July 21, 2022
Sometime last week I had a yellow flag moment. In between the day’s activities, I recognized that feeling of holding my breath, being tense and losing my center. I was headed towards overwhelm. Granted, I have a lot happening right now. I’m working as much as possible while still anchoring a loose rhythm at home with my boys. I have been in and out of the house with trips and workshops, so time back at home is packed full of meetings, “all things home-related,” and catching up with friends before the school year begins. Many of you know this story well and know that it’s easy to find the tipping point.
Certainly some of it can’t be helped. In a family with three big children and two full-time working parents, one accepts that life will be full, and that it won’t always be that way. Yet, there is always a balance to strike and that yellow flag waving in my face was telling me the balance was off in my life. Maintaining balance is a dynamic learning process. I have to be forgiving of myself when I don’t “get it right” and remain cognizant of the signs that tell me when something needs to change.
So, what do I do when I’ve backed myself into a bit of a corner and feel overwhelmed? First and foremost, I hit the brakes and sit with it. I try to remain present in that moment, acknowledging how I feel because that has taught me to recognize when it’s happening again, and to prevent me from repeating old patterns. In younger years, I might have not noticed the yellow flag, and hit the red flag or melted down from total overwhelm and depletion. So I have learned to pay attention to the sensations of my body in those moments. Often this alone does a lot to help me relax, to start breathing out again. I follow this by doing what I can to slow down for the day, make space to intentionally relax and evaluate where the balance tipped.
I ponder on what has gone awry in my rhythm. Have I taken on too many tasks? Is life moving too quickly? How is my sleep? How are things with my children? What can be put aside for later, or what needs to be brought back? While stress can arise for lots of different reasons, honestly most often a yellow flag comes up for me when I haven’t been giving myself enough attention. Recently, I had intentionally shifted my self-care time out of our daily rhythm in favor of attending to work and others. I intended this to be temporary, but clearly on this day I was learning again how essential my self-care really is.
Pillars of Self-Care
In late Spring I met with a good friend of mine, a single mom that has twin boys who have just turned four. We were laughing about the reality of self-care with littles in your life. It can feel impossible to fit in time for yourself!
One way my friend cares for herself is to set aside time regularly to participate in a book club. She also visits with friends, relaxing over a cup of tea or glass of wine. But in the thick of the day-to-day, there is sometimes little she can do to grab even a few minutes, just like the rest of us. When she is at home with the boys for full days, she saves at least fifteen minutes for herself at naptime before turning to housework. She sits down on the couch and gives herself permission to scroll through her social media feeds, finding happy little posts to make her smile or laugh, and not think about anything.
Oh, how crucial that time alone is- especially when you really want to exert absolutely no energy for anything! I admire that she is so diligent about keeping these moments within her day, striving for consistent self-care. I remember all too well using the classic excuse, “Mommy needs to go potty!” when I was constantly on call for my littles. As my own self-care practices have shaped and shifted over the years, I have studied it in relationship to parenting through workshops and books as well. What I have come to know has three foundational pillars: knowing oneself, practice in the easy times, and quality of activity.
Bottom line of this is, that if you don’t know what nourishes and sustains you, or how much of it you need, struggle is inevitable. It is essential to spend time exploring and reflecting on this. I have played with a variety of self-care activities through the years, ranging from artistic to movement-based to spiritual-based. Some activities have remained an imperative part of my self-care, some have not. They have all played an integral role in getting to know myself and what fills my cup. In fact, giving myself the freedom to explore and play has actually been just as important as having any singular self-nourishing activity. It may not be the same for someone else; they may find that the consistency of one or two activities serves as a calming and necessary respite amid life’s constant changes.
It is also important to recognize how frequently you need to take time for yourself. Being a very active and sanguine-natured person, I am most fulfilled by time for activities that are “without aim” at least twice weekly and time for physical activity (walking, gardening, etc.) in nature most days; tempered by a brief morning routine that involves stillness and spiritual centering. I know a lot of people who are very different from me. They need time alone every evening for a couple of hours to decompress and do restful activities. It is important to be honest with and know what you need apart from others- expecting something different will never allow us to live our best selves.
Practice in the Easy Times
This isn’t new information- developing new habits takes practice. And, life habits that you need during times of stress, need to be practiced when life isn’t stressful! That also goes for habits that are counter to your innate personality but that you know will be good for you. I am not naturally a routine person, for example, but I have come to learn how well I can “rock life” when I have them in place! Creating and maintaining a morning self-care routine has been one of the best acts of my adult life. It’s small and might seem less significant, but as I learned last week, it’s become non-negotiable in these busy seasons.
Quality of Activity
There is a difference in the energy and joy that is harvested from each activity. As my friend recognizes, we all need time to let go of agendas and rest our minds. Giving permission to take this time relieves some of the pressure and perhaps makes space for us to continue being present to our children or our work until the next break. However, it doesn’t do much for renewing our energy.
I have discovered that I require fewer moments of escape when I maintain intentional self-care routines that incorporate activities that give rest and revitalize my level of energy. They nourish and bring me joy as much as they allow me to let go of the demands of daily life and bring peace of mind. Simply put, they are transformative. For me over the years these activities have included running, walking, hiking, yoga, eurythmy, Spacial DynamicsⓇ, meditation, spiritual studies, playing instruments, and creating art. I continue to engage with many of these activities in my self-care practice now.
Building your own practice?
If you are looking to create a self-care practice of your own, I encourage you to start by reflecting on what activities bring you joy and nourishment. If you’re not sure, start exploring! Build a rhythm to your days and weeks, or examine the one you have in place, to maintain space for you to do that. Get connected with other people, join groups or classes, and over time it will take shape. The hardest part for most of us is making the commitment to ourselves, so consider finding a partner or friend who can support you and keep you accountable in the process. All of the work is well worth it.
Now is a great time to explore a new revitalizing activity for your personal self-care practice!
We invite you to join Deepening-Self Care with Spacial DynamicsⓇ with Lynn St. Pierre. Not only does Lynn lead the class through the incredibly nourishing exercises of Spacial Dynamics, she is also committed to building a community of support among participants. Find details about the course and enroll here today!