Rather than think about self care as an indulgence or an escape … a week at the beach is a good example, it can be helpful to think about self care as a way of fostering emotional preparedness. A way of staying present with ourselves, no matter what comes up.
Self care here means not abandoning ourselves when stress or overwhelm is present but, instead making the choice to be supportively available to our inner selves with patient, compassionate, loving attention in good moments and horrible ones too. We can do this everyday. One way we can do this is by finding stillness.
Maybe you’ve heard the expression that goes something like, muddy water becomes clear when still. Think of the mind like a snow globe when shaken – anxiety, fear, insecurity, sadness, feelings of lack and emptiness or unworthiness swirl around inside. When the globe is allowed to stand still everything that has been swirling settles to the bottom and the water becomes clear. So it can be with the mind.
Cultivating stillness or learning to pause is a way of creating refuge within. Now, notice that everything swirling around did not go away in the snow globe example, but it did get out of the way making it possible to see what else is present. Again, it can also be this way with the mind. Being able to see clearly can help us feel less stuck. We might even be able to connect more easily with our inherent basic goodness when we do not feel assaulted by the swirling stories about everything that is wrong with us, the current circumstance or our lives. We can remember that our value is not tied to anything happening outside or around us. We are valuable and lovable no matter what we do or do not do. We are worthy no matter what we do or do not accomplish.
When we find ourselves trapped in a maze of painful thoughts we can find an open path by cultivating stillness. In the stillness, we can allow some space to expand between our selves and the story about the circumstance at hand. This vantage point gives us a clearer view, allowing us to more easily see what is happening rather than be what is happening. We are not our feelings and feelings are not fixed, they come and go.
Cultivating stillness does not mean that problems will go away. But it does mean that we will have more clarity and mental energy to explore next best steps.
Cultivating stillness isn’t always easy. This is especially true when the energy of big or uncomfortable feelings is moving through our bodies. It can be really difficult then to settle ourselves because the nervous system may be dysregulated. The Trauma Resource Institute (TRI) has come up with a wonderful set of rescue skills that can help us move away from unwanted reactions and calm the nervous system enough so that it is possible to respond more skillfully when we feel overwhelmed. These rescue skills are part of the Community Resiliency Model (CRM) and include strategies like:
- pressing forcefully against a wall with your palms or back
- noticing how many colors you can see in the space around you, or
- even just drinking a glass of water.
When you are experiencing big, unpleasant feelings you may notice that your heart races or your breathing is fast and shallow. Maybe your palms feel sweaty, your shoulders are tight or your skin feels crawly. When this happens, support yourself with a rescue skill before you say or do anything else.
Keep your awareness of what is happening for you in the moment active, kind and patient. Remember that you are ok and your feelings are normal. You have what it takes to get through even your toughest times. You have what it takes to deepen resilience and compassionate self-care with time and practice.