Self-Care Monday #2: Practice Self-Compassion

We are usually our own worst critics. We easily judge and place higher expectations on ourselves more than others. Its okay to have high expectations of yourself but not when you beat yourself up to the point of causing you to lower your self-esteem and degrade yourself.

I had a therapist in grad school. I remember talking to her often about the amount of anxiety I had over grades. I got a “C” on a paper and almost has an absolute meltdown over it. She asked me what I would say to a friend if she came to me and was so distraught over getting a “C.”

I said, “A ‘C’ is not an ‘F’. And grades in grad school don’t matter in the long run. It’s just one paper.”

My therapist said, “Why can’t you say that to yourself? What makes you so special that you have to be better than everyone else? Why are your expectations so greater than what others should be achieving?”

I remember how narcissistic I felt in that moment. But my thinking did not come from true narcissism. I replied, “I guess I feel I have to try harder than everyone else just to be as good as them.” This was linked to the way I felt about my own body image. In my mind since I wasn’t thin or pretty I somehow had to be really smart or super successful to make up for it. It was a therapeutic breakthrough for me to see the connections in my thinking.

I realized that I wasn’t permitting myself the forgiveness and acceptance I provided others. Self-compassion heals us. It tells us that when we make mistakes or don’t meet our expectations we are still good, still worthy of love, still full of strengths.

How do we practice self-compassion? Here are several exercises you can use on those days where you degrade yourself because of a mistake or shortcoming so you can get back on track to being the beautiful person and mom you are meant to be, flaws and all.

Be Your Own Best Friend– When you find those judgmental thoughts creeping in ask yourself “What would I say if this were my best friend thinking and feeling this way?”

Write yourself a letter. Write a letter to yourself telling yourself what you are worth. You can use sentences such as “You are a great person because of…” “You are worth of love because….” “You are worthy of forgiveness because ….” You can use this letter as a tool in future circumstances to remind yourself of all the good in you and how that outweighs the mistakes or shortcomings you make.

Allow yourself to lower expectations. Write down 5-10 things you expect of yourself. Try to think of the expectations that you often feel you fail to meet. Then ask yourself, “is this what should be expected from everyone?” Try to alter your expectations to be more fair and reasonable so you don’t drive yourself to continued disappointment. (i.e . Changing expectation from “I must always have a clean home” to “I can permit myself to have a messy home as long as I make some efforts each day to clean parts of it.”

Practice self-care after you fail or make a mistake. Now I’m not talking about drowning your sorrows in a tub of ice cream or spending 100 bucks on a pair of shoes to make yourself feel better. I’m talking about doing something kind for yourself that is sending a message that you are still worthy of love and kindness despite faults or mistakes. Ask for a hug from someone, go out on a nice walk, journal about things you’re proud of, or spend some time meditating. Use this time as a reflection of the good in you and moving on from your mistake.

Recognize and replace degrading thoughts. When you find yourself saying negative things to yourself after a mistake (i.e. “I can’t believe I yelled at my son this morning. I’m such a bad mom.”) stop yourself. Recognize this thought as an unhelpful thought. Find a way to replace the thought with something more rational and healing to you. “I yelled at my son this morning. I can try harder next time to take a deep breath and control myself. I will apologize to my son. I deserve forgiveness and can move on past this to have a good day.”

 

So give yourself compassion Mamas. You are worthy of it because you are a human being. You are permitted to make mistakes. You deserve better than to put yourself down when you could have done things better. Learn from your mistakes and move on with the knowledge that you are still a great person. I hope you can practice a few minutes of self-compassion and begin the work of letting go of those past mistakes or flaws. You are the mama you are meant to be, just as you are.

 

Self-Care Monday #1-Safe Place

Introducing my Monday post ritual-Self-Care Mondays, a kick off to your busy week by strengthening yourself with some self-care techniques. These weekly posts will be under 30 minute self-care exercises you can utilize to engage enhance your emotional wellbeing and refresh yourself. Take what you like from the exercises and leave what you don’t. Self-care is all about finding what works best for you.

