Self-Care and Self-Love. They sound like just buzzwords until you really get to work on them but it's important that you do.
I’ve been teaching yoga and self-care to kids and adults for years now, and, like all things that involve love and the mind, it has unfolded slowly for me throughout that time. For me, theory is easy but practice and patience is hard. This might be true for you, too.
I used to think I loved myself and I did, in a way. I loved the version of me that I thought I could be if I got my life together, lost 15 pounds, and had the best love Instagram had ever seen, but I never really loved who I was at that very moment — until I looked in the mirror and realized that this girl really deserved some love and care and that I would never be able to give my best to the world until I took care of myself first.
Self-love is about finding small moments, whenever you can, that say, “I’m ok. I’m right here. I’m supposed to be here.” It’s accepting the good things because you deserve them and accepting the challenging things because you deserve to hold the lessons you will learn from them.
My self-love journey has looked like grief, healing, pain, hugs, and journals. My self-care journey has looked like yoga in studios and the living room, breath, a fancy drink on a non-pay-day week, saying yes when I wanted to, saying no when I didn’t, laughing when things were funny, crying when things were sad, allowing myself to feel whatever I felt and not letting anyone tell me that it wasn’t okay.
It isn’t easy -- sometimes I’ll be perplexed by how much self-love is a wrestling match with pain or a high-tempo tango with healing, but now I look in the mirror and what I once considered flaws now look like a story that I helped write. I see the younger me that I made a promise to make a beautiful life for. I see an unfolding future that I get to step into.
Self-care and self-love looks different for everyone. Self-care usually isn’t just sweatpants and ice cream (but, hey, sometimes it is); a real self-care practice isn’t passive, it takes effort and intention to change the direction of your heart. Some self-care activities are better than others, depending on who you are. Self-care takes practice. Self-care will not always feel good or convenient. Self-care and self-love takes trust in your self to do what’s right for you and to notice and name when something just isn’t. Self-love is forgiving yourself when you inevitably screw it all up. You definitely will. That's ok.
Here are some self-care tips for your self-love journey, but feel free to make up your own (I did.):
Make a list of things that you love about yourself: maybe keep it in the notes of your phone. When you feel like life is being tough on you (or someone is, or YOU are) take a look. This has changed a breakdown to a breakthrough for me more than once.
Pay attention to your breath: Is it aligned with how you’re feeling right now? Are you breathing fast because you’re upset or scared? Notice that. Then notice how if you change your breath, your mind and body will align with it instead of the other way around. Take a series of deep, measured breaths or try nostril breathing or hand breathing.
Make a traffic light list: this could be about anything! It could be about your friends, your habits, the activities you do. Now organize them into three separate lists. Red light means you leave these things feeling worse than when you arrived. Yellow light means you leave these things feeling the same as when you arrived. Green light means you leave these things feeling better than when you arrived. I thought I knew what I loved and what was best for me until I made this list. People and things can move up and down the ranks over time but it's helpful to know what people and things you should engage with when you need a boost.
Get off the internet: Set a time (an hour, an evening, a day per week) and stay away from the internet. Don’t check social media, don’t look at your work emails, don’t scroll through CNN, find something else to do to keep you grounded. Exist offline and download messages from the sounds of your loved ones voices, the way the sky looks today, or your gut reactions to things that happen in your real life.
Get some sleep: Make a sleep routine and stick to it. Even if you aren’t sleeping, get in bed and get comfy, because you’re going to be there for the time you said you would. Don’t pick up your phone when you feel like you won’t fall asleep — read a book, listen to a podcast, talk to someone, or write in your journal until you’re ready to drift off.
There are a million ways to do self-care and only you know what’s right for you. Plug a few things into your week that you know you’ll thank yourself for and engage in it diligently. Don’t get frustrated if it doesn't go right, or if it doesn't immediately fix your problems, or if you mess it up – self-love is a process filled with lots of self-care.
Self-care is being aware of what’s REALLY going in with you and responding accordingly. Self-care is being gentle with yourself every time you get it wrong (and you will get it wrong). It won’t come natural at first, but it will come. Sometimes just knowing you have the tools is enough.
Good luck :)
BRIDGE offers self-care professional development workshops for educators and those who work in youth service. Contact us for more information!