How to Care for Yourself
These are troubling times. And now we want to do good to others more than ever. But what to do? I decided to use this time to focus more on myself, and for many of us this is for sure not the easiest.
It’s not at all to say that altruism and helping others isn’t the right thing to do at this moment. I am absolutely blown away by the amount of great initiatives popping up everywhere.
But you might be familiar with the saying that if you want to help others, you must begin with yourself. There is no love for others without the love to ourselves. In fact, the reason why some people are cruel or have the urge to hurt others, is mainly because it allows them to punish themselves, albeit unconsciously, by reinforcing the negative opinion they have about themselves.
And even though this text will focus on yourself, self care is not to be confused with individualism, and it always involves the care for others. Only if you can respect yourself, your heart is free to care for others and you can be kind and giving for the right reasons.
This crisis will not be over tomorrow, but what we need when we get out of this very first phase is new energy and creativity — for which we also need silence and the chance to slow down.
So we do well to rest now. To find back to our core so we can change course where necessary.
I would like to offer you this special moment as a chance to hold on, slow down and learn to recharge. In my opinion, this is one of the things we need most, and this moment might just give you the opportunity needed to let go. Even though it is forced, our society and us are still decelerating.
So in the following, I would like to explore a few possibilities how you can learn to look after yourself.
Surely everyone needs to find his or her own way. Media is already packed with cheap tricks and more people get pressured by this feeling of ‘I need to do what they do’. A battle has started about whose self-isolation is the coolest.
I want to encourage you, not to look for answers in others but in yourself.
And a final note: what might sound easy here definitely isn’t. Not for me and neither will it be for you. But what I can tell you wholeheartedly, is that it will be worth it. The hurdles that we face are a sign that we are about to change course. We are escaping ordinary measures and learned mechanisms. Just because we are used to something and it feels familiar, doesn’t automatically mean that it is are good for us. The system we live in has taught ourselves to fill every empty space with action, to constantly distract ourselves and always just be waiting for what comes next. Only to avoid that we have to face ourselves the way we really are.
And now it’s almost as if we finally have the chance to return to the basic magic of being human.
Start with slowing down
The first step closer to ourselves is to stop running. Slowing down is both an external and an internal process. We might know this feeling: we can sit down, we can even escape in nature, we can do absolutely nothing — and yet our mind keeps running in circles.
And this is similar to what I currently see happening to many people. Even though we are ‘externally’ forced to pause, we try to compensate this with doing all kinds of new things. At all costs, we are trying to avoid the inevitable moment of facing ourselves. Once we give in, what feels like surrendering is actually the first step towards the truth.
Slowing down means to allow empty space, to not rush — and to let it be.
Let it be
No matter how you feel. It is ok to feel worried, afraid, annoyed — or all of it at the same time. Now, and any other time anyways. It’s ok not being able to understand or name your feelings. But it’s not ok to beat yourself up because of it. If you feel bad, don’t make it worse by blaming yourself for it. Different people treat situations in different ways. And comparing yourself to others is just another way of saying that you’re not ok.
Giving in to your emotions is not to ignore them, but to be accepting and aware. One of the biggest issues of today’s western society is that we are constantly sold the believe that experiencing negative emotions is not okay — so we’d literally do anything to fight them or to take them away completely.
Letting it be is another way of showing compassion to yourself. It is to deeply love yourself, not because, but despite all imperfections. To be patient with yourself, kind and forgiving. To make piece, even with your destructive behaviors, with all your longings and deep needs.
Self compassion is about unconditional friendliness that allows you to build an entity with yourself and all its facets, so that you can, for example, combine the sometimes appropriate self-criticism with the self-respect needed to balance it out.
Ask yourself and trust your inner voice
Nobody can tell you what’s good for you right now. Yes you can get inspired by the ways of others, or by great conversations and the ideas that come out of it. But it’s you who finally has to make the call what’s helpful or hindering for yourself.
The issue is, that so many of us don’t actually know what we really need, even though it should be essential. In fact I think this should be part of education and parenting. It’s a life-long learning — and the problem is that we haven’t even learned how to start the journey.
My self-help guide contains things like a walk in nature, writing down my feelings or having meaningful conversations with the people that matter most to me. My friends know this, as one of the main things I suggest when people feel troubled is to have a long walk — on their own. Just to walk until your troubled mind calms down. Sometimes this is 15 minutes, sometimes two hours. For me, it always works.
But as said, I am aware that this is not the way for everybody. Most of all it’s about doing one thing, and not several things at the same time. And it’s things that allow us to be with ourselves only.
Yes of course, meditation is part of it. There’s a bit of me who wonders what’s really going on with this practice. Because everybody talks about meditation while it seems that hardly anybody regularly does it.
I think that one of the main issues is that we confuse meditation with ‘taking it (i.e. the bad emotion) away. We meditate because we urge for relaxation. But meditation doesn’t have a goal. There’s also nothing to master.
People sometimes tell me that they can’t meditate because then they start to feel worse. And this is the crux of it. As mentioned in my last thought, feelings don’t go away if we only avoid them long enough. Meditation is not to get rid of thoughts, but rather allowing us to see their true nature. Because only then we can face them and their origin.
Meditating everyday, being with the moment no matter how good or bad, that’s the goal to strive for. I myself have it, as I am certainly not there yet.
Give up control
One of the hardest things is giving up control. Giving up control is connected to let it be, yet different and on another level. It’s the overall acceptance of the fact that things will go their own way, we cannot control other people’s behavior and we certainly cannot control the future. The urge to control makes us suspicious, nervous and causes us to be constantly alarmed. We can never relax. Sometimes we can even feel it as a tension that seems to hold every single muscle in our body.
I think that a lot of the desire to control is driven by fear, and fear is by nature a feeling that is oriented towards the future. Once we really manage to give up control, this will be noticeable in a deep inner peace. We can finally enjoy the present moment. Because the counterpart to control is trust, the trust in something bigger, the fact that life will go on and that we will be ok, no matter what.
‘How much longer do we have to live like this?’ is one of the main questions at the moment. Instead of ‘What can I now do within the circumstances that I cannot change and this time that I am given? What should I reflect upon and what’s the positive learnings I can take from it?’
Make time for it
Caring for yourself is so difficult because it is not a one-off activity but an attitude that needs to be cultivated slowly. Especially if we are not familiar with it. And many of us are not familiar because from an early age, we have learned to pay more attention to others than to ourselves.
For most of us, our whole being is solely focused on getting positive attention from others by either pleasing them or avoiding their frustration. Which is also reasonable because through basic parenting, this is the main thing we learned to care for. But this means that our whole well-being is depending on others. For years, we have put our real personality and our real needs behind, without even being aware of it. So why would we allow time for something we didn’t even know we needed yet?
Even though some of us currently have more time than ever, the internet can still keep us busy 24/7 — and beyond. Inventions like that make is possible that even though we sit alone in our room, we are surrounded by thousands of people, opportunities and opinions at the same time.
So again, we have to give ourselves the space and the permission to feel ourselves and just be.
Probably many of you were expecting — or hoping for — a different kind of list. Something easier and more tangible. A fast relief. But that’s exactly the point. Peace has to come from within and it’s our responsibility to care for it. No other thing or person will ever be able to.
And the more you feel irritated about this fact, the more likely it is that you should start to have a closer look at it.