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Published on May 1, 2020

Self Care Tips During Difficult Times (A Therapist’s Advice)

Self Care Tips During Difficult Times (A Therapist’s Advice)

Let’s be honest, self-care is a bit like mindfulness – an over-used and almost cringe-worthy, eye-roll of a topic. It’s a commercialized way of describing something that’s actually very simple and vital to living a happy life.

If you’ve ever been told you need to give yourself some self-care, it probably didn’t make you feel super motivated or good about yourself, did it? Because if it gets to the point that someone has to tell you, then it’s pretty obvious that you’re not exactly handling your sh*t.

“I think you should meditate & practice some self-love.”

Rage-inducing comments like this are well-intentioned but ultimately useless. It’s just like telling someone with depression to just “cheer up” or asking a person with broken legs to get up and dance, it’s not gonna happen.

A better way to encourage someone is to build them up and highlight their positives and strengths. Be the example of someone who practices self-care, but most importantly, do not point out their problems.

So, if you’re the person who needs a little love, or if you want to set a good example for someone else, then rest assured you’ll find out how to do this here. No fluff or woo-woo; just some genuinely useful and effective strategies you can start using today.

What is Self-Care?

Firstly, can we instead refer to this as “the relationship you have with yourself”? It’s less cringe and more accurate. Because what we’re really talking about is the act of caring for yourself, as you would for a friend, and asking:

“How are you?”

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And responding with “I’m fine.” is not allowed.

Rate your relationship with yourself from 1 -10 (10 being you probably don’t need any self-care tips!).

If you’re struggling to place a number on it, think about whether you habitually make yourself feel bad, question whether you’re worthy or beat yourself up often.

Or do you cheer yourself on? Do you feel strong and capable, telling yourself “you can do this” instead of “why should I bother”?

Think of it this way:

If you had to repeat your inner dialogue – the words you say to yourself – verbatim as if it were advice to your friends, would you have any friends left?

It’s ok if you wouldn’t or maybe just have a few stragglers. We’ve all taken a beating from ourselves at one point or another. But let’s get this straight: if you haven’t taken the time to listen to your mental chatter, now’s the time my friend.

This isn’t one you can let go, because it is literally the key to your success. Being imprisoned by your negative thoughts and beliefs will lead you to things like anxiety, depression, low confidence, low self-esteem, and a generally unhappy life experience. So yeah, it’s important.

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“Self-talk is the biggest thing. A lot of us have a dialogue that is crap. I use my self-talk to make me better, to make me stronger… Self-talk comes from belief in yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself it won’t work.” – David Goggins, an ultramarathon runner, retired US Navy SEAL, and former US Air Force Tactical Air Control Party member who served in the Iraq War.

“They’re Just Thoughts, How Harmful Can They Be?”

Your brain doesn’t know the difference between a real event and a thought.[1] This is why you can get anxious when you think of public speaking, or when your mouth waters when you think of chewing on a lemon.

If you have negative self-talk with yourself every day, your brain’s neural pathways will genuinely change and mold to this style of thinking, almost like a default setting. Your subconscious mind believes the things you tell it, and if you tell it something for long enough, you’ll form a belief system at a subconscious level that will underpin how you act and react every day.

This is because the brain is malleable – it changes and it adapts.[2] So when we think the same thoughts over and over, these pathways strengthen and become the new normal.

“Neurons that fire together, wire together” – Hebb, D.O.

This is the first and most crucial thing to understand in order to create a good relationship with yourself. You don’t have to “fall in love with yourself,” but you should accept yourself with all of your flaws and create new, positive thought patterns that drive you forward (not hold you back).

How Do I Know What I’m Saying to Myself?

Focusing on self-talk, inner dialogue or mental chatter requires us to shift the focus from the external world to the internal world.

Doing this is hard, but it is possible. Nothing good comes easy, and it’s only hard for most of us because it’s not something we learned at school or from our parents (though it most certainly should be!).

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Here are some ways to start listening.

Start Writing

Get a pen and paper and just write whatever comes to mind. Some prompts: “I wish I could feel less/more...” or “Lately, what’s been annoying me is…” take stock of everything you’re telling yourself every day.

What are the feelings and emotions you’ve been feeling lately? What is stressing you out? What makes you happy?

A therapist can help with these types of things, but you can do this yourself once you practice identifying your thoughts and feelings, becoming more self-aware.

Meditation

If you’re struggling with writing, start with meditation and breathing. Meditation (and something even better, hypnosis) is a way in which we convert our brain waves from Beta to Alpha – meaning we can access the operating system of our mind.[3] In this state, we reduce the effects of stress and cortisol by getting to the “rest and digest” stage.

You don’t have to clear your mind or sit in a weird, uncomfortable pose.

Just get some quiet, get a good soundtrack on Spotify or Youtube, and start by focusing on your breathing. Counting in for 5 and out for 7. You can add in some mantras to say out loud like “release”, and let your mind wander (but bring it back whenever you notice it wandering too far).

