[Self-Care Sunday Series: wellness experts worldwide are sharing their self-care expertise, practices, routines and personal stories. Today our guest post is by yoga therapist, teacher and health advocate for chronic illness, Kayla Kurin]
Life is often chaotic when living with a chronic illness. But am I the only one who feels the world is on the brink of collapse right now?
On top of our day to day stressors and energy drains, we’ve now got some extra frustrations looming over our heads. Some of our friends in the US and in the UK may be facing a loss of health coverage, and some may be facing discrimination circulating in our communities and online.
A lot of people are rallying together to protest, tweet, blog, and fight for the things they believe in. This is all great stuff, but I think now more than ever, taking care of yourself has to be your number 1 priority. After all, you can’t help others if you don’t help yourself first.
So how can we practice compassion to ourselves and others at a time like this?
How can we take a break from the snark and anxiety and fear and take care of ourselves?
Allow yourself to block out the world and take care of yourself. Because when all seems lost in the world, we need to take more time to remember what is good. What is calming and leaves us feeling whole.
Tell your parents or your partner or your roommates that you’re not to be disturbed. Find a short yoga practice and shut yourself off from the world, just for a little bit.
Find a short yoga practice and give yourself a break from the world’s pain, just for a little bit.
And then take 5 more minutes:
Practice a loving-kindness meditation. Extend that self-compassion to others. Even to those you disagree with. Even to those threatening you, to those who may be infringing on your rights and your communities and your support systems.
Can you extend that self-compassion to others. Even to those you disagree with. Even to those threatening you, to those who may be infringing on your rights and your communities and your support systems, if that feels safe or useful for you.
Allow the time for each of these practices to slowly expand each week until you’re up to 30 minutes (or whatever amount of time feels right for you to dedicate to your self-care practice). That’s the time of one TV show to practice compassion and care for yourself and others. Most of us watch several TV programs a day, I’m sure you can cut back on one to allow yourself to relax and turn inwards.
When you’ve cultivated a self-care practice that feels right for you, then go back in the world and do what you need to do.
Go to doctor’s appointments, take care of your family, work or study, fight for what you believe in.
But when you practice self-care, whether it’s with yoga and meditation, or another activity of your choosing, you’ll go back into the world with more calmness, more energy, and more compassion for yourself and those around you.
As your fighting for your health, your rights, and your values, remember to please, take care of yourself.
Not gorgeous steamer trunks and vintage hat boxes (although I love those too), but the tools you need to pack to help you through your emotional journey.
Believe me, this is the good kind of baggage.
When you go travelling you pack what you will need, so we are not about to venture into our Forest of Emotions ill-equipped.
Why am I doing this again?
We are going to gather tools which help us manage our emotions and things that we can hold onto, should we get lost in the emotional forest, or hit by a grief-storm, for example.
Emotions can be processed, this isn’t neat, clinical or tidy, but when you feel you are being torn apart by say, anger or guilt, burying or breaking under it are not our only two options.
There are times when you are overwhelmed by feelings and just have no idea what to do but stare at the wall and writhe in emotional pain, so you just shove the struggles down into some box in your mind.
(Of course, they pop up later, usually at a difficult time when your life has broken apart and this has the nasty side effect of breaking down all those walls and hide holes in your head so all your unresolved issues come out to play. Which explains why you end up crying two days after a new diagnosis about the time you failed the exam and the boy who called you ugly in school – they are linked, sort of.)
Or have you had days when you’ve looked at the bottle, (or the TV, or the box of cakes) just to escape from your own head and the pain rattling around never-endingly inside it? You are not alone.
But there are better ways and that’s what we are talking about today.
But I’m not repressing or contemplating tequila shots right now
Yes, and so now is the time to pack.
We have emergency hospital bags, packed with books, spare clothes, meds, toothbrush, cash, vegan food, pens and paper and so on.
Because when an emergency happens, that is not the time to be dashing about the house trying to find cash to get a taxi to the hospital or throwing clothes around shouting ‘I know the good nightgown is here somewhere’.
The time to get things sorted is now, before an emergency. You don’t want to be in hospital in a nightie two sizes two small with a torn strap at the shoulder now do you? (I know, it’s the worst thing a good girl could imagine).
