Noticing the signs and symptoms of a lack of self-care
Last week, I found myself once again nearing a breakdown, and given incredibly upsetting events of the past week, I know I’m not alone in that.
I was very clearly in need of some self-care, and thankfully, this time around I recognized the signs and staved off a brain implosion, but we know there have been many times that I haven’t been so thoughtful or so lucky.
I was relieved to have some time to course correct before a complete meltdown. I felt so proud, thinking “I can keep this from happening!”
…but I still had a problem.
This was a new point of awareness for me. In the past, I might start to recognize signs of an impending emotional health catastrophe and either keep pushing through, or pause the madness for a short bit, but in either case it’s usually not long before I’m back on the stress train.
I didn’t want to fall into the same trap of that dangerous cycle, and I recognized the signs early enough, but I still had no clue how to redirect myself or how to figure out the KEY activity that would really help me turn things around. Where would I even start?
It’s time for some self-care…but how the heck do I start?
With a blog dedicated to the importance of self-care in our lives, you’d think I’d have previously established and perfected my ultimate routine for wellness, but the truth is…I didn’t, I still haven’t, and I’m not sure I ever will.
For all my self-care enthusiasm, I tend to ride the rollercoaster of life with very few consistent daily practices beyond my morning coffee and twice daily dental hygiene.
Try as I might, daily regimens are not something I can stick to. It’s a near miracle that I’m flossing [mostly] daily.
Sure, I have some rituals and patterns I try to follow, but they’re not consistent by any normal measurement of time or flow. Especially this year, when so much of life is characterized by “survival mode,” a self-care routine is just NOT happening on any consistent basis.
I’d love to be one of those early-risers, waking up before family and work obligations, but frankly, my sleep is just too precious to me. Where can I fit the self-care in my day?
So like any good millennial, I go to Google for help…the internet MUST hold the key to easy, fulfilling self-care, right?
Seeking advice on self-care
A quick google or pinterest search of “self-care” yields a bazillion-and-one suggestions for establishing a self-care routine, making a consistent self-care practice, self-care checklists to print and use, and more.
Similarly, the world that my self-care dense instagram feed is living in is NOT akin to the one I’m living in everyday.
I don’t know about you, reader, but I can’t handle another project right now, least of all one that is focused entirely on myself. I will self-sabotage the hell out of a goal for my soul and emotional health where I’m the only one [seemingly] to benefit.
Truth be told, these days, if it happens at all, my self-care tends to be multifunctional, crossing off a necessary to-do or chore while I try to refill my own cup. Is this ideal? No way! But I’m also of the mind that something is MUCH better than nothing when it comes to my self-care and my sanity. We’re all doing the best we can, right now.
On the one hand, it would be wonderful for my mental health if I could just buckle down, try harder (one of many mantras of the millennial), and figure it out, and on the other…if the very thing I’m trying to serve [my mental health] will suffer in the process, what good is that doing?
Here’s what I already know about self-care
I’m gonna keep this as brief and as bulleted as possible because I’ve read and reread these facts a thousand times over in my search for the self-care silver bullet, and I don’t want to belabor what’s already been done.
Here’s what I know, and what many have confirmed:
- Self-care is important.
- Mindset is important. Self-care is not selfish.
- Self-care is unique to the individual.
- The need for self-care exists in every nook and cranny of human existence, usually organized into different categories. Depending on who you ask, self-care crosses different domains, dimensions, planes, etc. like mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual.
I know with certainty that all of these things are true and valid, but it’s still incredibly hard to implement self-care in my own life on any given day.
I know about Maslow, but it doesn’t make achieving self-actualization any easier.
I know from experience that no amount of reading or reflecting on these ideas themselves will help me make that shift to actually taking action and performing some much needed self-care, so what will?
When the self-care routine is too much to handle
My own struggle for self-care was what inspired me to start this blog, and I’ve confessed previously that I am constantly learning what self-care means to me.
In my work and my “research” to help myself and others care for themselves, there seems to be overwhelming support and resources for people who are READY to take on self-care.
But what about those of us who aren’t quite there yet, or can’t find the time?
What if I just can’t get started? What if the self-care tips, checklists, menus, challenges, and endless lists of self-care ideas and activities are just TOO MUCH for my poor little overwhelmed brain, heart, body, soul, etc?
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the content and the folks who created these tools, and I definitely can see the value there, but they are just not the right fit for me right now.
Over time, I hope to get to the point where those tools resonate for me, but right now, at this moment, I have 5 minutes to spare and I’m somewhat frantically trying to figure out how I can fill that time in a way that will nourish my soul.
This is where the self-care checkup comes into play.
The self-care checkup: An alternative to the self-care routine
The self-care inspiration that I needed was not something I could find in the great abyss of the internet, but I couldn’t let it lie.
Feeling further frustrated, overwhelmed, and still unsure of where to start, I sought to make an alternative to the pervasive recommendations for self-care activities and routines.
Doing my best to consider what I needed in the moment, I started thinking about a medical check-up. When we see a provider with a specific need, the exam will include a “review of systems” in which the provider does a sort of inventory of different organs, areas and processes in the body. This helps the provider identify symptoms from head-to-toe in meaningful categories to assist in their assessment.
What if I had something like that for myself? For my soul? Thus, the self-care checkup was born.
Consider the self-care checkup your head-to-soul review of systems, and you don’t need an advanced degree to use it. It encompasses our human existence, and not just our physical bodies (though that is an important piece of it).
Elements of the self-care checkup
The way I see it, self-care can be broadly categorized into six areas, all overlapping, and not mutually exclusive. These six types of self-care are all included as elements of the self-care check-up (and not coincidentally, how I’ve organized the blog content).
