Try some new outdoor activities like biking, hiking, or paddling. Search out some new trails, parks or rivers in your area you haven't been to before.
*Do your yoga or meditation practice outside.
And if you run into that ever-present excuse, 'I don't have the time,' remind yourself to put a little less time into what you don't love and a little more time into finding and doing what you do love.
Inner Work Homework:
*Write down 3 ways you can practice self-compassion.
*Write 3 encouraging and supportive things to yourself. (Think about how you would support a friend, child or loved one.)
*Practice validating your emotions throughout the next week. Ex: I feel____ and it’s OK for me to feel this way. It makes sense I would feel this way because ____.
Outer Work Homework:
*5 Senses Meditation Video*: Go outside (or look out a window if you really can't get outside) and follow this 5 Senses Meditation video.
Journal your observations – Did you notice things that you wouldn’t normally notice? That’s mindfulness.
You might also like to read this article from the Yale School of the Environment about how immersion in nature benefits your health.
Every Day: Gratitude Practice
Continue your daily list of 3 things you're grateful for. Can you notice how you feel when you don't rush but really internalize them for a moment? This will continue to help you ‘fill up your tank.’
Every Day: Doing What You Love:
You have hopefully noticed over the past few weeks that incorporating self-care ON A DAILY BASIS changes your mood and stress levels noticeably. Make it a PRIORITY to do some kind of self-care for yourself on a daily basis to continue lessening your chances of getting burned out and overwhelmed.
Go back to your list of things you love to do from Week 1. Choose one of the things and take the next 30 minutes to do it. Then, journal answers (if you’d like to be held accountable, email them to me) to these questions:
*What did you choose to do for your self-care this week?
*Share a few observations (positive or negative) you had during your self-care experience, including if you came up against any obstacles.
*How did you feel after?