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Kathryn is 42 years old and mother to 3-year-old Grace. She lives with autoimmune conditions, fibromyalgia, Me/CFS and recovering from breast cancer. Kathryn’s parents live in an annex on her house so they are on hand to help a lot due to Kathryn’s health issues.
How do you practice self-care?
By Kathryn Says
Self-care is a term we hear banded about all the time. The practice itself is good and something we should all be developing and taking heed of, however what does self-care actually mean and just how do we develop a healthy way of caring for ourselves? When talking about self-care the first thing most people will think is treating themselves to a massage or a hot bath. These types of treats are wonderful but there’s so much more to self-care. We need to establish our boundaries, learn to love ourselves and be happy to put ourselves first without feeling selfish. This is very hard when you have kids. Self-care is a life time practice and it needs to be sustainable.
I used to be terrible at self-care. I like to think I’ve got better at it because my health has screamed at me and given me little choice, but I am certainly far from having perfected it!
There are some activities I need in my life for my self-care but I still can’t manage for the moment; for example, regular alone time in nature and around ponies really lift my mental health. I crave this time but I very rarely have the opportunity to get it, and even when I plan it, I regularly have to cancel because I am too fatigued to manage the drive. That doesn’t mean I won’t stop trying or scheduling that time in my diary in the hope that I can make it as it is an invaluable tool to my healing and state of mind when I do manage it.
Here are some examples of the self-care I now practice and some tips that might help you:
• Private and together ‘time out’
Two times a week my mum will get up early with my daughter so I get a morning lay-in and time to have a relaxing hot bath with Epsom salts and essential oils. I might also read a bit in the bath, do a meditation or listen to Audible.
My partner and I alternate who puts Grace to bed so we both have evenings when 7pm comes and we can just relax. This is wonderful as for the first 2.5 years of Grace’s life I’ve put her to bed, as I was the only one who had the boobies to feed her to sleep and I would also be up at the crack of dawn with her 99% of the time. When I'm flaring badly my partner will do all bedtimes.
• Set boundaries
If I don’t want to do something I tend not to because my energy needs to be saved for what’s important. In the past I would have done things I didn’t necessarily enjoy because I didn’t want to put others out or upset them by saying no. Don’t feel bad about saying ‘no’ to extra commitments you don’t want to do, or don’t have time for. If you are having an uncomfortable conversation with someone, say so, and that you don’t want to continue. If you need time to give someone an answer, take all the time you need. Don’t be pressurised or be afraid to tell people you won’t be discussing things further if you don’t want to.
• Make lists
I love a good list so I don’t forget things and it means I can keep track of what still needs doing. I may have a list at the beginning of the week with high hopes of completing the actions, but come the end of the week, only one thing may be crossed off and that’s fine! Don’t be afraid to limit your to-do list if it doesn’t feel feasible and prioritise what is most important to you.
• Listen to my body
My body talks to me all the time and is very quick to tell me when I am starting to overdo it. The sore throat and ringing ears and heavy feelings in my body start slowly but soon scream! I’ve learned to check in regularly throughout the day and recognise when to call it quits rather than push on and regret it. If I push on, I will end up stuck in bed.
On occasion, life doesn’t allow me to listen fully because there are things I have to do. This happened recently when I had to push myself to try and start back at work. This situation resulted in me feeling very ill and sick come one Friday afternoon and I spent the weekend in bed feeling envious of my partner going out and having fun with Grace. This is why pacing myself and listening to my body is so important and if I don’t, I can’t be there for anyone else and I want to be there for Grace. I was off work a further five months following that attempt to return to work and now I’m finally trying to go back on reduced hours but I have found myself in bed and off sick yet again. I could have pushed and tried today, there was a time when I would have, but my health is too important and I'm putting my self-care in place.
• Stand up for my beliefs
I used to just agree with everyone else, only liked what was popular and didn’t voice my opinion as I feared confrontation, being ridiculed and was a bit of a people pleaser. No more! I am who I am, and I believe what I believe. I am a more authentic person for this. As a result, I have found amazing friends who are just as authentic and discovered how great friendships really can be when everyone is just their true beautiful selves!
• Reiki Healing.
