I’ve been hearing a lot recently about “self-care,” and that we should all be “practicing more self-care.” But what if you don’t even know what “self-care” means? What if you keep hearing about “self-care” and all that comes to mind is bubble baths and retail therapy? What if you know what self care is supposed to be, but you have trouble actually figuring it out for yourself?
First, I’ll give you some ideas of what self-care is vs what it isn’t. Second, I’ve decided to have some fun and ask the therapists at Austin Family Counseling what THEY do for self-care, and it may help give some insight into what self-care can look like for you!
First, what Self-Care ISN’T:
Indulging in or bingeing your favorite things every now and then just to check off the “self-care” box
An instant fix for all of your problems
The same for everyone
Now, what Self-Care IS:
An individual way for you to fill your needs that haven’t been met
It can be quite challenging
Really, really different from person to person, or even for the same person at various points in time
Second… What Do Austin Family Counseling Therapists Do for Self-Care?
I asked AFC therapists what they do for self-care. Here are some of their responses…
Kaity (Blog Author) said “I typically stream shows and movies, eat chocolate, play video games, and go on nature walks for my self-care. I’m also adamant about getting as close to eight hours of sleep per night as I can and being mindful of my hydration.”
Lora said “Every two weeks I go in for a massage and dry sauna treatment, and during really tender seasons in my life, I go weekly! I use it as time to meditate, rest, relax, and replenish.”
Mike said “I wake up early and go for a walk (when it’s not so hot outside). I try to make sure I take breaks (e.g., I don’t walk on the weekends). I am kind to myself when I don’t eat as healthy as I’d like. I say, ‘you’ve been working really hard to eat healthy, and you don’t need to be perfect at this or anything.’ I listen to a meditation before (or as) I go to sleep. I make sure I read books that are just for fun.”
Emily said “I make an effort to incorporate meditation and yoga, even if it is only 5 or 10 minutes, as a part of my daily routine knowing that it helps keep me grounded and connected.”
Catherine M. said “I like to disconnect myself from the internet and connect with nature by taking walks. I engage myself in mindful playing with my son, and I take Epsom Salt baths to help me relax and detox.”
Sumaya said “Hot showers or bubble baths with candles lit; surrounding myself with my family and friends including food and boardgames; being outside with nature in my hammock, near or in water, and taking an evening walk.”
Janet said “For self-care, I like to go on walks and listen to a podcast. This gives me time outside, doing something physical and listening to something I enjoy. I also look forward to easy mornings on weekends with my family; we all enjoy those moments of a slower pace.”
Sara said “I love taking hot showers, snuggling my dogs, weightlifting at the gym, sleeping in when I’m feeling worn down, and having fun with my friends and fiancé on the weekends. I also love getting my nails done every 2-3 weeks! It’s a fun creative outlet for me – I love all things glam and it taps into that. It’s also a great reason for me to sit for an hour with no phone, no conversation, and no expectations of productivity.”
As you can see, our therapists have a wide range of activities they do to help with their self-care. Some of their self-care activities are more outdoor- or indoor-oriented, some are long, some are short, some are very individual, some involve socializing with other people, but they are all helpful to us in our own unique ways.
If you are interested in finding ways to increase your own self-care, talk to your therapist or reach out to get on our schedule at [email protected] | 512-298-3381.
A personal note from the author: As I was writing this piece in the aftermath of the school shooting in Uvalde, TX, the gravity of the situation at hand sat heavy on my soul. The weight of the tragedies that inspired this piece is not lost on me. Over 336,000 students have experienced gun violence at school since the shooting at Columbine High School in 1999 (source). In an average year, over 10,300 hate crimes in the US involve a firearm – more than 28 each day (source). For decades, gun violence has reached every pocket, nook, and cranny of our country, and as a result millions of lives have been irrevocably changed.
I feel called to name this as a preface to this blog: There is no amount of journaling, self-care, compassion, protesting, meditating, senator calling, donating, or volunteering that can take away or fix the deep wells of grief and despair felt by the survivors of those who have lost their lives to gun violence.
I stand by the information collected and presented in this piece. However, I am fully aware that this is not nearly encompassing enough to soothe the collective grief we are all experiencing, nor will it ever touch the amount of support needed by the families and loved ones who have lost someone to gun violence. This blog is meant to be a consideration and a supplement for those who are struggling to bear witness to the pain we are subjected to on an almost daily basis as Americans living among two simultaneous crises in this country – the gun violence crisis, and the mental health crisis. They both demand our urgent attention.
