Self-care is not just spa days and vacations. Everyday self-care can help improve the quality of your life and drastically change your mental outlook on life.
Let’s say you are at the beach and you take a bucket and fill it up with sea water. Which will evaporate first, the ocean or your bucket? Well, I don’t know about you, but I have never seen the whole ocean evaporate in its entirety.
The bucket in this scenario represents you. The water in the bucket represents your energy, care, and life force. Over time as we use these things we get tired and depleted, which leaves us unbalanced and frazzled. Depending on our lifestyle and the demands on us, we might also be scooping the water out and sprinkling it all about (i.e. caretaking others, having a demanding job, etc.) which causes us to get depleted even faster. Some might have chronic illnesses or pain issues that also zap energy and make the water evaporate from our buckets at an accelerated rate.
We need to replenish our buckets to become balanced and feel good again. This is where self-care comes in. Self-care is like the ocean in this metaphor. It is made up of different things that help you get your needs met so that you can function in a healthy way in your life. There are basic things that everyone must do in order to let our bodies function well such as good hygiene, healthy diet and exercise, and sleep. Then there is another level of self-care that helps us function in our lives with other people, such as boundaries, emotional regulation, and asking for support or giving support.
Noticing the bucket is empty or depleted is step one to refilling it. This might manifest in your life as feeling tired, grumpy, lonely, or listless. Using the acronym HALTS could help you check in with yourself. It stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired, Stressed (or Sick). It does not encompass every need that you might have, but it covers the basic bases. If you notice one of these HALTS signs, then you can make a plan to get your need met and put a little water back in the bucket. Making time to eat a delicious and nutritious meal, connect with loved ones and friends (even if it is just on facetime), or asserting a boundary could be the plan to help you get your needs met.
Checking in with all areas of your life and ensuring balance is key to stress reduction and fundamental to living a fulfilling and healthy life. Check in with yourself and make a list of different areas of your life and what you are doing within those areas. I suggest starting with the categories of work, home, finance, family, friendships, health, spirituality, and fun. Then write the things you do under each category. It is a great way to see if a certain area of life is missing, or if a certain part of your life is depleting your bucket. You don’t have to limit yourself to these categories. If there is something important in your life, such as being creative, add it as a category.
Rest is another important part of self-care. Rest doesn’t always mean sleeping or napping, but it can include that. Rest might mean meditating, or taking a pause from socializing, or disabling your emails on your phone so you are not looking at work during your down time.
Equally important to rest is nutrition. Taking the time to feed yourself a nourishing meal does so much for your energy levels and mental health. Food that is pleasing to the eye and nose as well as your tastebuds gives you an experience to enjoy. You don’t have to cook every day either. Make food in batches and freeze them, then throw them into the oven when you get home. When we can feed our bodies with the right fuel, we feel better, can think better, and actually interact with others better.
Self-care also sends a message to ourselves that we are worth preserving. Putting everyone else’s needs above your own all of the time is a form of self betrayal, and is a kin to scooping the water out of the bucket with both hands. Holding boundaries with other people (or your job) so that you can carve out time to take care of yourself also sends a message to them that you are worth preserving.
If you have found yourself with an empty bucket and need help learning to replenish it, please reach out to me or another therapist. Therapy is a deep study in how to take care of you.