I discovered Reiki and healing when I was at a very low point in my life due to my health. Reiki turned my life around. I learned all three levels of Reiki, did 2 years learning horse healing and took other courses in animal healing, animal communication, crystal healing and a year-long shamanic development course. This way of being is what helped me to realise what I needed for self-care, combined with practicing mindfulness it has taught me how to listen to my body. In addition, I met the most amazing people.
Part of my self-care is to keep up these practices as best I can. For the moment I cannot see clients (I specialised in horse healing and behaviour) as I am not well enough but I still have Reiki healing from friends, and see a Reiki healer and a shamanic practitioner when needed.
• Encourage others
I love to help and support people when I can and I did this a lot through my healing work. In the past I would have been scared to do this for fear of being rejected. As it turns out most people welcome it and are extremely appreciative – don’t be afraid to put yourself out there.
• Turn off social media
Fortunately, social media wasn’t a thing for me growing up but sadly it is quite the modern-day struggle. I am very particular about what I see in my newsfeed on social media and who I am “friends” with. I will often deactivate all of my accounts to have a complete break for a week or so and I normally do this when I feel my mental health is really struggling and I need to switch off from the world completely. You may also have apps you are spending too much time on. Don’t be afraid to delete them!
• Be unavailable
It is far too easy for people to get in touch with us these days. Don’t be afraid to make yourself unavailable, if you need to. I mute group chats and turn off notifications so I only look in when I want to, because inevitably, if I see I have a message, I want to read it. Don’t feel pressurised to reply immediately to Messenger, e-mails, text messages, WhatsApp and all the other numerous instant communication methods – especially if it is work and you are off duty!
I love reading and was not doing enough of it. Taking time to read a book is a big self-care plus for me.
I love to write to express myself when I'm in the mood. I find writing about my health experiences not only aids me, but it helps those around me to understand what I'm dealing with and how I’m feeling. My most recent writing project has been a story book for Grace.
• Asking for help
This is a biggy. I used to be afraid to ask for help, fearing I would be seen as weak and vulnerable. I was scared to admit I was depressed in case it labelled me in some way but not anymore. I am completely open with how I feel and will reach out for help from friends and medical professionals. I won’t let up until I find the right help. When I had a miscarriage, I talked about it lots because not only did it help me but I also found the conversations that would arise as a result of talking openly about these things incredible. So many suffer in silence but by opening up yourself you open up these discussions for others who may need it – be careful to recognise when people do want to talk and when they don’t and ensure conversations are in appropriate environments. Authentic communication can be very healing.
• Positivity – but not the toxic kind!
You can’t just be positive because someone tells you to. You can’t feel better just because someone says another person has it worse so look on the bright side. Our feelings are valid, no matter what is happening to someone else and we need to accept this fact. I had a conversation with a friend during my cancer treatment and they felt bad saying how they were feeling because they recognised what I was going through was so much worse. Yes, what I was going through was awful but that doesn’t mean what a friend is experiencing is less important. We all feel things individually and different things will make us spiral.
It’s very important to me friends are honest. No problem is trivial; every feeling is important no matter what’s caused it. And so back to the positivity, we can try to build a mind-set that veers more toward a positive outlook, like taking stock of what we are grateful for each day, no matter how small. We can appreciate the small things in nature, this is where I love mindfulness in nature and just noticing the small miracles like a spider making a web, it really lifts me. Cultivate your own positivity, whatever works for you. If you can have a mind-set that generally veers towards the positive when you go through difficult times you may find you have more resilience as a result. But don’t ever fake it; feel your emotions don’t hide them under some fake positivity bullshit.
• Mindfulness and meditation
Part of my self-care is mindfulness. I try to do a few meditations each week. I also try to be mindful when I’m outside, taking moments to notice what is around me, to sit and close my eyes, breathe deep and apply all of my senses to my surroundings.
• Making time for me
I need a lot of rest at the moment and I tend to plan ahead a lot so I know when I can have these breaks and some quiet time. Switching off from noise helps me a lot. I am lucky in that I have my parents who can look after Grace so that gives me the time to get the rest I need. I ensure I get this regularly but will ask for more help with Grace, should I feel my health flares are building.