Have you ever found yourself in times so tough that you feel like everything around you is on fire and all you have to combat the blaze is a thimble of water? I have. The last few months since the Dallas tornado have arguably been the hardest of my life, but guess what? The world has continued to turn, and my responsibilities as a mom, a wife, and a human haven’t let up. So I want to share with you what I’ve learned about self-care when normal strategies may not apply.
If you look up “self-care”, you’ll find tons of articles suggesting that you treat yourself with a bath, massage, workout, or a vacation. Sadly, in a period where even getting a decent amount of sleep isn’t possible for several reasons, you may not have time for these types of diversions.
Here are the best self-care strategies I can propose for life’s darkest moments:
- Acknowledge and accept your negative emotions, but don’t get sucked into them. In today’s society, it’s pretty common to hear that you should “stay positive.” While I believe that no good comes from spiraling into a black hole of negativity, it’s unreasonable and inauthentic to pretend that everything is fine when it’s clearly not. I agree with the advice in this article that “[i]f you want to overcome those negative emotions and get back to your hopeful self, you must first openly acknowledge they exist, they’re strong, and they’re impacting your life in the wrong way.” Basically, keep it real and remember that denial is not the answer.
- Disregard well-meaning comments from clueless people. Surprise! A lot of people have no clue what they’re talking about and just feel compelled to offer their two cents on a given situation. Disregard advice from the cult of positivity. Forget about people who tell you “it could be worse.” Sure it could be worse, but such comments are not helpful. Don’t get mad, just ignore.
- Detach from the illusion of control and remember that nothing lasts forever. It’s a cliché, but it’s true. Even the worst of times turn for the better at some point. If they are 100% bad now, eventually they will go down to at least 99% bad. Take comfort in the temporariness of things, even if “temporary” means a year or more. It WILL eventually ease up. And regardless, you never have control over every aspect of your life. So try to be patient and accept the situation for what it is.
- Say “no” if you ever get the chance. I have a hard time saying no. If I can make it work, why not offer to help? But over the last few months, saying no to extraneous obligations was the only way in which I could realistically exert control over my schedule. It’s healthy to set boundaries, so do so as needed. Limit exposure to people who don’t lift you up and tasks that are either pointless or could easily be done by someone else.
- Say “yes” to things that will make you happy, even if they create more work in the short term. Even though the last few months have been beyond challenging, I’ve managed to attend a few out-of-town celebrations for my closest friends, and have participated in a number of other big events here in Dallas. Was it a lot of work? Yes. Was it stressful to prepare for these events in the moment? Yes. But I will say that going through all the steps was ultimately worth it, because these happy events reminded me of better times and allowed me to support my loved ones. Sometimes it’s OK to create more work for yourself if the emotional payoff will be worthwhile.
- Phone a friend. Reach out to people who get you. Even if they don’t get what you’re going through, exactly. Connecting with people who love you and want the best for you, even if it’s only once in a while for a couple minutes can ground you.
- Help others when you can. I’ll never stop believing that one of the best forms of self-care is helping others. It expands your vision and perspective. It gets you out of your own head and your own problems. Even if you don’t have time to undertake your usual volunteer activities, doing someone a quick favor or lending an ear to someone who is suffering can work wonders for your soul. Trust me.
- Try to view hard times as a teacher and find your gratitude. Warning: proceed with caution. This can be annoying advice to someone who’s in the thick of suffering. But trying to keep a broader perspective even amidst true hardship can keep you going. Things are challenging now, but how much have you learned about your own abilities and powers? In your own time, try to stay cognizant of all the things that have gone right and the ways in which you have been spared. It really helps. When you remember who you are and what you’re capable of, you may have really found the best self-care strategy of all.
Comment below if you have any other self-care tips for trying times!