Radical Self-Care, Another To-Do Item?

I’ve been hearing the phrase “Radical Self-Care” recently among friends and in the media. As a professional promoter of self-care, I’ve been curious about this. Why radical? Do we need such a dramatic word to allow ourselves to care for ourselves? Is this a reflection of our culture where “simple self-care” just wouldn’t be attention-grabbing enough so we need a boot camp for it!? (yes, I did see this promotion!) It seems to be a current buzz word among wellness experts promoting everything from juice cleanses, to fitness regimens, taking a bath, or indulging in expensive spa treatments or chocolate or wine with girlfriends. (Many of these wellness blogs just happen to be selling products to help you in your self care.) I saw one post that had 25 recommendations for radical self-care that included: not rushing, remembering to breathe, but stimulate your brain with an interesting podcast on your commute drinking your non-caffeinated beverage and vegetable smoothie. Smell the perfect essential oil to lift your mood while figuring out how you are going to get everything done and squeeze in 30 minutes at the gym, cook a healthy meal, find time to meditate and drop into bed at 10pm for the perfect sleep. Exhausted yet from all your self-care? Has radical self-care become yet another thing on your to-do list and yet another thing to feel you are failing at?

I had an epiphany this summer that woke me up to the self-improvement project I have been on for most of my life. My health crisis of a few years ago just made me more resolved to find that perfect diet, supplement, yoga routine, etc. And then a mentor told me in order to find true peace and my true self, I needed to drop the self-improvement project. What?? I didn’t even know I had one!! Wow – truth feels like a punch in the gut and I definitely got punched in the gut. After sitting with this I owned up to the fact that my quest for wellness was, in addition to actually feeling better, also based on a general feeling of inadequacy, of not being_______enough (fill in the word – healthy, smart, thin, wise, creative, etc…..) So there I sat facing all those feelings I had been covering up with my quest for “self-care”. At that moment, I began the sometimes difficult process of relaxing into accepting myself where I am right now and basing my actions for self-care on a true love for myself. This approach is based on mindfulness and honesty. This might mean taking a nap instead of working out or watching a re-run of the Office and laughing with my son instead of meditating. On the other hand, it could also mean shutting off social media or the news and cooking the healthy meal I know I need. It means being in touch with yourself in the moment and listening, feeling and responding like a nurturing mother to a child. Sometimes a hug is in order and sometimes what’s best for the child isn’t that extra cookie he/she is crying for but a nap or a well-balanced meal.

In summary, I propose something even more radical than Radical Self-Care! It is revolutionary and it is self-acceptance and self-compassion. There are over 100 scientific studies showing the benefits of self-compassion. Self-compassion is treating yourself with the same love and care you would for a child, a friend, or a family member. Why exclude ourselves from this circle of love? But when I bring up the topic of a lack of self-love people groan, roll their eyes, ugh, they say, I can’t do that! But we can, it is a learned skill and one we already know – we just need to turn what you naturally give to others back on to yourself. I commit to exploring this further in a series.

For starters, here is a simple practice I use with my clients:

  1. Take a few minutes to get quiet, slow your breathing and intend to find the silence underneath all the mental chatter.
  2. To help, place your hands on your heart and breathe in and out of your heart – inhale to count of 4, exhale to a count of 6. This helps to turn on the relaxing nervous system and link our heart and brain.
  3. Just notice what is there – what feeling is there? Scan your physical, mental, emotional, spiritual selves.
  4. Ask – what do I need in this moment? You may be surprised by the answer.
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