What's the big deal with self-care?

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You've been brushing your teeth for decades, know how to dress according to weather and may even take a few vitamins here and there. Perhaps you've already discovered that exercise helps to manage your anxiety, or that having a regular sleep routine decreases your depression symptoms, especially in the winter time. 

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So what else is there to know about tending to your needs?  It seems that many people are too busy multi-tasking their way through life, their attention dispersed among the things on their "to do"  lists to even notice how the lack of self-care is affecting them.

If you find yourself stressed out, overwhelmed, and physically or emotionally depleted, it's time to start practicing some of this self-care.  

A routine that incorporates attention to all areas of living is the key ingredient to effective self-care. 

There are many approaches to healthy self-care. Perhaps you rely on exercise and nutrition, or maybe you focus on quality relationships to help you, or if you're more analytical, you may use strategy and problem-solving tactics as a way to reduce stress and manage mental health problems. These are all terrific examples of how to practice positive self-care, though we need to learn to concentrate on our whole selves, not just certain parts. 

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As human beings, we're complicated.  We're like a three-legged stool, equally dependent on each part to be fully functioning. If we ignore the stability of one leg, the stool will crash to the floor. You may be like many people in giving a lot of attention to one or two legs but forgetting or dismissing the importance of the third leg that keeps you standing.

Cultivating whole-self care includes a desire to feel better, a conscious intention to make changes, and effective actions steps.

Living with the challenges of anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or other high stress life situations means whole self-care is even more essential. Giving your attention to self-care in the physical, emotional, social, spiritual, intellectual, environmental and occupational realms of your life will keep your three-legged stool sturdy. 

Maybe you're saying how can I possibly do all of that? It may seem overwhelming, but take comfort in knowing that one form of self-care can cover several areas of wellness in your life. 

For instance, I do a daily physical and emotional check-in. This exercise takes five minutes and incorporates all areas of wellness. 

This mindfulness technique helps to focus your attention to the present moment so you can take an inventory of your body, mind and spirit. The check-in is to increase your awareness of the areas in which you are taking good care of yourself, along with the realms where you need to concentrate more effort and nurturing. 

Begin by sitting in a quiet place and close your eyes, directing your attention to how your body is feeling physically. First, make sure your basic needs are being met by asking yourself these questions: Am I hungry? Did I have enough sleep? Have I paid attention to my elimination needs today or have I been "holding it because I'm too busy?" Am I too warm or cold? 

Next, check for levels of comfort or discomfort by completing a body scan. Starting with your feet, pinpoint your attention to feeling each area of your body while slowly moving upward to your head. Notice the physical sensations of your feet on the floor, your back against the chair, and the clothing against your skin. Pay particular attention to any areas of pain, stiffness or other unease. Just as important is being aware of sensations of relaxation, well-being and contentment. 

Now move on to the emotional check-in by accessing your current feelings and name them. If identifying your emotions is challenging for you, try telling a story about what's going on for you in the moment. By distancing yourself from the situation it's often easier to notice emotions. 

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Ask yourself if you're getting your basic emotional needs met, for example: Do I feel connected to others? Am I getting positive attention? Do I feel a sense of purpose? Am I spiritually fulfilled? Now shift to more specific questions about your situation today, such as: What feelings are perpetuating my desire to avoid doing that one thing? Who or what is creating frustration and agitation for me today? How is everything so overwhelming to me right now?  

When we tune into our emotions and name them, we have a starting place for getting our needs met.

So you've done the check-in and noticed your lower back is aching, your stomach is gurgling and that you feel irritable. What now? Those are valuable clues to help you improve your self-care in multiple realms of your life. Perhaps your physical, environmental, social, and occupational well being are all tied into the reason you have a backache.

You can now empower yourself to take control of the situation by changing it. Maybe you can improve your pain just by changing positions, stretching, or doing yoga. Perhaps you didn't have enough nutrition in your meals so it's affecting your digestion and your mood.

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Learning new skills to help you zero in on self-care will improve your ability to function and make time and space for more fun. Instead of just plodding through each day or getting lost in the busyness of life, give yourself the gift of time and attending to your needs. Listen to the wisdom of your mind, body and spirit to provide the information for what is missing and what is fulfilled.  

Developing a self-care plan based on your strengths and challenges will empower you to take the appropriate action to ensure your life is balanced.

If you are living with anxiety, depression or bipolar disorder, it's essential that you have an individualized self-care plan to maximize your ability to manage symptoms so you can get back to the business of living your life. By scheduling in a regular routine of daily self-care check-ins, you create an increased connection with your internal self. You can train your internal self to be acutely aware of your needs so you have more control over your life. Ask for a free phone consultation to learn how to create your individual self-care plan. 

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