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Take Care in the Ocean of self | Lee Anne Coetzer

Let us take a walk together into any bookstore and what would we find in the self-help section? Rows and rows of books on how to take care of oneself. Oh yes, the dreaded self, and I only say this because we, the masters of our own lives, have become so good at taking care of everyone around us that we neglect to take care of ourselves. If you look up the word self-care it means the deliberate practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s well-being and happiness, particularly during periods of stress. But why do we need to actively protect ourselves when we are the keepers of ourselves? I will tell you why I think we need active protection; it is because we are beautifully flawed and at times chaotic humans who are control freaks. And yes, I speak from experience here.

We take care of our homes, our jobs, our family and friends, our animals, damn we even take care of the people on the street where we can. But what do we do when we run on empty? We turn to things like alcohol and food among other substances, all for the feeling of filling the void or substituting that thing we feel inside ourselves that seems to be missing. If we actively stopped and looked inward at our feelings and needs, we might find true answers. Self-care comes down to taking care of yourself first, which may seem selfish to many, but my goodness how can you give and serve those around you if you feel empty, lost, hurt, angry and all the other bitter emotions?

Preserving and protecting our inner being is similar to a survival situation. What do the flight crew explain before the plane takes off? When the oxygen mask drops down from above, assist yourself first before assisting children and others. You are of no help passed out or burned out for that matter. Taking care of yourself first means you can give more of yourself without the feeling of guilt. To grow and learn is the challenge here, self-care is not a one-size-fits-all, it is more of a what size fits you. By this, I mean what makes you feel like you are caring for yourself? For those of you who do not know, let me guide you through some inner work.

Imagine you are dropped into a small boat, somewhere in the vast ocean. You do not know where you are and you can only gather some information by assessing the boat and your surroundings. What you have with you on this little boat is an oar, a bottle of water and a life jacket. The sun is setting to your right so you know that must be west. Uneasiness and fear start to take hold as night falls and you can see a thunderstorm glowing in the distance. You feel lost and do not know where to even start.

How will you get home? Which way will you start to row?

Geez Louise, what does this have to do with self-care?

Well, you cannot know where you are going until you know where you are. In this case, you need to know who you are before you can take care of yourself. So, when someone asks:

What does self-care mean? I find myself in that little boat stuck at sea. We need to have some self-awareness, some direction before we can even determine what we need to become better versions of ourselves. And we get this awareness of self by asking ourselves some honest questions.

Who am I?

This question reflects our present self. This may seem easy to answer, but when you sit and write this down – it can become a conundrum. And I bet more than half of us will answer something similar to my name is Anne and I am a teacher, or I am Sam, and I am a doctor. The question however is Who Am I? And not What do I do for a living? Because our work-life balance is more work and no balance, we tend to identify as being our careers. I assure you, you are much more than what you do for a living.    

Who do I want to be?

This question is more about who we want to become – our future selves. I want to be kinder, or I want to be someone that people turn to for support and guidance, or I want to be happy with what I see in the mirror every morning. I want to be the love that I attract in my life. Do not confuse this with – where you want to be in the future. It is not about the car you want to drive, but more about who that version is while driving that dream car. This is not goal setting, these questions should make you aware of your inner workings – your thoughts, feelings and needs.

How do I become and maintain that future version of myself?

Now here is where self-care comes in. What can I do daily or weekly to become who I want to be? We do self- care through restorative activities. These activities are things that make you feel whole, relaxed, at peace and recharged.

I am going to expand on one of these restorative activities, one that I believe makes you show up for yourself the most. Stillness. Take time to be still every day. This means a no-distraction zone, away from family, friends, kids, and pets. See it as a time-out. Somewhere where you are comfortable and can focus inward. Many mindfulness and meditation practices can teach you to become more focused, but the goal for stillness is to hear that inner voice. How does she speak to you? What is her overall message? Is she breaking you down or building you up? What in her message is true? What in her message is just fear and excuses to create worse- case scenarios that would never come true? Check-in with yourself through all that noise. How do you feel? What is eating at you? What basic need do you feel is not being met? What needs do you feel are getting met? Breathe. Release everything that does not serve you. Everything that is holding you down and back. Breathe through it. You will come to realise that there is no mountain – the only mountains to climb are the ones we create – get out of your own way. This is the path to self-awareness, and where self-care starts. So now we have our course, our direction, let us get some other tools to get us to where we are going.

Restorative activities that can be the oars, life jacket and water bottle in your self-awareness boat. One is to spend time in nature: spending time in the sun, walking barefoot on the grass, taking the family to the park, or going for a hike. Nature can restore and recharge you. Another tool is Movement: it is important to get active and stretch. We were not designed to sit in front of computers all day. We are living beings and part of nature. We need movement to keep our blood flowing, our organs working and to get much-needed oxygen to the brain and muscles. Finding activities where you zone out or lose track of time when doing them is just as restorative. Whatever floats your boat if it is knitting, building puzzles, gardening, reading, etc. Things you do because they are enjoyable to you. Do not underestimate the rewards of investing in knowledge. Learning new skills and reading or studying new things – that interest you – will not just restore you, they will enrich you. Learning a musical instrument or taking part in a photography course. You are never too young or too old to learn new things. It is never too late, it is always the right time. These activities can be the tools to set your course in life. We are all in our own boats in the ocean called life.

We have everything we need inside of us. Our purpose and reason for being on earth are inside of us. It is not something out there for us to find. We were not designed to chase the ever-elusive goals and dreams that always seem to be just out of our reach. We were meant to conquer our internal battles, our triggers, our traumas, and the disappointments – our mountains. We are meant to release all which does not serve us spiritually, mentally, physically, and emotionally. And to focus our time and energy on the things and people that serve us, for the greater good of all. We are meant to stand on the mountain of peace and enjoy that view.

So, while we grow our self-awareness life still happens. Unfortunately, we cannot hit pause and deal with things at our own pace. This is where our self-care routine comes in. We need to make ourselves a priority by setting aside time to focus inward and restore ourselves. This should be a daily practice. Getting this self-care routine up and running smoothly will take practice. So be patient with yourself and break it down to 10 min a day if you must – you will find that the more time you spend with yourself, the more time you want to spend with yourself.

When you start doing the inner work, you will start to notice that once you are in tune with who you are, your self-worth and confidence will improve. You will start to speak up and set boundaries. You will find like-minded people that will support you and that want to see you succeed and will keep you accountable.

I know that we can come up with all the reasons in the world to not do the inner work. In the end, you will be the longest relationship you have on earth – from birth to death. You are alone in that boat remember. I promise you, it will be so worth it. Just imagine what you can achieve if your cup is full. So, I implore you, make yourself a priority – show up for yourself every day.

You are loved, you are worthy and you matter.

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