Your handy dandy self-care kit packing check-list:
Pick what you are drawn to from here, and don’t be afraid to explore something new…. these options are just the beginning.
* Energy work – everything from Reiki to energy clearing comes under this, but learning to be able to give yourself an energy treatment can be marvellously beneficial in so many situations. Begin by looking at your options and contacting the professional body like the UK Reiki Federation.
* Grounding yourself – going outside can sometimes shift things amazingly. Make a practice of spending time outdoors, can you go for a walk or wheelchair ride, volunteer to walk a dog at a local sanctuary or grow a garden?
* Art therapy – can express your emotions, store them, process them and invite deep healing.
* Support groups – solidarity can help us feel like we fit in and are not alone. Find people who fit you and learn and grow together.
* Aromatherapy – using essences of flowers and herbs, aromatherapy is a very powerful way to effect change on our emotions and all of our healing selves.
* Counselling or coaching – if you’ve read this blog for a while, you will know I’m a big proponent of therapy. I’m so grateful there are people out there whose whole job it is to help me. People say they don’t go to therapy because of the money… I have seen therapists in two countries and six counties. Sometimes they were free and sometimes they were for reduced rates but when we needed help we always found a way. Call around, ask about subsidised counselling, get on the waiting list at your local MIND, call clinics and ask if there are any students working at reduced rates, enquire about sliding scales, offer barter. We can make it work.
* Gratitude list – a gratitude practice can be revolutionary and shift your whole way of thinking. Begin with writing down three things every day you are grateful for. I bet that by the third month you are filling pages with gratitudes and feeling happier too.
* A physical self-care kit – Healing Boxes CIC grew from here. It’s a box, a little like the emotional support box below, that you store your tools in. If you want us to build you a box to take on your healing journey Healing Boxes CIC can do just that, so click here.
* Exercise – everything from dancing, tai chi, running and swimming goes here. Why not explore your options and pick something new, there are exercises available for all. For example, if you are bed bound, Feldenkrais might be perfect for you.
* EFT – have you tried emotional freedom technique? Why not give it a go and see if it works for you?
* Mindfulness – I recommend Breathworks CIC for all your mindfulness study. You can find their classes here.
You need a repository
Exhale, I said a repository not a suppository, (I’m here all week, folks).
Anyway… how do we pack these tools?
(Well, firstly it would be helpful if you actually had an emergency bag as I’ve described above, a go-bag is a good idea.)
But the tools we are talking about today are listed below, and you pack them in two ways:
1. Create an Emotional Support Bag/Box – look at the list above and pick 5 or 6 things that you feel drawn to, and that you think would help you in an emergency and then get them set up now. So if you think aromatherapy would help you to relax when you are anxious, then read a book on it, see an aromatherapist, buy some oils and a way to use them – a burner, a diluted rub, and put it all in a physical box you can go to when your emotions overwhelm you. Your guided meditations and art therapy tools go in there too. And the contact details of support group helplines, your therapist’s phone number. You’ve got the first stage of your tool-kit packed, let’s celebrate you!
2. Choose Your Emotional Repository– decide on a day to day repository. One way we prevent emotions welling up into huge storms that sweep us off the path of our healing journey is by dealing with them in little bits daily. You need somewhere to put all the niggles and struggles that come up for you daily so they don’t overwhelm you. It could be a journal, a meditation practice, a pact to email your best friend every day. Whatever it is, pick a medium in which you can process and contain your emotions and then, darling-one, use it! It can be easy, that pain, that disappointment, that person who annoyed you, it doesn’t have to stay with you, dragging around your ankles as you try and go about your day. Just open up your journal and pour it all inside. You process as you re-tell and then you can move on.
Building a practice
So you’ve picked the tools you want to use to support you on the emotional forest journey, not we need to learn how to use them.
Believe me, practice is your secret weapon for survival.
We can’t be going out of our minds with grief and then grab a yoga mat for the first time and expect the asanas to calm us. It just doesn’t work like that. Practice is what makes these tools work.
On the bad days, it’s practice we rely on. So get into the pose for qi gong or take your yoga mat or your dancing shoes and do your thing. It’s our practice that carries us forward when things are bleak.