My first Self-Care Sunday exercise is visualizing your safe place. This is one of my favorite exercises to utilize in therapy with clients and one I like to utilize for myself often. My imagination has been a double edged sword for me. It is a sidekick to my anxiety- imaging incredibly rare, worst case scenarios that can completely sidetrack my day. So I love this exercise because it turns it around to work for me in a positive way.

You can do this exercise in 1 of 3 ways-using an art medium such as drawing or painting, journaling, or simply visualizing it in your head. Do what you feel is best to make the visualization as vivid as possible to you.

Let’s begin. I want you to draw,write about, or visualize a place that would feel very peaceful and safe to you. This place can or cannot exist in the real world. There are no limits what it is or isn’t. The most important part of the exercise in thinking about this place in great detail. It should take you at least more than 2-3 minutes to think about or draw about or write.  Think of answers to the following questions:

What is in this environment? Think about the major elements, layout, and colors. Describe the sights, tastes, smells, tactile sensations, and sounds of this place.

What do you look like in this environment? Is there anything different about you than your normal self?  What are you wearing and how is your body feeling?

What is nearest you? What are you doing or interacting with?

Is there anyone else in this environment or are you alone? Who? It can be anyone-a loved one, someone you’ve lost, even a celebrity. Ryan Gosling, perhaps? ;P  What are they doing in your environment? Are they interacting with you or at they at a distance?

What are the feelings and thoughts that arise for you when you think about this place?

For example, “I’m on a beach. I can feel sand between my toes, I can smell the ocean and hear the waves rolling in. I can taste a pina coloda. I’m wearing a swimsuit and my body feels warm in the sun.”Truly visualize these elements and imagine how you would feel interacting with them in reality.

Describe the thoughts and feelings you have in response to this exercise. Was it helpful or relaxing? Did you find yourself getting side-tracked by off-topic thoughts? Did you find yourself judging yourself during this exercise? At times I catch myself judging that my family is not in my safe place and feel like I should be imagining them with me-but then I remember that there is no right or wrong and the end game here is achieving a sense of peace and self-renewal.

Where and when do you think it would be most beneficial to use this exercise? I find this particular exercise helpful when I’m at wits end and am feeling myself lose control of my emotions. I may have put my son down in his crib or put on the TV for him for a few minutes to go and collect myself. Initially I would judge myself for having to do this but then I remembered-after taking these moments I am walking back into that room a better mom than when I left it. I take 5 minutes to visualize my safe place (mine is in a cabin in the woods) and take deep breaths and start to feel more together before I return.

This is a very common therapeutic exercise. Some people find it hokey or uncomfortable. That is okay! It’s great to challenge yourself to try something new but if you find it wasn’t relaxing for you I hope you’ll come back next week and try the next Self-Care Monday exercise.

“Nourishing yourself in a way that helps you blossom in the direction you want to go is attainable and you are worth the effort.” ~Deborah Day

 

Not A Manicure, A Mindset: 5 Truths for Moms about Self-Care

 

As a therapist I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the term “self-care.” The term has become so synonymous with indulging oneself and particularly for women in very stereotypical feminine rituals such as a facial, bubble bath, or manicures. It has become a term that means “special” me time and become synonymous with indulgence, pampering, luxury.

However, in my opinion there should be nothing “special” about it in terms of it being out of the ordinary. Self-care is a necessity, not a luxury.  Brushing your teeth, eating, doing daily hygiene…these are all self-care rituals that we make the time for out of necessity. However we fail to stick to daily rituals like this that care for our emotional selves. What is emotional self-care? It is simply the act of engaging in some reflection or activity that positively impacts your mood, improves your thinking patterns, and enhances your ability to manage stressors. Think of a suit of armor that a person wears to protect themselves from attack. In a way emotional self-care practices are like armor that protects us from outside stressors, negativity, and distressing thoughts that invade our minds. We need to keep engaging in routinely in order to increase our armor’s strength.

Why do so many moms seem to struggle with self-care? We can blame it on lack of time, juggling too many responsibilities, and having too many people rely on us. But its pretty simple what the biggest barrier to self-care is: our thinking. If we acknowledge its importance we simply find a way to make it a priority. So here are 5 truths  and thinking patterns you can adopt in order to commit to taking care of yourself. Pick one or two that mean something to you and use them as daily reminders to care for yourself in any way you choose.

