Self-Care Advice to Get Back on Track
Words by Kara Chamberlain
If anyone is going to give you advice on self-help or self-care, it may as well be me. I have tried everything from vision boards to crystal healing to cognitive behavioural therapy.
Self-help books I’ve read include:
Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, You Are a Badass, You Do You, Self Care for the Real World, The Life Plan: Simple Strategies for a Meaningful Life, Big Magic, Reach Your Dreams, On Confidence, Happy: Why More or Less Everything is Absolutely Fine and Braving the Wilderness.
That’s not to mention the sheer number of online articles I’ve read on breaks at work (mindbodygreen.com is one of my go-to websites), magazines I’ve read (I buy any magazine called ‘Mindful’ or ‘Breathe’ or with ‘Happiness’ in the title when I’m traveling by plane), and therapists I've seen.
Why am I so obsessed with self-help? Because I have spent the last 10 years trying to figure out how to take care of myself effectively. As someone who struggles with anxiety disorders, panic attacks, depression, lack of self confidence, the overwhelming need to be an actor in a crazy beauty-obsessed world, it has been a life-long journey to find a self care routine that works for both my soul and my bank account.
Here are some things I’ve learned along the way that may help you begin your self-care journey.
1. Have a clear definition of success.
Create your own definition of what success looks like. It is very easy to get caught up in what you think you ‘should’ be achieving, especially when you compare you self to others on social media. The truth is, there is no ‘should’ in success. Each of us is here to live our own lives and tell our own stories, so you get to decide what achievement looks like for you.
Some ways you can start:
⁃ Make a vision board. This is a visual representation of what you want your life to look like. Be as specific as you can, using images and words and quotes and whatever gets you excited. Put your vision board somewhere you can see it regularly. Mine is usually on my bulletin board at my desk.
⁃ Meditate and see what comes to you. Set a timer for however long you want to meditate. Sit down, lie down, look up how to do a walking meditation, whatever gets you into a clear mind space. Ask yourself “What does your dream life look like?” Tune in on your breath and let go, trust that the answer will come to you, you don’t need to go searching for it. Once the timer has gone off, open your eyes and take a deep breath, then journal about whatever images or thoughts came up.
⁃ Write it down. Write down everything you want to have in your life in 5 years, but write in present tense. Act as if you have been transported into your future ideal life and are journaling about how awesome it is. Be specific.
Once you know what you want your life to look like, you can start thinking about what success looks like to you. Write down your own definition of success, mine is currently I work to create a life I love every day. Simple, yes, but it works for me. Yours will be in line with whatever you want and whatever makes you feel good as your head hits the pillow.
2. Take it slow.
Now that you have created your vision and your definition of success, you may want to dive in head first and start living your best life. Yeah, I’ve been there too. What usually happens is you will make a list of all the things you 'need' to change, or start doing, or stop doing, and then you will freak out because it looks like you’ll have to change your whole life and everything you do/eat/want. So, you’ll throw that list away and stop reading this article and say that all this self-help stuff is crap.
Before you do that, here’s my advice to get the process started in a more useful way. Pick ONE (I cannot stress this enough, just one) starting point, and spend a couple days incorporating it into your schedule. Once you feel you have that down, you can add another. But go SLOW. The tortoise won for a reason.
3. You come first.
We are now going to start talking about obstacles. There are always going to be things that get in your way (I see you COVID-19). So instead of ignoring them we are going to plan for them and learn how to deal with them. That way, when they inevitably arise, you’ll be able to keep on track.
The first obstacle is other people. It is very easy to create your perfect life schedule only to find it all fall apart when your boss asks you to take on more work or your sister wants to plan a surprise party for your mom. I’m not saying you should ignore your family and slack off at your job, of course not. Instead, build a routine that can accommodate changes in your schedule as new things come up that you want to do.
I will say that last part again: that you WANT to do. If you aren’t interested in going to see your best friends cocker spaniel in a dog show, you don’t need to go. Take your friend out for coffee instead and get a congratulatory chew toy for Mr. Fluffers. Sacrificing your own sanity and self-care because other people are claiming your time will not make you the loving friend/partner/coworker/etc. that you know you can be. Putting your self-care first is the best thing for you and for the others in your life.