I plead with you to seek resources, gather support, and educate yourself on the subjects at hand. I plead with you to connect with your neighbors, contact your senators, and demand something be done to change the course of gun violence and mental health care in this country. Most of all, I deeply plead with you to take care of yourselves, so we can finally begin to take better care of each other. Thank you for your consideration – Sara
Self-Care in the Aftermath of Tragedy
“Every one of us needs to show how much we care for one another and, in the process, care for ourselves.”
The last several years, as a nation, we have seen unspeakable tragedy unfold. The near constant continuation of mass shootings is wreaking havoc across our society. With the rise and spread of social media, we now have a front row seat to these tragedies in a way we never have before. These events permeate our newsfeeds, our conversations, our brains, and most importantly our hearts. Feelings of hopelessness, exhaustion, and fear are running rampant between us and within us due to neurobiological responses to trauma. While tensions are at an all-time high, our need for compassion, connection, and support is greater than ever. Self-care is a valuable necessity in meeting these needs. Let’s explore how to lean into these self-care needs, and the importance of caring for ourselves so we can care for each other.
“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.”
Dalai Lama XIV
The root of the word compassion comes from the Latin phrase compati, which means “suffer with”. Compassion is what drives us to see other people’s pain and deeply identify with it. Compassion holds evolutionary neurological purposes. Compassion developed as an emotion within the brain to help us to identify and bond with others, thus creating safety amongst groups of humans. As humans experience compassion, our heart rate slows, our breathing deepens, and oxytocin (the bonding/love neurotransmitter) is released. Often this is demonstrated as an outward, other-oriented experience – we give or show compassion to others who are suffering. But what would it be like to turn this inward? We are worthy of giving ourselves compassion. Our bodies and brains have gone through so much over the last few years, and yet we are often expected to maintain the same level of productivity, health, and well-being as years prior. If we practice the gift of self-compassion, we can allow for the same neurobiological response to heal and soothe ourselves in the same way it does for others.
Practice quietly speaking to yourself as you would a friend or a child – I know this is so painful for you. It is difficult to understand and comprehend. People are suffering and it is hard to watch. It is ok to be sad, angry, and fearful. You are allowed to cry, self, it is okay. You are struggling in the midst of this, and you have every right to be. Providing yourself with the permission and allowance to comfort and soothe yourself is self-care. When we develop more compassion for ourselves, we also deepen the compassion we can have for others. Self-compassion and compassion for others are woven like a braid to form the fabric of empathy.
“Get yourself grounded, and you can navigate even the stormiest roads in peace.”
As the shooting in Uvalde, Texas unfolded on May 24th, 2022, we all watched from near and far in horror. Social media has created a nearly instantaneous avenue of communication and consumption of information. Neurobiologically, our brains are simply not evolved enough to withstand this level of information. As we watch the chaos unfold through Facebook live feeds, or hear the screams of the families through TikTok, we are giving our brains a hefty dose of secondary trauma. Although logically we know we are absorbing this information second hand through a screen, our brains don’t actually know that this is a second-hand experience. Our brains are wired to react and respond to threat and danger; thus, our trauma response begins through what is commonly known as fight/flight/freeze/fawn. As we watch these videos, our brains release cortisol and adrenaline, preparing our bodies for the danger at hand. As a result, this translates to overwhelming feelings of anxiety/restlessness (fight/fight) or depressive/hopelessness (freeze/fawn). The longer we engage with the secondary trauma, the longer this neurobiological response continues.
One of the best ways to relieve ourselves of this cycle is grounding ourselves. Grounding refers to an increase in radical acceptance, mindfulness, and re-connection to the present. There are many ways to practice grounding, and no way is right or wrong. Sensory based grounding techniques are always a go-to in my practice simply because they are easy and reliable. Try taking deep belly breaths and exploring the following – 5 things you can see, 4 things you can feel/touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste. Reflect on the physical sensations that come up for you, as well as the feelings that arise during this exercise. I also love incorporating grounding during regular every day activities. Cooking meals, walking my dogs, playing with my crystals, taking a shower – these are all rich with sensory input that we can tune ourselves into to get back to our present body and mind.