1) Your perceptions on self-care have been impacted by your own personal experiences and may need to change. Take time to reflect on how you really perceive self-care. You may nod your head and quickly acknowledge that mothers need to take care of themselves but if you find you are never taking time for yourself then you probably have some thoughts or beliefs that are holding you back. What messages did you receive growing up or as you became a mom about self-care? Did your mom do things for herself? Do you believe that engaging in self-care impacts your abilities as a mother and in what ways (positive or negative)? Do you have others in your life that have healthy beliefs about self-care? Answering these questions may give you some insight into why routine self-care may be difficult and put you on a path to correcting your thinking.

2) You deserve time for yourself.  This isn’t because your a mom and work hard to take care of others, this is simply because you are a human being. Moms are great at guilt and most of it is unwarranted. But we tend to use guilt to hide behind our discomfort with taking care of ourselves. As with most skills in life the more you do something the better you become at it. If you have a difficult time engaging in self-care try spending a lot more time than you ever would doing things for yourself. Be what you may deem as “selfish” for a period of time and see how it actually impacts your environment. You may find that your world doesn’t come crashing down when you take time for yourself. As you become more comfortable with it you can start to alter your thinking about it and find the balance that is best for you.

3) Modeling self-care for your children helps them learn important concepts about relationships. Always being present for your children at their every desire makes it difficult for them to see you as a separate individual with needs and wants. Your relationship with your child is the first relationship they have had and one of the most central to their lives. Although the parent-child relationship will be different from others in their life you must remember that this is the model they will be building upon their perceptions of what constitutes a healthy relationship. By modeling to your children that you have needs and need time away you are teaching them the ability to see other people’s needs and recognize them. When you tell your child that you are frustrated or tired and ask politely for some space you are teaching them empathy and also the importance of having time for ourselves and independence from others.

4) True self-care is intentional and mindful. We engage in self-care for a purpose. Just as when we brush our teeth we are trying to prevent cavities and achieve good oral health self-care our self-care methods have a purpose of providing an enhancement in mood, positive thinking, and decrease in stress and irritability. This means we must be careful in how we select our self-care practices to ensure that they achieve these purposes. This is where I tend to struggle most. Television and being on the internet is usually my daily go to as soon as I get time for myself but it often does not alleviate my irritability. That isn’t to say that I don’t think these methods can work for some people but I find that they don’t achieve my self-care goals. A long walk alone with my thoughts, taking time by myself in nature, listening to an inspirational podcast, journaling, and reading are self-care practices I have found to have a more profound impact on achieving balance and maintaining positive thinking. So choose whatever method you desire but make sure it has an actual impact on your emotional health. Self-care must also be mindful in that you are fully aware of the present moment. Challenge yourself to let go of any thoughts or concerns about your children that arise while you are engaging in self-care. Simply acknowledge the thought and allow it to drift away. Be fully aware of the moment and do not try to multitask while you are engaged in self-care.

5) Self-care is a prevention tool. I think what often happens with our failure to consistently engage in self-care is that we engage in a self-care practice and it may have a positive effect for a few days making us believe that we do not need it daily. Soon after, however, we start to wear down our resolve and become frustrated and irritable. This signals that it is a time for self-care practice but can often come after we have been yelling at our kids, been snippy with our partners, and engaged in lots of negative thinking patterns. It is important to remember that self-care must be daily in order to prevent irritability and negativity. So when you are planning your day ensure that you are making time for a self-care practice whether or not you feel happy and capable because you are preventing the creeping in of negative thoughts that can exacerbate distressing emotions.

So I’m sorry this wasn’t a list of trendy ways to take care of yourself and photos of a woman in a tub on the beach. I don’t think self-care needs to be trendy, have a high price tag, or involve an exotic location. What’s most important is the thinking that motivates your action to take care of yourself in any way you choose. So remember to take care mamas and keep your armor strong.

What gets in the way of you taking care of yourself? What self-care methods have you found that leave you feeling stronger emotionally?