“Meditation is not a way of making your mind quiet. It’s a way of entering into the quiet that’s already there, buried under the 50,000 thoughts the average person thinks everyday.” – Deepak Chopra

This gets easier with time. Once you know what your thoughts are saying, you can stop a thought before it signals an emotion.

Remember, it’s our responses to situations, and how we perceive them that can trigger different types of emotions.

What Else Helps?

Start Using Affirmations

Put them up where you’ll see them every day – on your phone or your mirror. Familiarize your brain with it to see positive reinforcement. This, along with journaling, is a great way to start to undo any of the negative neural pathways you’ve been using for too long.

Try these 10 Positive Affirmations for Success that will Change your Life.

Diet and Exercise

We know exercise and eating well is good for us, so start doing that if you’re not. This is the relationship you have with yourself and your body, so reduce processed sugar and carbs, increase healthy fats and vegetables, increase lean protein, and start sweating.

All of these will make you less prone to negative thinking and get your hormones on your side.

Final Thoughts

These strategies are worth your time.

No one can be held accountable for the relationship you hold with yourself other than you. Yes, people can definitely impact the way you see yourself, but that’s only if you permit them to do so.

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Give yourself a talking to, take back the consent you gave others to negatively affect you, and set your intention to build a great relationship with yourself. Not only will the people around you start to notice, but your performance in every aspect of your life will also increase. There’s never been a better time to start than during quarantine!

More Self-Care Tips

Featured photo credit: Samantha Gades via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Daina Worrall

Lawyer, C. Hypnotherapist and RTT Therapist - Personal Development & Mental Health

10 Ways to Live an Intentional Life How to Take Personal Responsibility and Stop Blaming Circumstances How to Cure Depression (Professional Advice from a Therapist) How to Turn Negative Thoughts Into Positive Action Now Self Care Tips During Difficult Times (A Therapist’s Advice)

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Last Updated on August 12, 2020

When Should You Trust Your Gut and How?

When Should You Trust Your Gut and How?

Learning how to trust your gut, otherwise known as your intuition, can keep you safe. Your gut can guide you and help you build your confidence and resilience. My own gut instinct has saved me on more than one occasion. It has also guided me into making sound career choices and other exciting, big decisions. I’m also aware of the times when I’ve gone against my instincts and really regretted it later, wondering why I didn’t tune in to that valuable internal voice that we all have within us.

In this article, we’re going to explore why and how you should listen to your gut, as well as some concrete tips on how to make sure you’re making the most out of your gut instincts.

How to Listen to Your Gut

The key when making any big decision is to always take a minute to listen well to yourself and your inner compass. If you hear your actual voice saying yes while inside you’re silently screaming no, my advice is to ask for some time to think, or simply take a breath and pause before the yes or no escapes your mouth.

Use that moment to breathe, check in with yourself, and give the answer that feels congruent with who you are and what you want, not the one that always involves following the herd. Trusting your gut means having the courage to not simply go with the majority. It can be about holding your own. Here’s how to hone that skill for yourself and reap the rewards.

1. Tune Into Your Body

Your body gives you clues when you’re faced with a big decision. There are many visible and obvious symptoms that we feel in uncomfortable situations. Our body’s reaction is often something that we might try to hide, for example, blushing, being lost for words, or shaking. There are things we might do to try and hide that physical reaction, whether it’s wearing makeup, having a glass of wine or coffee to perk us up a bit, or learning to control our nerves.

However, paying attention to your body when you experience these feelings of anxiety can teach you so much and help you to make sound choices. Some people will experience an actual “gut” feeling of stomach ache or indigestion in an uncomfortable situation.

Ask yourself what’s really going on here, and explore what is happening behind your body’s response to the situation. What can your reaction or instinct teach you? Understanding that can be a clue and can help you either learn something about yourself, the situation, or other people. The answers are often within us.

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Sometimes we’ll get this “something’s not right here” feeling and cannot quite put our finger on it or explain it. That can still be incredibly useful and really guide us away from danger, even if we don’t know the reason.

In his book, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell also argues this, making the point that sometimes our subconscious is better at processing the answer we need, and that we don’t necessarily need to take time to collect hours and hours of information to come to a reliable conclusion[1].

2. Ensure Your Head Is Clear Before Making a Decision

Energy, sleep, and good nutrition are so vital to nourishing our minds, as well as our bodies. There are times when your instinct could lead you astray, and one of these is when you are hungry, “hangry” (angry because you’re hungry!), tired, or anxious. If this is the case–and it may sound obvious–do consider sleeping or eating on it before making an important choice.

There is, in fact, a connection between our gut and our brain[2], which is where terms like “butterflies in the stomach” and “gut-wrenching” originate from. Stress and emotions can cause physical feelings, and ignoring them might do more harm than good.

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Say What You Think and Feel

Listening to your gut and really paying attention to it might involve standing up and being counted, calling something out, or taking a stand. As someone who works for myself, I’ve become used to following the less-travelled road, and that’s given me the chance to strike out on my own in other ways, too.

