The first questions that students are asked in a M.A. program for Counseling Psychology is, “What are your methods of self-care?” and “How do you practice them?” Before beginning my graduate curriculum in counseling, self-care was not on my radar or something I thought about in a practical way. I started to feel squeamish when asked these questions because I didn’t really know how to answer them. Self-care wasn’t something I mindfully or intentionally integrated into my life. I came to realize this is true for most people. We rarely take the time to think about how we actually take care of ourselves, make ourselves feel good, or how we cope overall. If we rely on negative coping strategies as our form of self-care like eating an entire tub of cookie dough, excessive online shopping that we can’t really afford, or drinking a whole bottle of wine as we binge watch multiple show seasons on Netflix, it doesn’t really leave us feeling better than when we started, and most often it contributes to a low sense of self-worth. These choices impact the way we talk to ourselves, and they therefore shape the way that we feel. We may tell ourselves some variation of, I’m such a loser, why can’t I get my shit together, or I’m never going to be good enough, so what is the point?
I find when working with clients, it is a common theme that people forget that they need to prioritize themselves and their happiness. When I ask, “What do you do for yourself?” I’m often met with uncomfortable silence or stuttering of “I don’t really know.” Not everyone has the luxury of finding their soul career and being completely fulfilled by their 9-5 job in the way that maybe an athlete, musician, or artist could be. However, we do have the power and ability to spend our free time in ways that feel rewarding and fulfilling to us. I can’t tell you what this is for you, but I can encourage you to dig deep and find it.
For those clients and people out there that become nervous in response to the question of “What do you do for yourself?” You are not doomed. This is not a question to provoke your insecurity and make you think, well I’m not really good at anything. It’s actually the opposite. Maybe you don’t have a specific hobby you excel at doing, but every human being has their own unique set of interests, talents, and strengths. When you are able to tap into this side of yourself, it becomes effortless. Positive psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, defines the state of flow as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.” You can start answering this question by asking yourself what you lose track of time doing. When we observe children, their concept of time in play is discretionary. They can often enter a world of imagination and creativity without limits or restraint, playing mindlessly for hours. As adults, time seems to play a more essential role in our life. We allocate time across our schedule to fit it all in and ensure we stay on track. However, the essence of time can be limiting and can dominate our ability to stay present or fall into flow.
Another way you can answer the question is by asking yourself what is it that you do that gives you energy and stimulation. While you are doing it or afterwards you feel invigorated, inspired, passionate, or excited. These are clues that you are on the right track. Another key in finding your method of self-care is reflecting on the things that you care about or that you’re interested in learning. These small cues can be accessed by paying attention to what you seek out to read, watch, listen to, or experience. If you realize you follow recipe Pinterest boards, spend your free time watching the food network and Tasty videos, and you’re drawn to the cook book section of the book store, cooking is most likely something you are passionate about and can be an effective means of self-care for you. If you allow yourself to then put more mindful and intentional energy into your curiosity of cooking, you may find it is the perfect way for you to explore your creativity, lose track of time, and boost your self-esteem.
Some people may convince themselves that it is too late to start something new. If they haven’t done it yet, they feel it will never work out. However, this is a myth. No matter what age we are, our interests and curiosities continue to evolve. Learning and growing are what keep life interesting and keep us young in spirit. You owe it to yourself to live a life that you enjoy and to feel good while you live. There are so many things that go on in the world and with the people around us that are completely out of our control, and we are unable to change them. However, how we spend our time and what we do to feel good is something we can control, and it supports us in handling the difficult stuff that life throws our way. If you are struggling with your own self-care methods or your self-esteem, reach out to a therapist that can support you in this journey. You have what it takes to live an amazing life that you love.
Grace Stevens, LMHCA
Psychotherapist in Evansville, IN