We often think of self-care as the activity that we choose to partake in, in order to help us recover after we reach a breaking point. In a culture that values productivity above all else we tend to ignore the cues that it’s time to slow down or make a change. Or maybe we just haven’t figured out how to read these cues yet. We power through! We convince ourselves that we can take on more and more to get to this mystical time when our to-do list is actually empty (does such a time ever really exist?). We do this until we can’t anymore. We become overrun by physical illness, anxiety, depression, overwhelm, pain, injury, complete depletion, exhaustion, or sheer rage.
This has certainly been my approach to self-care in my teenage years/young adult life. A day of binge-watching my favorite show after burning the candle at both ends. Skip the exercise all week (NO time!) and go for a 15 km run on the weekend? Sure why not…it’s the same thing right? Power through 30 minutes of ‘ab’ exercises so that I can eat ALL the chocolate. Makes total sense! My “self-care” seemed to be about making arbitrary rules with myself in order to deal with guilt, shame and self-judgements about these behaviors.
Can you relate? Maybe you have tried to take care of yourself in a different way but the pressures of life overtake and you fall back into familiar habits? We boom….we bust. Those boom stretches get shorter and shorter before we bust again and it takes longer and longer to recover from the busts.
And then, for me, there was motherhood. All of these “self-care” activities that I defined as MY COPING tools…days of binge watching, 15 km runs….ain’t nobody got time for that!
What’s a mama to do when those busts fueled by hormones, sleep-deprivation, feeling completely out of my element in this new life and body are coming fast and furious??
What this mama needed was a more sustainable take on self-care! Finding my current version of self-care has been a process (and I am sure it will never be done evolving along with my evolving life), but at this point (5 years after getting blasted into the alternate dimension of parenthood), I can recognize 4 big shifts in how I approach my self-care:
Learning how to listen to my body…really listen!
Pre-pelvic floor dysfunction, my movement practice philosophy was simply go hard or its not worth your time (no pain no gain). Often motivated by wanting to eat ALL the food, wanting to look a certain way or looking for some stress relief. It took a massive wake-up call in the form of pelvic organ prolapse to force me to take a step back and re-evaluate my values when it comes to movement and exercise. Getting connected to my value of wanting long lasting and resilient function for my body has helped me to find pleasure and purpose in a wider variety of movement and exercise. I have also stopped telling my body to shut up and carry on at every turn and now ask it to please speak up and tell me what it needs.
A more diverse toolbox for coping with distress
So, as it turns out, when you have a 2 month old, a 15 km run just isn’t likely to be in the cards for a few reasons. Hmmmm this left naïve postpartum Lara a little in the weeds when it came to figuring out how to cope without running (my lonely wrench when it came to stress). I am now always looking for new tools to add to my self-regulation toolbox. Mindfulness has been a biggie. More on some ideas for integrating mindfulness into your pelvic health recovery HERE!
Adopt the belief that I am DESERVING of self-care
Have you defined a level of stress that your life has to throw at you before you are allowed to engage in “self-care” or use a “coping tool”? Becoming more attuned to my body has allowed me to pick up on when stress is starting to leave its mark within my body. I now realize that when it comes to responding to the cues, the earlier the better. I deserve my toolbox and deserve to use it in any moment in which my body is asking for me to take pause and pay attention.
Self-Compassion as self-care
While those times that we ear mark as “self-care” can be lovely and necessary “time outs”, I think that what truly fosters resilience & sustainability in self-care is how we treat ourselves in the average daily moment…even the moments that suck! Self-compassion is a powerful force and one that most of us neglect. Our brains tend to want to beat us up and push us further, but what if we practice shifting our self-talk? OR calling BULLSHIT on our brains when these thoughts creep in and belittle us? Shelly Prosko talks about this beautifully in her Blog post, Self-care: The Dark Side. Check it out!
Have your self-care practices evolved with your life?…With changing life roles and demands? With pain, injury or pelvic floor dysfunction? I would love to hear how! Don’t hesitate to send me a note & share your thoughts!
Lara Desrosiers OT Reg. (Ont.)