As they tell you in the planes, “put your own oxygen mask on first,” and part of that self-reliance is knowing what you really want and like and what is safe and good for you, including what resonates with your personal and business values. Making good decisions with this in mind means making choices that do not go against your own beliefs, even when it may mean taking a stand. This is part of trusting yourself and trusting your instincts.

This does not always mean taking the “safe” option, although keeping ourselves safe is an important part of the process. This is how we learn and grow, by following our own inner compass. When you do take risks, go outside of your comfort zone, or choose the less popular option, spending some time researching the facts can stand us in good stead, too.

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4. Do Your Research If Something Feels Off

As well as listening to our instincts, we can also back up the evidence for our chosen course of action before taking the leap. I had a gut feeling about the need for a learning and development network when I noticed my clients getting stuck with the same problems. I set up and now run such a network, but instead of simply going for it, without evidence, I followed up on my instinct with research.

Having confidence in your gut instinct through these kinds of tests can help to minimize your risks, as well as spur you on. It will encourage you to trust your gut again in the future and trust that you are an expert with foresight and experience. You are!

5. Challenge Your Assumptions

When you look at the assumptions your making, this could be the clue to mistakes you are making.

In order to check that our instincts are wise, we need to ask ourselves what blanks we might be filling in, either consciously or unconsciously. This is true not just when it comes to our own decision-making. It’s also true when we are listening to someone explain a problem or situation, and we’re about to jump in and give some advice. If we can learn to be aware of our own assumptions, we can become better listeners and better decision makers, too.

A useful tool to become more aware of your assumptions before making a final decision is simply to ask yourself, “What assumptions am I making about this situation or person?”

6. Educate Yourself on Unconscious Bias

Unconscious bias is something we all have, and it can trip us up big time!

There is a vital caveat to bear in mind when wondering about whether you can trust your gut and the feelings your body gives you, and that’s having an awareness of your unconscious bias. Understanding your own bias–which is hard to do because it literally does happen in our subconscious–can help you to make stronger, better, decisions instead of re-confirming your view of the world over and over again.

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Bias exists, and it’s part of the human condition. All of us have it, and it colors our decisions and can impact on our performance without us realizing.

Unconscious bias happens at a subconscious level in our brains. Our subconscious brain processes information so much faster than our conscious brain. Quick decisions we make in our subconscious are based on both our societal conditioning and how our families raised us.

Our brains process hundreds of thousands of pieces of information daily. We unconsciously categorize and format that information into patterns that feel familiar to us. Aspects such as gender, disability, class, sexuality, body shape and size, ethnicity, and what someone does for a job can all quickly influence decisions we make about people and the relationships we choose to form. Our unconscious bias can be very subtle and go unnoticed..

We naturally tend to gravitate towards people similar to ourselves, favoring people who we see as belonging to the same “group” as us. Being able to make a quick decision about whether someone is part of your group and distinguish friend from foe was what helped early humans to survive. Conversely, we don’t automatically favor people who we don’t immediately relate to or easily connect with.

The downside of that human instinct to seek out similar people is the potential for prejudice, which seems to be hard-wired into human cognition, no matter how open-minded we believe ourselves to be. And these stereotypes we create can be wrong. If we only spend our time with and employ people similar to ourselves, it can create prejudices, as well as stifle fresh thinking and innovation.

We may feel more natural or comfortable working with other people who share our own background and/or opinions than collaborating with people who don’t look, talk, or think like us. However, diversity is not just morally right; having a mix of different people and perspectives that can be genuinely heard is also a valuable way to counter groupthink. Diversity stretches us to think more critically and creatively.

7. Trust Yourself

It is possible to learn how to truly trust yourself[3]. Like any talent or skill, practicing trusting your gut is the best way to get really good at it. When people talk about having great intuition or being good decision-makers, it’s because they’ve worked at honing those skills, made mistakes, learned from them, and tried again.

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Looking back at decisions you’ve made, what you did, what the outcome was, and what you’ve learned can help you become a stronger decision maker and develop solid self-trust and resilience. Making a mistake does not mean you are not great at decision-making; it’s a chance to grow and learn, and the only mistake is to ignore the lesson in that experience.

If you are in the habit of asking others for their input, then the trick here is to choose your inner circle wisely. Having a sounding board of people who have your best interests at heart is a valuable asset, and, combined with your own excellent instincts, can make you a champion decision maker.

The Bottom Line

The above tips are all actionable and easy to start immediately. It’s simply about switching your thinking around, slowing down, and taking great care of this amazing machine that is your body and mind!

Learning how to trust your gut is one of the most fundamental ways to make decisions that will help you lead the life you want and need. Tune into what your body is telling you and start making good decisions today.

More Tips on How to Trust Your Gut

Featured photo credit: Acy Varlan via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Science of People: Learn to Trust Your Gut Instincts: The Science Behind Thin-slicing
[2] Harvard Health Publishing: The gut-brain connection
[3] Psych Central: 3 Ways to Develop Self-Trust

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