Another great way to ground ourselves is through a creative outlet. Journaling is an amazing resource that we all have access to. Journaling helps us process our experience both internally and externally. In addition, think of all of the sensory based aspects of journaling. The smell of the paper, maybe the sound of the clicking as you type on your phone, what it looks like to see your words out in front of you. There are so many opportunities to check in with your body, mind, and soul in the midst of journaling. This also applies to other forms of creative outlets including painting, sculpting, drawing, and creating music. Anything that allows the charge of energy and emotion to move through us also provides us with an opportunity to check in with our own experience and utilize grounding to soothe ourselves. Things are treacherous in the outside world, but here in our body and mind we can create a peaceful, compassionate, and loving reprieve from what we are absorbing every day.
Grounding is important for self-care, but it is also important for a larger purpose in solving the challenges we are faced with today. The greater the activation of our trauma response, the less access we have to our prefrontal cortex. This is the part of our brain that we need for decision making, problem solving, consequential thinking, rationalization, and impulse control. These are ALL things we need to have access to in order to begin to solve the problem of mass shootings in our country. We cannot begin to solve this problem when we are all operating from a place without access to the parts of our brain needed most. Individually and collectively, grounding is becoming increasingly more of a necessity in today’s world to solve the complex problems we are faced with as a society.
“What I try to tell young people is that if you come together with a mission, and it’s grounded with love and a sense of community, you can make the impossible possible.”
Self-care is a crucial part of healing from tragedy. Although self-care can be relaxing and soothing, there are also forms of self-care that are more active and intentional. In light of large-scale events, some folks respond with a more intense drive to do something to prevent this from happening in the future. The lack of control and helplessness we feel bearing witness to these events pushes us to action. Finding a balance between grounding-based self-care and actionable steps is so crucial. One must occur alongside the other. We have to ensure we are in a healthy regulated mental space in addition to engaging with the resources available to help and create change.
One of the best ways to heal, feel connected, and process tragedy is in the company of your community. Community engagement is incredibly useful in creating a sense of togetherness, connection, and unity in the face of devastation. This large-scale form of co-regulation allows for us to think clearer, develop our compassion for others, and empowers us to seek the change we wish to see. When we all come together, strides can be made towards our end goal.
There are so many ways to get involved with the community to enact change to end gun violence and increase access to mental health care. Here are a few ideas:
Call Your Representatives – Contact your local and federal representatives to let them know you would like to see change to ensure the safety of you and your neighbors. The League of Women Voters has a great website that helps you find your elected officials and their contact information.
If you are unsure of what to say when you call or email, review this script: “Hello, my name is NAME. I’m a constituent from STATE, ZIP CODE. I don’t need a response. I am concerned about the rise of gun violence and lack of mental health care funding in our communities. I strongly encourage the senator to please vote for legislation that solves this situation. Thank you for your hard work!”
Review Volunteer Opportunities – There are so many ways to volunteer in crisis. Organize a blood drive with your colleagues, gather donations (see below) to support the families and survivors, or find organizations such as Moms Demand Action or Everytown that support policy change and provide opportunity for connection and action.
Donate – One of the best ways to assist is to provide monetary donations if you are able to. It is so important to do research on the legitimacy of donation sites to ensure your money is going to directly benefit families and survivors.
To donate to the survivors of the Uvalde, TX school shooting, please CLICK HERE
To donate to the survivors of the Buffalo, NY supermarket shooting, please CLICK HERE
Self-care comes in many forms, and it looks different for each of us. There is no right or wrong way to self-care. If you are feeling like self-care feels overwhelming, especially in a time of tragedy, that is totally normal and ok. I would like to encourage you to remember to take it one step at a time. One small decision to self-care will add up over time. Maybe that looks like putting your phone down for 10 minutes or going for a small walk to get the mail or taking 30 seconds to practice deep breathing. Any forward movement, no matter how small, is better than no forward movement. Be kind to yourself, be kind to others, and reach out to a trusted therapist if you need extra support on your journey.
I want to first say that the title of this post might be slightly misleading. I don’t believe it’s actually possible to STOP judging all of your emotions. But you (and I) can work towards doing it less often.
What does “judging emotions” mean?
