“There is no recipe, no formula, no guidebook for self-care. We have a guide, and that guide is within us. We need to ask the question: What do I need to do to take loving, responsible care of myself? Then, we need to listen to the answer. Self-care is not that difficult. The most challenging part is trusting the answer, and having the courage to follow through once we hear it.” (Melody Beattie) This is an important issue for everyone, but for those of us who are cancer survivors it is vital. Let’s begin by individually looking at how we did in the area of self-care during 2017 (let’s be honest), and identify any changes we’d like to make. Each new year offers new beginnings, so now is a good time to determine what needs changing. You don’t need to share this with anyone unless you want to.
Rituals of self-care are the Velcro that holds our days together. They offer intentional breaks for personal nurturing. For me the day starts with a cup of my favorite chai tea and, whenever possible, watching the sunrise (it was gorgeous this morning). It’s a small activity, but it fills me with gratitude at the beginning of each day. We are the architects of our time, making each day a work of living art. The daily practice of taking a deep breath, letting go of our fears, inviting peace in, and evaluating what we need, enables us to clarify our priorities. How will we spend our precious gift of time? Do we need to reevaluate previous plans? Do we need more time with friends, or do we need to take a mental health day from work? Do we need to plan more rest and/or fun into our day? What will we say “yes” or “no” to?
For many of us the short word “no” is uncomfortable to think about, and even harder to say. We may believe a good wife, daughter, employee rarely says “no.” However, not using that small word can lead to not liking ourselves, or the people we are trying to please. From there it’s easy to slip into resentment which does not fit into healthy self-care. When we are true to ourselves with a solid “no,” people soon learn that they can trust us to say what we mean, and we affirm that we can trust ourselves. No long explanation is needed — just a simple “no” and the willingness to be true to ourselves. As cancer survivors we live with an increased sense of the importance of each day. We also have an appreciation of the richness added to our life when we are gentle and loving to ourselves.
Saying “no” means we can say “yes” to what we want/need for ourselves and others. We can say “yes” to things that are good for us, like healthy relationships, nurturing activities, and fulfilling work. When we pay attention to our feelings and instincts, and the nudges we receive from our Higher Power, we are again saying “yes.” Healthy self-care means saying “yes” to all that nourishes us, which means that we are embracing all the best of what life and love have to offer.
Another essential element in self-care is understanding the natural rhythms of our energy throughout the day. If we take time to observe ourselves we will quickly notice what time of day our energy is highest and lowest (I’m a morning person). This means rest needs to be as high a priority as meals, exercise, and meaningful social activities. If our energy is seen as water filling a container, then when it is empty everything stops until it is refilled. It’s trying to keep going when our container is empty that makes us more susceptible to illness. Without good stewardship of our energy we become burned out.
Oprah Winfrey said, “Energy is the essence of life. It was only after I became depleted that I realized I had only a certain amount of energy – and I needed to conserve and restore it. I understood that I had to keep giving back to myself, to refill my tank.” Pacing ourselves and working rest into every day is the key to keeping our personal containers full. Guilt-free naps are great for restoring energy, but if we’re not paying attention and try to run on empty, our overall functioning becomes impaired. By the end of the day we are exhausted, crabby, and irritable with the people around us (who needs that!). Author Linda Popov in her book A PACE OF GRACE, suggests resting proactively. If we rest before our flow of energy diminishes, we avoid becoming drained. It takes much longer to recover from being drained than it does to work a nap time into our day.
I love an afternoon nap and am much better in the evenings when I’ve rested during the day. Times of stress increase our need for rest, which means those of us in cancer treatment need to rest as often as possible. Sark, the author of CHANGE YOUR LIFE WITHOUT GETTING OUT OF BED, writes, “Naps fluff us up and make us more kind…..As adults we still need tender places in which to repair our souls and put special glue on the broken places.”
There are many more aspects to healthy self-care which will be saved for other blogs. For now, let’s begin 2018 intentionally increasing our sensitivity to saying a healthy “no” or “yes.” And, with heightened awareness of our own unique energy patterns, schedule resting and nap time into each day. Eda LeShan writes this, “When we truly care for ourselves, it becomes possible to care far more profoundly about other people. The more alert and sensitive we are to our own needs, the more loving and generous we can be toward others.”
Until Next time – Sylvia
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