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  • Jo Farren

Reframing Self Care

Updated: Jul 5, 2023

I've seen so much change about 'self care' over the past few years. Back in the late 90's/early noughties, it was called 'me time' and we talked about 'de-stressing' which I really hated at the time, so I moved towards 'self care'. Now 'self care' seems to have occupied the vacuous hole that was left by 'me time' and it no longer stands for what I mean when I talk about it.

I've read and watched many opinions on this on social media: some that have stuck out really do resonate with me: the idea that self-care is so much more than bubble baths and manicures being one but there have been some that fill me with sadness and despair. One very popular opinion was that taking time to have a shower, wash your hair or drink water during the day wasn't self care but 'self respect' and I found that particularly jarring. Working with neurodivergent folks, and chronic health sufferers, I don't think this is an inclusive opinion: we absolutely respect ourselves but sometimes these tasks are outside of our specific capabilities at that time.

Self Care can be a really difficult concept to get on board with: what we are doing when we suggest someone should engage in self-care, not only puts the responsibility onto the individual, but also doesn't acknowledge their specific situation at that time. What we are likely to be doing is giving them another 'thing to do' on their already bursting-at-the-seams list. This responsibility implies that their struggle is merely because they don't 'do' enough self care and that they need to find a way to 'do' this and then their lives will be fixed if they find the time to do it. The idea of what self-care is very much feels like a separate and discreet task: something we need to actively be doing, something that takes time, money and solitude. This often makes the concept completely inaccessible, and really detracts from the whole point of self care.

I can't tell you how stressful it is for a person to add to their things to do list and then take a wistful look at it, sighing 'great, I haven't managed my self care, I'm failing, I'm not enough'. This is really no good and does absolutely the opposite of the well intentioned concept of self care.

I remember working with such a person many years ago, and they told me in no uncertain terms that drinking their water and taking their herbs absolutely was self care for them at that stage in their journey, and that turned it on its head for me. Those things that we do to look after ourselves, be it basic or be it luxury, are absolutely valid as being important ways to care for ourselves during the day. I've taken the time to think deeper about what self-care really means to me and I found that this blog from the Calm Family really helped to explain what I'd been thinking.

We need to think about that care as meeting our needs: those needs will change to a degree, moment to moment and day to day. Of course there will be some needs that are the same all the time, but to also see this in a state of flux is helpful too. Taking the Wilding's theory of neuropsychological human needs I think is a good place to start: NB it may seem odd that I'm not using the more traditional Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs for this, but that's because I don't see this as a hierarchy, much more as a spectrum, something that Tomlin Wilding can explain much better than me.

These needs are all valid and important: one may be more important to the other in the moment, but it down to the individual to determine that rather than me.

But looking at these needs really helps us to meet them more readily from day to day. The classes of each category, and a brief explanation of each are included below in the diagram.

What I have found useful is to create myself a list: a list of how I like to meet my needs and regulate myself. Now, I have children, so I have found that how I would like to meet my needs, and how I am able to meet my needs, are often at odds with one another - so I would recommend that if you have children, perhaps you have two lists. One list is for how you meet them when you are alone, and one for how you meet them with a family in tow. This means that when you are in the moment and you are realising that your needs aren't being met as you would like, you can do something *fairly* accommodating to the situation at the time. An example of some of the things on my list is below: some of them may seem surprising but they're really specific to me and what I find are my most unmet needs.

I love the idea of filling up your own cup first, and of course I would suggest that's what we do in an ideal world, but obviously we don't live in an ideal world, and when we have kids there often isn't a 'first' because parenting can be intense and constant. And so much better that we have strategies that work for us, that we can use as we go along, rather than waiting to somehow carve out the time and space to 'do' the self care things that we need to be doing.

Viewing your needs AS NEEDS is a really good way to start ensuring that these needs get met. The how will absolutely differ from person to person, and the needs that require a bit extra TLC with vary on some days. For me, I notice that sometimes I really need a bit more recognition, and other days I definitely feel like I need a bit more rest! I actually have a reminder in my diary which pops up every morning and asks me how I'm feeling, what needs are being met, which ones aren't and what can I do today to help with that. This is just my way, and I have found that it helps, because it's too easy for us (read: me) to de-prioritise ourselves and push on, so that little reminder just brings my attention back to me for a moment and makes sure that after the kids are dropped at school and the dog has been fed, that my needs matter too, just as much as all of that stuff.

This little reminder means that I take a moment to think and feel about where I am today, it connects me to my feelings and gives me some space to think about what I need. Sometimes I can't meet those needs immediately, but I work out a bit of a strategy to enable me to do it at some point during the day, so that I don't just keep going until I eventually crash. Sometimes those needs involve other people - like the recognition, or connection - and sometimes they involve other people doing some extra stuff, to enable me to meet my needs. And sometimes those needs involve me doing less.

I can't remember who it was who first said this to me, but it struck home, and that was that I want to live a life I don't need to escape from. I don't want to need to go and 'do' self care, I don't want to need a break from my life in order to survive it. I want to have my needs met a tiny bit more, every day.

And so maybe you can have a look at the wheel, and see what you think.

What are your needs today, and are they being met?

1) Calm Family Self Care Sucks Blog

2) Wilding's Neuropsychological Theory of Human Needs

*If we have worked together and done our 'lifestyle audit' then you'll hopefully see how meeting your needs (or rather not meeting them!) can impact our stress levels - this is an important thing to consider on top of the external stresses we discuss in our session*


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