Before I get to the how, let’s take a minute to see what it even means to judge our emotions. Personal story: I was sitting in my therapist’s office in front of my computer talking to my therapist via telehealth, and I told her about something that had made me experience a healthy dose of shame. I had made a small professional mistake, and I had been blaming myself. This is where it gets interesting: While sharing this with my therapist, I said, “I feel so stupid for feeling ashamed of something I know I shouldn’t feel ashamed of.” And, because my therapist is incredible, she gave me a look that had all kinds of compassion in it.
You might ask, “what’s wrong with judging my emotions?” And, because I’m a therapist, I’ll first say that nothing is “wrong” about it. BUT here’s what happens when you do: you’re telling yourself that it’s not okay to feel emotions. You’re telling yourself that, for example, you’re stupid for feeling shame, rather than realizing that you’re human for feeling shame. And we can (and probably) do this with a myriad of other emotions.
Feeling bad about yourself for getting angry? That’s judging.
Thinking you shouldn’t cry when you’re experiencing something sad? That’s judging.
Ever tell yourself that you shouldn’t feel disappointed? Still judging.
Here’s a nice tip: if you’re saying “should” or “shouldn’t” about your emotions, you’re probably judging them.
And I don’t want to get too “meta” here, but it’s turtles all the way down. If you feel embarrassed about feeling super excited whenever a BTS song comes on, try not to judge the embarrassment. And then try not to judge the excitement!
Now we can get to the how
Awareness is KEY. The biggest and best thing you can do to work on this is to recognize a) that you do it (because you’re human, and humans do this…unless, of course, you’re a robot, in which case: which squares have bicycles in it?), and b) when you do it. When you do it can be tricky to figure out. For this, you might want to talk to a close friend or therapist, or journal, or meditate. Everyone has their own way of learning about themselves, so you do you.
Here’s some prompts to get you started:
How do I feel about the last time I felt [insert emotion here]?
Which emotions were/are expressed in my family? Which ones weren’t/aren’t?
What do I think others think about me when I’m feeling [emotion]?
And just in case you’re having a hard time thinking of specific emotions, here are a few commonly judged emotions: anger, joy, guilt, shame, sadness, grief.
Now that I’m aware of some of the judgments I place on my emotions, how do I stop doing it?
First, and this is important, you don’t have to do anything else. Just being aware will probably get you to stop judging 60% of your emotions (I just made that statistic up; please don’t quote me on that. It’s going to be different for everyone). But, if you want to continue doing the work, here are some tips:
Remind yourself routinely (e.g. in the mornings, when you take a shower, when you’re in your car, whatever works for you, but don’t wait until you’re overwhelmed with emotions to do this) that it’s okay to feel however you’re feeling. Tell yourself, “I’m angry, and that’s okay.” Or for bonus points, you can say, “I love my anger.” That last one might be really difficult, so be gentle with yourself if it doesn’t come easy.
Another way you can work on this is to make a list of a certain number (say, 5) emotions you had each day or week. And then thank your body for letting you feel these emotions. Literally, “Thank you, [your name], for letting me feel guilt this week.” Feel free to journal or meditate on this too.
Emotions are human
Remember that emotions are part of the deal you made with the world (or God, or Spirit, or Universe, etc.) when you were created. You don’t get to be human and not have emotions. ALL OF THEM. You can’t just have the “good” ones. Not only that, but the more you shove down the emotions you don’t like, the more they’re going to have control over you. You can only pretend for so long that you’re not sad, until it begins to show up somewhere else (usually as anxiety or depression, or as physical symptoms, like migraines or stomach pains).
Once you experience your emotions without the harsh judgement you’ve been accustomed to, you might even begin to appreciate them! Your emotions all have a purpose.
Feeling lonely? That’s a reminder to reach out to a close person.
Feeling stressed? That’s a reminder to slow down.
Anxious? That’s a reminder to be present where you are, rather than thinking about what might happen next.
Shame? That’s a reminder to give yourself compassion.
Angry? That’s a reminder that you may need to put up or fortify a boundary.
Bored? This one’s pretty simple: do something that feeds your creative soul!
There is nothing wrong with ANY of our emotions. In fact, they will help us live a wonderful and meaningful life, if we only listen to them rather than judge them.
If you want some help working through your emotions, book a free 15 minute consultation with me to see if I might be a good counselor for you.