‘Our bodies are our gardens, to the which our wills are gardeners:’
The monologue by the superbly villainous Iago in Othello has more to it than this one line but means that, your body is a garden and depending on what you plant, using your willpower will depend what grows. It can be barren, or it can be rich and productive. You need to be of rational mind, to balance your emotions or your bodily desires may take over. Even over 400 years ago mind and body care were important.
Self-care is defined as the act of taking care of our own wellbeing. This is physically and mentally. It includes sleep, nutrition, exercise and looking after our minds. Self-care is not just doing what feels good in the moment. It is doing those things that create an overall wellbeing consistently but don’t always feel fantastic in the moment. Self-care requires self-control and perseverance.
So, sleeping, eating and exercising well consistently is going to have a much better outcome for your wellbeing than having the one-off great night sleep or having a ‘good day’ on the food and exercise front. How do we do this with our mental wellbeing? Well all the above things help. Getting good sleep, eating well and exercising all play a part in regulating our hormones. One other way of self-care with regards to mental wellbeing is making sure you are consistent with your emotional hygiene.
Emotions are all part and parcel of human life. We all feel multiple things throughout the day, but we do not very often think about it unless they are more intense feelings. Often when these intense feelings are uncomfortable, we look to numb them rather than feel them. Numbing pain can be in the form of eating or drug taking. It can also be in the form of keeping extremely busy or drinking alcohol. Part of a good self-care routine should include emotional awareness and acceptance rather than numbing.
We numb emotional pain because we don’t want to feel bad or because something is too traumatic for us in that instant. The problem is that often the emotions that make us feel uncomfortable are there for a reason and numbing them stops us accepting them and dealing with the cause. We all do it or have done it in the past and we do it because we want the pain to stop, we like to feel comfortable. We need to care enough about our emotional selves just like we do our physical selves. Essentially, they are connected, and positive psychophysiology has research showing that our thoughts and moods can and are reflected in biological processes (Hefferon, 2013 pg 21). Consistently numbing your emotions is not going to be good for you, physically or mentally.
Here are a couple of ideas to self-care with your emotions:
Start to notice what happens in your body when your emotions are becoming uncomfortable. This awareness will help you realise when its starting before you are overwhelmed and then trying to numb. Where is it in your body and what is it called? For example, for me I can feel the heat rising to my face, slowly creeping there and know it is embarrassment. I can feel my jaw starting to tense, feel like my teeth are starting to become painful, and I know it is stress caused by frustration. Give this a go yourself and start to become more aware of your emotions.
Protect your self-worth! When we start to feel uncomfortable it can often be because something has happened, or we are ruminating over something that has happened. At this point beating yourself up further with some inner hatred will not help. Your self-worth is already taking a beating don’t make it worse. Speak to yourself kindly and with compassion, just like we practiced with self-love last month. We may have done something embarrassing, but this is behaviour and we can change it, you are not an embarrassment. We may be feeling stressed and like we are struggling to cope but this does not make you a failure. This needs rest, you do not have to quit, you are capable. These slight changes in how we speak to ourselves can make the world of difference.
Remember as always to keep practicing. It will get easier and grow stronger as we all grow as people. xxx