Elements of the self-care checkup include considerations for our emotional, spiritual, intellectual (also known as mental health), physical, social and sensory needs. It might seem a bit daunting to consider all of these at once, but the beauty of it is that you really only need to take what you need from it.
For folks like me, who get overwhelmed when the wind blows, I’ve kept the self-care checkup simple and straightforward, and even included an abbreviated version when the need is urgent.
How to use the self-care checkup
[pullquote align=”right” style=”style3″ width=”381″ size=”14″ line_height=”18″ bg_color=”#DA6C70″ txt_color=”#ffffff”][blockquote custom_class=”” txt_color=”#ffffff” size=”25″ line_height=”32″]Self-care activity example: I’m notorious for mindlessly eating my food. On stressful days when self-care is especially difficult, my next snack is a great opportunity to reset and pay attention to the smaller details of the experience that I normally take for granted. [/blockquote][/pullquote]
- First, decide which version you need.
- Are you in an urgent need for self-care help? When I’m on the brink of a breakdown and need an energy reset that I can do in, like, literally a minute, I am best served by the SOS…emergency self-care checkup.
- For the occasions when I have a bit more time to spare (and I’m not talking about a lot, I mean like….5-10 minutes, MAYBE), I am best served by the head-to-soul self-care checkup.
- Read the questions and consider your needs in this moment, right now.
- If you get to a question that doesn’t sit right, skip it. Keep moving on through your self-care checkup in the way that works best for you.
- Some potential self-serving care activities are included in the questions, but the KEY is to think about what most applies to YOU and YOUR NEEDS right now.
- Get some clarity about the steps that you need or want to take for your self-care.
- The self-care checkup is not meant to highlight any shortcomings, or give you a laundry list of areas to improve. Use the self-care checkup to discover your needs at this moment and where you might need some help. More than that, you may also find the areas where you are thriving, and that is something to celebrate.
SOS…emergency self-care checkup
The self-care checkup to ward off the impending meltdown. Ask yourself:
- What do I need right now, right this second?
- Keep it simple and straightforward. Think basic needs that might have fallen by the wayside like food, water, movement, rest.
- To what extent can I honor that right now, even in a small way?
- For example, when I need to rest but have zero time, I close my eyes for an untimed minute and take a few deep breaths, with the hope that I can get some more restorative rest soon.
- Is there anything I can do right now to help my future self with fulfilling this need?
Head-to-soul self-care checkup
Time for your head-to-soul self-care checkup. Take all the time you need (or at least what you have available) to think through these questions, considering your needs at this moment and what you can do to honor those needs. Keep it simple and straightforward, trusting the first answer that comes to mind as you reflect.
- What am I feeling in my body right now? Have I been listening to my physical needs today?
- Have I had any water today?
- When was the last time I got up from my seat and moved around? Perhaps I’ve been moving too much and I need to take a seat.
- What can I do to nourish myself to the best of my abilities today? When?
- What am I feeling in my heart and mind? What would help me feel better emotionally or intellectually/mentally?
- Do I need to cross something off my to-do list to feel better, or do I need to put the to-do list aside for today?
- Can I simplify what “must” get done today?
- Am I able to hear what my soul needs right now, and how can I honor it?
- Do I need a minute to just sit, to empty my mind, or say a prayer?
- Can I do a quick braindump to detox my mind and start fresh?
- What simple thing can I release, or let go of, that isn’t serving me right now?
- How are my inner circle and my community impacting the way I feel today? Do I need more connection, less, or different?
- What am I experiencing right now through all my senses? Am I noticing the smell, taste, sound, vision, or physical sensation of the moment?
- For any of the above needs I just identified, to what extent can I honor them right now, even in a small way? How can I support my future self to fulfill this need?
[pullquote align=”right” style=”style3″ width=”381″ size=”14″ line_height=”18″ bg_color=”#FFCDB2″ txt_color=”#6D6875″][blockquote custom_class=”” txt_color=”#6D6875″ size=”25″ line_height=”32″]Self-care activity example: When I’m feeling overstimulated by events outside of my control, I’ll take a quick break from my phone. To resist the ever-present pull of social media, I’ve removed some apps from my phone, while the temptation of others needs to be silenced with a short bout of airplane mode. [/blockquote][/pullquote]
Ok…deep breath, I know that was a lot of questions, and some of them are heavy hitters.
Are any of these striking a chord? If you are feeling the energy and the pull to take some self-care action, please go do it! Drop your phone like a hot cake mid-read, and go do that thing! The rest of this text will still be here when you need it.
Too much? Take a break from your self-care checkup and come back later for a follow-up.
Treatment plan and follow-up for your self-care checkup
Did going through those questions help you find a reasonable, doable way to start to refill your cup? I hope so!
If you are so strapped for time or self-soothing energy that you simply cannot take action in your self-care right now, that’s ok. The self-care checkup activity serves as your intention, and COUNTS as self-care (if you want it to).
Consider as your follow-up plan:
- Think about the NEXT time you find yourself with 5 minutes free for self-care, what do you want to do with that time?
- Can you take 5 minutes now to queue up the environment to meet that need?
- Consider writing it down (jotted notes on a post-it will do) or having a conversation about what and how you are going to fulfill your needs.
- Going forward, if you notice yourself slipping into the place where self-care is a struggle, it’s time to follow-up with another self-care checkup.
- Keep practicing, and come back whenever you need.
As a final thought, with every self-administered self-care check up, assess yourself with compassion. This is a shame-free, guiltless activity, meant to support you in listening to, and serving your needs.
I’d love to banish the nagging little voice convincing us all that if we make time for ourselves, then we’ll be taking time away from others.
It’s so hard to believe it, but knowing what refuels us can help keep us going, energizing us so we can give more to others. I hope this self-care checkup helps you honor your own needs and tend to them in the times when it is hardest to do so.