"Self-care" is a buzz phrase that is often thrown around as an antidote to stress or other challenges in life. While this is true, it can feel most difficult to take care of yourself when you most need it. Time, energy, and other resources can quickly become much more limited when dealing with a crisis, change, or stressor. Good sleeping, eating, and exercise habits go out the window. Things we do for ourselves are often the first to get cut when resources are low. How, then, can we care for ourselves when we most need it? Is the answer to drop everything and take a bubble bath or a long walk? Sure, if you feel you can! Sometimes trying to squeeze in what we think of as "self-care" ends up adding more stress than calm though. What can one do with limited time and energy when the going gets tough? A helpful tool can be found in our mind.
Have you noticed what is going on with your thoughts when you are going through a stressful or challenging time? This may be a place where you can get some relief and much needed "self-care." In considering Tara's article last month about forgiveness, self-forgiveness is a good place to start. When things get difficult, we can often become critical of ourselves for not doing enough or not doing the 'right' thing. If a good friend was going through a difficult time, would you be critical of them and tell them all they were doing wrong or would you be kind and supportive? Oftentimes we treat our friends better than we treat ourselves! One way to impact our thoughts is to offer ourselves forgiveness and kindness when we are struggling. Imagine what you would say to a good friend who you want to offer support and then shift your thoughts to offer the same to yourself. Another name for these thoughts is "self-talk." "Self-talk" are the things that we say to ourselves in thought. Often, we don't even notice we are saying them. Noticing and shifting our "self-talk" can be done anywhere, anytime. Shifting to a kind and supportive inner comment takes no more time than a negative comment. The old saying goes "you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar!"
Another "self-talk" shift that can support you during stressful times is noticing when you say "should" to yourself. We often put a lot of expectations on ourselves and the criticism may take the form of telling yourself something you "should" do or be. If we change this small word "should" to "could," it can make a big difference in how we feel. Rather than a criticism, it turns into a choice that you have control over.
During this time of year when we are often thinking of others, we need to include ourselves in that as well! I'd like to offer another type of "self-care" that only takes moments to do. This is a practice from Buddhism called "loving-kindness." You can find a quiet place if you are able, but you can also do this while dealing with frustrating traffic, screaming kids, or impossible deadlines. Try sending yourself the following wishes, really connecting to each of them, repeating them, and allowing them to sink in.
"May I be happy"
"May I be healthy, body and mind"
"May I live with ease and kindness"
Once you have offered these to yourself, chose a person close to you to send these wishes to.
"May you be happy"
"May you be healthy, body and mind"
"May you live with ease and kindness"
And then choose someone you are less acquainted with to send these wishes to. You can send these wishes to people further and further from yourself and even to those with whom you are having challenges. Sending these wishes to the person who cut you off in traffic can be a step toward your own "self-care." Again, back to Tara's article on forgiveness, forgiveness or "loving-kindness" toward others can contribute to our own well-being as well.
So, as you go through stressful, frustrating, or challenging times, remember that "self-care" is more than a long walk and a bubble bath. Check in with your thoughts to see where a small shift may help you be kinder to yourself. If you would like support in practicing this or other ways to manage challenges in your life, please reach out to me. All conversations are confidential.
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Amy Small, LICSW, is the new Kesher social worker at the synagogue. Kesher is the congregational outreach program of Jewish Family Service of Rhode Island, funded by the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island, and currently active at Congregation Agudas Achim, Temple Torat Yisrael, Temple Am David, Temple Emanu-El and Congregation Beth Sholom. Amy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or