Self Care- A Very Personalised View

Life is busy if you are living it.  Life can be busy doing nothing if you are skilled!  The conveyer belt of day to day can be hectic, feeling out of your control.  You don’t realise until a cog in the system breaks and everything falls down around you.  Before it gets to that stage, life experience and ageing may well have taught you that you must contemplate ways of helping yourself before you are pushed to the limit.  If you don’t look for help and ways to survive BEFORE the boat sinks you will drown with it.  I am hoping my book along with many others you may read will motivate you to change.

There are ongoing worries in life that cannot be eradicated by positive thinking.  Care of a sick relative, financial pressures, illness within the family, concerns about children.  These all add up to a brain that usually has ‘too many tabs open at once’. 

I have met patients and friends who exude calm and serenity.  I have read motivational books by celebrities and experts who convey a sense of being at peace with the world. There is a lot of valuable motivation out there if you can see it amongst the glitz.  Let’s be real, most of us do not have an unlimited bank account and staff to ‘do’ for us, so making time to even think of one’s own needs can be perceived as a luxury your time cannot afford.  Stop now and rethink that.  You have time.  Somehow, with a little restructure time can be made free.

I am a complete control freak.  A lot of my dearest friends are too.  It is this unifying ridiculous glue that may have brought us together, to ‘stick’ in the first place.  When my daughter was two weeks old I was relating to a friend how I was trying to get her into a sleep routine.  She made me laugh out loud when she said ‘she doesn’t know her mummy is a control freak yet!’  How true that was.  I didn’t give up though, I often apply the same rules to all of my life.  Constantly trying to push myself and others until I get to the destination I seek.   Whether it is with work or home,  just the colour I would choose to paint a wall, I have always been a ‘micromanager’ putting forward my point of view.  As a doctor my need for this to be an educated opinion probably kept me in good stead.  I would work hard to keep up to date and make my statements accurate, but when it comes to everyday life and particularly in my case, bringing up children, not all the same rules can be applied.  As you mature you realise somethings cannot be controlled and you must learn to let some things go.

There are lots of ongoing pressures on women over 40.  One thing I found myself repeatedly saying to my patients was for them to take back just some little time for themselves.  Whether it’s having a hot bath, reading a magazine, going to the gym, going for a hike, joining a yoga class this should all be indulged GUILT FREE.  Working inside or outside the home or both, caring for a family or pets or even a garden are mindful pursuits that drain the battery.  We manage to recharge our phones every night so why not our brains and emotions.

Self care is now a popular phrase in our vernacular. It encompasses a range of activities and attitudes and is used in social media, regular speech and all aspects of health seem to have self care advice potential.  An old science paper from the 1980s describes self care in health and in practice it is probably not such a novel idea.  This paper uses the definition ‘activities are undertaken by individuals in promoting their own health, preventing their own disease, limiting their own illness and restoring their own health’.  We now can use the phrase to describe anything from taking the time for a bath to visiting our pharmacy rather than our GP.  From a medical point of view any time taken to consider ways of taking care of ourselves that can prevent illness is a positive if it does no harm.  All doctors would want to see their patients in improved health without medical intervention.  In this writing here I am not talking about self care in terms of taking over the counter medicines when you have a virus or reading about your disease so you do not ask your doctor about it when really you should discuss with them.  I am not talking about the important aspect of self care that is management of your own disease that has been doctor diagnosed.  I am not talking about the advances in science that may mean you turn to an app to help you rather than a professional.  There may be a worthy time and a place for this but we still should not let technology totally overtake the power of human to human interface.  That is not my realm here.  Let us go back to basics and look at some non science, practical approaches.  Whatever self care is, let us look at the ‘easy to achieve parts’ that can give you back confidence, a feeling of control and hopefully added happiness and calm.

There is a new aspect to psychology within the last ten years called positive psychology and this is really aimed at focussing on things that make life worth living.  It is not designed for fixing problems but generally helping us to maximise our potential and this should in turn improve our quality of life.  This exciting area not only looks at the individual but also what really constitutes the good life and at a community level what the impact of more positive change could be.  I will be writing more formally in my book and interviewing a self care expert about their wonderful work in this area.

Stripping back from that science and just writing not as a doctor but a woman in the world of today, a world dominated by tech and demands and wanting everything yesterday, a basic pattern has emerged to me over the two years of my writing.  Through my layman’s eyes I see we really need to nurture ourselves in more ways than one.  I will be writing about the power of meditation, mindfulness and the evidence behind it in a clinical and non clinical setting.  On a personal level though, as an introduction, I feel we need to to be doing things that care for three aspects of our lives- I summarised them into three words….

What do I mean- mind, body, create?

Do activities to nourish your mind, your body and also create something.

Cover two of these or even all three with one activity.

See how it makes you feel.

However cynical you are, you will probably agree that you could benefit by looking after all these aspects of you as a person.  Examples would be for you to think of for yourself.  What would help you personally?  What can you work into your life?  Some might believe that in creating something and looking after your mind and body you are also looking after your soul.  Keeping it simple, just think of what you do every week to look after mind and body and what of that is also creative.  You don’t need to tick all three boxes, just start looking at what can be achieved.  Random examples that spring to mind….

Yoga will look after mind and body, if you teach it you are probably being creative too!

Learning a new recipe and trying it out on your family will cover all three aspects. 

Taking a walk in the countryside, park or by the sea will help your mind and your body, take your camera with you and you might create something! 

Exercising looks after your body but we know the chemical changes make us feel happier and brighter over time so mind is covered too. 

Gardening will give you a workout while you create something even if it is a tidier vegetable patch. 

Making journal entries to organise or offload your thoughts will help calm your mind and may create a joyful or honest read for a later date.

This is so, so basic.  I wrote it not as a doctor but as a thinker.  I did not research it, it is not science, just suggestions for a starting point to prioritise yourself and your own physical and mental wellbeing.  This is the least medical of all my writing but it is purely related to health; both perceived and real.  The pure scientists amongst you may deride me for writing such a basic piece.  Never mind them. We talk about being thankful or getting our children to talk about the best parts of their day at night time- us adults need a little of this reflective TLC as well.  Even if you started just taking time for one or two of these activities over the week and booking time for you, it would maybe start to enrich your life. 

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