Self Care and Mindful Living

Continuing on from last week’s post about self love, in today’s Therapists Thoughts article we look at self care. Our London-based therapist, Teyhou Smyth, looks at what self care is and how it is related to mindfulness. So many of us have heard about mindfulness, and think we know what it means, but hopefully today’s post will provide you with a good overview and some great tips for getting better at minding yourself and your mental health.

We hear the words “self care” and “mindfulness” everywhere lately. Open a magazine, watch a television program, or scan social media and you will undoubtedly find countless references to these terms. If you were to ask 1,000 people what self care and mindfulness are, you would likely get 1,000 different answers.

And actually, that is a pretty accurate representation. Self care and mindful living mean different things to different people. That’s what makes it so useful; it’s not a one-size-fits-all plan; there is no cookie cutter. It’s all about what works to help you feel whole, balanced and aware.

Early use of the term “self care” began in the medical field in the 1980s. The term was mostly developed in reference to patients who had significant health needs and focused on creating a plan to manage their conditions in an intentional way. The term has evolved over the decades as our culture has embraced the idea that all of us need to be aware of our mental and physical health needs and should consciously aspire to care for ourselves.

The concept of mindfulness stems from Buddhism and was first coined by Buddhist scholar T. W. Rhys David in 1910.

The word stems from the Indian word “sati,” which loosely translates as “remembrance,” and “thought.” Mindfulness has also merged into mainstream culture as a means of staying grounded and aware.

Self care and mindfulness have become mainstays of the mental health field in recent years, but are also concepts that have merged into mainstream media and even school curriculum. Finally we are reminding ourselves and each other to explore our needs, pay attention to how we feel and listen to our thoughts!

In short, these simple concepts have revolutionized our idea of what it means to be “well”. Children in upcoming generations will have a much better grasp of how to recognize and attend to their needs with this early exposure to self care and mindfulness.

Along with relaxation, mindfulness and self care offer a host of other benefits, such as decreased physical discomfort, reduced depression and anxiety and improvement in memory. There has also been a correlation between mindfulness and improved immunity.

It can also help increase the speed at which the brain can process information. But does it whiten teeth, you ask?

All joking aside, we may wonder how mindfulness can possibly affect all these other areas of wellness. We tend to forget that the head is attached to the body; the actions of the mind and body impact one another significantly, and often in unexpected ways.

And here is where self-care comes in. Being aware of what you need to live your best life is a giant step toward becoming a healthier person. Think about self care in a “mind, body and spirit” kind of way. Ask yourself the following questions to help guide you toward a plan of self care:

  • What does my body need to feel its best? (Example: healthy food, exercise).
  • What helps my mind to feel functional and healthy? (Example: I need to be challenged with crosswords, learning something new, meditation, having good conversation).
  • What helps me to feel spiritually connected (meaning content, satisfied and happy)? (Example: singing, being creative, time with friends, prayer, scripture, etc).

Living a mindful life and participating in self care are two peas in a glorious pod of self awareness. Bringing mindfulness into your life can be as simple as taking time to pay in attention to your breathing, or as complex as specific meditations for emotional and physical healing. Regardless of your particular methods of mindfulness and self care, the key is individualizing it to your specific life and needs.

Often an exploration of values can help guide us toward establishing a meaningful plan. What are the most important aspects of your life? What helps you stay connected to what is important to you? What helps you feel fulfilled? Often we try to take care of everyone else and put ourselves last. While caring for others is a wonderful trait, it can burn us out pretty quickly if we are trying to pull from an empty well.

Often people who have multiple responsibilities (like you, most likely) feel guilty when they prioritize their own needs, particularly when it seems there is limited time for all of the obligations of the day. Work, family and household responsibilities can often drag us away from the equally important responsibility to attend to our own health and wellness.

Consider self care and mindful living as a form of taking care of others through preserving yourself.

When you take care of yourself, you can better attend to your other responsibilities and be fully present. Presence in the moment is key to a mindful life.

If you’re looking for some strategies for building your mindfulness skills, it may be helpful to explore concepts of non-judgmental observation, focusing on senses and simple awareness. As your awareness and mindful skills grow, it will become a natural part of your self care.

When you start to observe stress increasing in daily life, part of a self care plan can be to come back to mindful practices; notice your breathing, use your senses to bring your attention to the moment. Self care practices will be unique to each of us. If you are looking for some ideas to get you started on self care options, check out this link.

Often when we become stressed and anxious, our minds get preoccupied by problem solving or obsessive thinking about a particular topic of distress. Mindfulness skills help us recognize our distress and bring us back into the moment.

When we can identify what we need and then figure out how to get there, our quality of life improves dramatically. Our self care plans can reflect elements of mindfulness as well as any other aspects of self expression or relaxation that can bring us closer to our sense of self.

So how will you practice self care and mindful living today? Paying attention to and honouring your own needs will bring you greater peace, satisfaction and self respect.

The most important thing is this: to be able at any moment – to sacrifice what you are, for what you will become!

Eric Thomas

[This blog post originally appeared on Teyhou’s website www.livingwithfinesse.com]

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