4. Life Will Get in the Way
The second obstacle is life. A happy life is a balancing act between the things that will make you happy and the crap life throws at you. The key here is not to try to perfect happiness and never be thrown off by broken boilers or delayed trains, it is to accept the delays and heartbreaks as part of the journey. This way we can learn to move forward and adjust our plans as issues arise.
Our life designs are not set in stone, they are guidelines that need to be updated. So when life gets in the way, remember that it is an opportunity to readjust and check-in. This is a journey, and most journeys involve some wrong turns.
* COVID-19 edit: This is extremely relevant right now, because life has basically plunked a massive brick wall between most of us and our goals. If your plan has been completely decimated it can be difficult to try and move forward, but these are the times that give us perspective and gratitude for everything we have already achieved. I had a plan for the year, and was happily moving forward and making adjustments, but it has been fully destroyed at this point. What is my next move? Let myself recalibrate for a few days, cry a little, get mad and frustrated a little, grieve my perfect plan for my dream life, then take a look at where I've ended up and start a new plan. My plan has ended, but the journey hasn't.
5. Trust the process.
I was speaking to a friend recently about a current issue I am dealing with. The metaphor I used goes like this:
I’m walking to a friends house, and to get there I need to go through a forest. The forest has many paths, so before entering I look at a trail map and decide on the one I want to take. I walk into the forest, and as soon as the entrance has faded from view I freak out because I am in a forest. What if I get lost? What if a bear attacks me? What if this isn’t even the right forest? What if forests don’t really suit me and I’m more of a city road kind of person? So I run around for a bit, completely disregarding the plan, and get totally lost.
Basically, I stop trusting the process. And because I stop trusting it, I don’t follow through with the plan and I end up lost in a metaphorical forest nowhere near where I wanted to go.
My friend's advice was to trust that you knew what you were doing when you made your plan. Even if it seems different to what you’d expected. Even if you suddenly doubt yourself. Just follow through with the plan.
6. There is no set number of steps to get you there.
Clickbait (and this numbered list I'm writing) will make you believe differently, but there is no set list of 7 or 10 things you definitely need to do to succeed in self-care. It will take as many steps as it takes, as much time as it takes, and as many ups and downs as needed. By all means keep reading articles called “12 things you need to change your self care routine”, but take them with a grain of salt. There is no need to give up if it’s going to take more than 12 things.
7. One vegetable is better than no vegetables.
Let’s say your goal is to eat better, but you don’t feel like cooking one night. You have all the ingredients in your fridge for a Gordon Ramsay level salad you planned to make, but you also have Domino’s Pizza programmed into your phone. It seems really daunting to make a whole fancy salad, so you order the pizza, then you feel guilty because you didn’t follow the plan and therefore suck as a human being.
OR. You acknowledge that you don’t feel like making a fancy salad and you really do want pizza, so you order a small pizza and cut up some veg to dip in the herb & garlic dipping sauce. That is good enough.
It is better to make a small step forward then to make no steps forward because a big step seemed impossible. Or, as they say, don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.
8. Ask for help.
Finally, and most importantly, ask for the support you need. Whether it is therapy, a shoulder to cry on, a change in your schedule at work, or time to hang out with your best friends dog, ask for it. You don’t get what you don’t ask for. And usually the people in your life are happy to have a chance to support you.
*COVID-19 edit: Giving help and getting help will keep us sane through this crisis. Being willing to ask for the support you need has never been more vital. Ask your friends for Face Time chats, or let your neighbours know if you are self-isolating and need help with things like taking your bins out or picking up vital supplies. No one is an island, even when were are all forced to be 6ft apart.
Hopefully these tips have been as helpful for you as they have been for me. My journey is far from over, and I’m sure there are many set backs and successes still to come. To leave you with one last thing to think about: you are completely and totally worthy of living the life you want. Love you. Stay well.