Learning to fall
In judo we learn to fall well. Ukemi is the art of meeting the mat. Learn it now and it becomes muscle memory, when life pushes you, you’ll tuck your head and slam the ground on the way down, breaking the impact.
Let’s learn to do this in our emotional lives.
* Is something to lean on during bad days,
* Is something familiar and comforting when everything seems lost,
* Is something that your body and mind associate with relaxation and good emotions,
* Is something accessible that you can take anywhere with you.
(I’ve done yoga in hospital waiting rooms, in car parks, on street pavements, parks, train stations, during a blackout and in other people’s kitchens.)
And then all hell broke loose
Some things go beyond all we know and all we ever anticipated. Crises rip us out of everything and we can no longer bring ourselves to swallow food. To do sitting meditation is as far away as walking to the moon.
In these places we are shattered and the more we hang onto the past pieces the harder it is.
But here is the secret. Through our practice we have become malleable, we have built strength, developed a strong core and our soul cannot be lost even though our world is shattered.
We come out of it, allow ourselves to emerge a new person.
When we fall, we fall into space we have created, support around us, there is a place in which to heal should we need it.
Phoenix fire fighting
Sometimes a challenge comes into our life and it seems to eat us alive.
Before you begin, know that moving forward doesn’t necessarily require you to have confidence in yourself.
Right now, I only need you to believe in me, know that I am here, I have been down my own emotional path and come out the other side.
I am writing this with intention and compassion, hoping that it helps you. I am waiting here, hands outstretched, believing in you, hoping for you, holding your dreams tight for you, until you are ready to live them again.
Call to action
Make a decision to pack your tool bag.
Pick one option, now. Don’t wait to do it properly – one day – because you may never get there. Let loose the intuition and pick the option that stands out to you from the list above. Then take one step towards it today.
Every Sunday morning I strip the beds. I wash the sheets in hot water. I comb through the fridge, getting rid of anything that is past its time. I open up my planner and write down everything that I want and need to do in the week ahead.
I ready myself for what’s to come.
I take a shower slowly. I shave my legs. I remember to put on moisturizer. I do all of the things that I often forfeit on days when I am running to get somewhere, while simultaneously trying to get my daughter dressed and out the door. I look at myself in the mirror. I pluck my eyebrows.
I tend to myself in this moment so that, no matter what the week entails, I will have this foundation to rely on.
I file the papers away. I pay the bills. I return the emails. I make sure that everything is accounted for.
This Sunday practice is essential to the quality of the week the lies before me. With a baby under the age of one and a business that relies on my inner strength and mental clarity, taking the time to settle in and ground myself before Monday morning means that I am well tended to more often than not.
It means that I will have clean underwear and a basic understanding of what my priorities are for the week ahead. It also means that I will be able to look up and out to see something coming that might require my attention and plan it in, before it feels like an emergency.
When I became a mother people told me that I would no longer have time for my self-care practices. They warned me about just how quickly everything gets pushed out of the way to make space for teething and congested noses.
In some ways, this has proven true. In the last nine months I have experienced more demands on my time and energy than ever before in my life. But these demands haven’t eliminated my need for self-care.
Instead, my needs have grown with the size of my family, clarified by the deep knowing that the structural integrity of my mind and body is fundamental to my ability to show up daily for everything that I believe in. I need myself more than ever. I need my own care more than ever.
This is how it is with self-care. The more that I require of myself and the more that I expand my vision for what is possible for my life, the more tending I need. My care must grow with my responsibilities if I am going to enjoy the continued capacity for living the way that I want to.
And so I return here each Sunday. To the sheets and grocery list and scrubbing my body.
To the practice of taking care of my future self, today.
By Mara Glatzel
Mara Glatzel, MSW is an intuitive guide and energy healer who guides women in identifying, honoring, and advocating for their needs.
She is also the creator of the wildly popular course The Deep Exhale about carving out space in your life for rest and restoration.
At the core of her work is the desire to live a well-intentioned life, which means… more joy, grit, and vibrant imperfection to spare.
This website/blog is an educational and informational resource for people living with illness, pain, disability, mental illness, and life crisis.
It is not a substitute for working with a doctor, registered psychologist or other professional. I cannot guarantee the outcome of following the recommendations provided and my statements about the potential outcome are expressions of opinion only. I make no guarantees about the information and recommendations provided herein.
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