Your infant isn’t sleeping so you aren’t sleeping.
One of your parents has just suffered a significant health crisis.
Your relationship is on the rocks.
Your job situation is tough-and-go.
An unexpected emergency means the bills are getting increasingly hard to pay.
Sometimes, life just bites. When that happens, we often switch into overdrive, doing as much as we can to try to keep everything from crashing down around us. We give and give and give, perhaps until we are just on the cusp of giving out because we think all of the motions will make a difference, that they will keep the walls from crashing down. If we stop our motion, there is a greater chance that the walls will come down, we think. So we forego other things we would be doing to give these things the attention they need, and, not surprisingly, some of the things we come to forego are related to our self-care. The things we do to keep ourselves running well feel expendable at urgent times. But, then, days, weeks, or months later, we realize we never got back to our self-care and not only are we navigating a recovery from the situation itself, we don’t feel all that well—emotionally, physically, mentally, and/or spiritually—either and now have a recovery to navigate there, too. The hurdle has become even bigger to surmount. Rather than making room in life, the personal neglect has grown to compromise other things. We simultaneously think, “I should have taken better care of myself” while wondering “how in the world could I have done that?“
Because one of the things I try to do when things hit the fan is not to throw every single self-care practice to the wind, too, I was inspired to share some thoughts on that process when recently asked to do a how to work self-care into life when it sucks post. So, here we go…
Know what you need. If we aren’t taking care of ourselves BEFORE crisis hits, it is going to be especially hard to take care of ourselves once a crisis hits. So even if life is totally fine right now (or especially if it is fine right now), there is something you can be doing to prepare for self-care in crisis and that is knowing what you need. Do you have a wellness prescription (a wellness prescription helps you identify what you need to run well in all capacities)? If not, write one and begin putting it into place, knowing what you need will help you consider your own self-care so that you have the stamina to weather the crisis when life rains down on you.
Redirect some of your attention to your own care. A lot of times we think that self-care is a bonus if we have the time. When we’re laid out or exhausted, we realize that’s not the case. Your time to care for yourself may be more limited when life is hard but you still really need to do it. When you make that list of things to do each day during this time, make sure that you add two to three things to the list from that wellness prescription. Even if you have to give yourself a little less self-care than you would normally like, less is better than nothing so follow through on your commitment to your own care and feeding by completing the couple things on your list.
Ask this critical questions: what do I need right now more than anything else? This is one of my all time favorite self-care questions. I ask it a lot of myself and of others. It’s the kind of question that originally sounds very daunting but usually elicits an incredibly clear answer because we know ourselves well and we really do know what we need. And what we need right now more than anything else just may not be on our wellness prescription. So whatever answer comes to you when you ask this question, make a point to get it answered that day (even if the answer is massage and you have to make the appointment for two days out, going through the motions of meeting that need when the answer comes to you powerfully shows you that you can take care of you). In fact, don’t just ask yourself this question once. Ask yourself this question regularly—I actually love the idea of asking yourself this question everyday that you are in crisis mode. It roots you back into yourself and gives your clarity and power.
Think small. There aren’t a lot of big windows of time in our days, and there are even less of them when life gets hard. That said, there are some small windows that we probably don’t use in the best ways. Try to dedicate some of those small windows of time for greater self-care. One minute of a natural five minute break at work can be dedicated to stretching. Ice or heat a tender spot on your body while watching television. A few minutes of your commute can be used for meditation, prayer, or to call someone you have wanted to connect to on the phone. How can you use small pockets of time to garner a greater sense of fulfillment?
Go small. When life is tough, the last thing we need to be doing is running all over the place meeting all sorts of commitments that don’t really matter that much to us when this immediate urgent thing is in front of us. Go small with your commitments—even if you have to go back and decline an invitation- and give yourself some breathing room.
Call in reinforcements. See your doctor, therapist, or somebody who is firmly rooted in your corner. If you are struggling with the physical manifestations of stress or anxiety, a doctor or therapist can help. A conversation with a friend might even help. And so can things like meditation and yoga. Don’t be afraid to put our your own SOS to help keep yourself running in the midst of what is going on. You might find support groups, a friend willing to bring by a meal or take your child for a couple hours, or other unforeseen assistance. Don’t be afraid to put it out there that you are struggling; that candor often yields more resources or suppor than you could ever imagine.
How do you work in self-care when life kinda sucks?
I have talked about tough patches before– one that might resonate is Roadmap to Resilience .