This week is Self Care Week 2018 and we’re marking it with another guest blog from Bird, an organisation working with people to avoid burn out and build resilience. Here’s Hannah Massarella, Bird’s CEO and founder, explaining some of the practical steps we can all take to master self care.

Mastering Self-Care

There are so many self-care practices that can be implemented in order to build your resilience. And each person is different in terms of what is helpful; self-care isn’t a one size fits all operation. It is personal and it takes time to work out what works for you.

Having said that, there are two main areas that I believe are useful for all of us to, at some point, begin exploring.

Being with emotions

The first is being with emotions. When we’re in a time of uncertainty or feeling overwhelmed what we tend to do is ignore the emotions that come up in response to the situation. We suppress the emotions and try to keep going, pushing on through. But at some point, the emotions always catch up with us. Dr Brené Brown describes the different ways in which that can happen. She talks about how when we ignore our emotions in times of challenge they can come back in the form of flying off the handle (like when we experience an explosion of emotions at something seemingly insignificant), physical problems (like headaches, back pain, anxiety attacks, hair loss, weight gain, insomnia) or where we bounce our hurt or ‘project’ our emotions onto other people (like when we are feeling overwhelmed and instead of acknowledging that we get angry and blame other people).

Ignoring our emotions doesn’t help us and it doesn’t help those around us. It erodes our resilience. Being with our emotions, on the other hand, is a surprisingly simple practice that actually helps us to navigate, even thrive in, challenging situations.

This is a practice of checking in with yourself regularly, and becoming an observer of your emotions. Noticing in a time of challenge that nervousness is coming up, that you can feel it in your stomach, that you have a dry mouth, that your shoulders feel heavy, all allow the emotion to be felt, and then allow the emotion to move along. I was taught when doing my CTI Co-Active Coaching training that emotions are energy-in-motion, they want to move through us. When we notice our emotions and remember that they aren’t going to stick around forever, they aren’t going to swallow us up if we allow ourselves to feel them, we become more equipped to lean in to times of uncertainty and challenge.

Taming negative thoughts

The second self-care strategy that I believe applies to all of us is acknowledging and taming negative thought patterns. What most of do when we are in times of struggle is we begin to catastrophise. We make us stories that the worst that could possibly happen, will happen, and it puts us into a state of high alert and worry. Our negative ‘catastrophising’ thoughts come from our limbic system – the part of our brain that keeps us safe. It’s a really useful part of the brain when it comes to genuine danger – when we need to jump out of the way of a bus it tells our body to spring into action. But it stays active far more than we need it to.

Negative thoughts are known as self-sabotage. We stop ourselves from feeling good by telling ourselves negative stories about what might happen, and also, about who we are. Self-sabotage tells us, often unconsciously, that we are not good enough at X, Y and Z, and so we shouldn’t bother trying, or we should expect to fail. Because all of this is often going on unconsciously we aren’t fully aware that it’s eroding our resilience. It is anti-self care.

The strategy with negative self-sabotage is to shine a light on it. Look at what we are telling ourselves about situations and about who we are. When we have a conscious grasp on those stories it’s easier to find a counter perspective, one that feels self-supporting and self-caring. A great book to begin that process is called Taming your Gremlin by Rick Carson.

Self-care is a responsibility

Self-care is a responsibility, not a luxury. We know now that when we ignore our emotions, and our negative self-sabotage, it has an impact on those around us, and leaves us feeling less than resilient. Looking at these areas might take time, support and focus but when we really step into it, we become energised, healthy, hopeful, self-confident, and able to deal with anything.

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