According to the University of Buffalo’s School of Social Work, “self-care is an essential skill. Self-care refers to activities and practices that we can engage in on a regular basis to reduce stress and maintain and enhance our short- and longer-term health and well-being. Self-care is necessary for your effectiveness and success in honoring your professional and personal commitment.”
I like to think of self-care as the act of placing your emergency oxygen mask on first in order to have the capacity to help others. Self-care should include being honest about your needs; asking for help and being emotionally open.
How do you practice self-care?
The most important aspect of practicing self-care is identifying and managing your basic needs. This sounds easy; however, many people find that they forget to eat or have difficulty sleeping during periods of stress. Next, start by checking in with yourself.
The best way to care for yourself is to implement tiny self-care habits every day; regularly including in your life small moments of love, nurturing and attention for your own body and mind. Self-care acts looks different to different people. For some it is the Parks and Recreation “Treat yo’ self” philosophy or catchphrase. Two of the main characters on the show celebrate the idea that at least once a year, you should take a day to indulge in some luxuries and love yourself. For others, it is unplugging and staying off of social media when the news causes jealousy, sadness, or becomes overwhelming. Either way, it is the constant repetition of many tiny habits, which together soothe you.
In order to help jump start your self-care journey, I have provided a list of small self-care activities.
20 Little Self-Care Ideas
Take a bath or long shower.
Fix a small annoyance; a door that squeaks or a phone charger that only works at a certain angle.
Pet a dog, cat or any available domesticated animal.
Date yourself. Spend time alone doing something that recharges you or brings you joy.
Watch the sky- stargaze or cloud watch.
Create a joyful deliberate habit such as singing in the shower.
Do a mini-declutter-organize that junk drawer.
Listen to your favorite song, album or Pandora station.
Unplug for an hour. Turn off all of the electronics.
Edit your social media feeds, and hide or unfollow any negative people.
Have a dance party alone or with willing participants.
Take a nap.
Give your body a treat. A massage, manicure or pedicure.
Go for a walk or run.
Say no. Avoid logistically and emotionally over committing yourself
Prepare your favorite snack or meal.
Paint, draw, or craft.
Meditate or pray.
Play a game you enjoyed during your childhood.
“Love yourself first, and everything else falls in line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world. ”
Like most of you I, was devastated after the results of the election because it felt as though the majority of the country voted to spread hatred. I felt angry and stifled because as a member of many minority communities it felt like I was being forced to assume the role of underdog; a role that is assumed to be less than. As I was thinking about the plight of the underdog, I remembered this quote from one of my favorite authors:
“Much of what we consider valuable in our world arises out of these kinds of lopsided conflicts, because the act of facing overwhelming odds produces greatness and beauty…we consistently get these kinds of conflicts wrong. We misread them. We misinterpret them. Giants are not what we think they are. The same qualities that appear to give them strength are often the sources of great weakness. And the fact of being an underdog can changepeople in ways that we often fail to appreciate: it can open doors and create opportunities and educate and enlighten and make possible what might otherwise have seemed unthinkable.”
Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book all about the role of the underdog called David and Goliath. In the book he examines what happens when normal people challenge influential opponents, including mighty warriors, armies, misfortune, oppression, and disability. Through many stories Gladwell presents the idea that much of what we believe to be valuable during these great battles is insignificant because “the act of facing overwhelming odds produces greatness and beauty.” Gladwell illustrates this by challenging the role David plays in the story of David and Goliath.
For those who are not familiar, the story of David and Goliath is a biblical story of a gigantic and mighty warrior being defeated by a young shepherd boy.
Gladwell challenges this idea by explaining that though David was no match for Goliath in traditional hand to hand combat; he was able to succeed because he knew when to employ the talents and skills he had learned guarding his sheep.
As we face an uncertain future, it is more important than ever that we understand our natural gifts and strengths and spend time nurturing those skills. We must also remember our strengths as a community have always included our sense of unity through diversity, individual intelligence, creativity, courage, movement, endurance, our ability to unite, share hope and our determination to continue to try harder. As with all minorities in this society, we have been strengthened by decades of strife and are better and more capable because of it.
When I was eight, I earned the privilege of watching a movie alone in my room; I chose Ernest Scared Stupid. The beginning of the movie was filled with the funny, silly humor I loved the Ernest franchise for. However, by the middle of the movie, things had taken a turn for the worst; the trolls were winning and Ernest’s sidekick had been turned into a small wood figurine. Worst yet, Ernest had no idea how to fix it. I was hiding under my blankets completely terrified with my heart pounding and unable to catch my breath. As the movie continued, it felt like it was taking hours for Ernest to figure out how to stop the trolls, though I knew it couldn’t have taken that long because my mom never would have let me stay up past 9pm. Eventually, Ernest saved the day and turned his friend back into a real human, which meant all was right in the world. That was until I got out of bed to use the bathroom and remembered I had a collection of 20-30 troll dolls, which thanks to the movie, I was now afraid would come to life and try to turn me into a wooden figurine. This was the first time in my life that I realized that something seemingly normal could turn into something scary. Since the Pulse massacre, many people have experienced this feeling; atmospheres where they once found solace, now elicit feelings of worry and fear, such as, going out with friends. Many of my client’s tell me that they feel like “fear is winning.”
So what is fear?
Fear is also the most crippling of emotions because it is seated in our natural instinct to protect ourselves and those we care about from perceived harm. Generally speaking, our fears fall into two categories: Innate fears and learned fears. Innate fears are fears we are born with, primarily the fear of falling and the fear of loud sounds. Learned fears are fears which are usually developed at a young age and are often influenced by our environment and culture. Most fears fall into the category of learned fears, for example, evil enchanted troll dolls.
I am a Whovian, which means that I am a fan of the BBC TV show Doctor Who. There are many reasons I love the show, but one of the main reasons is that the hero is a humanoid alien, who above all else, believes that that the human race is intrinsically good. Because of that belief he often questions beliefs about human nature, which provided the best description of fear I have ever come across:
“Let me tell you about scared. Your heart is beating so hard I can feel it through your hands. There’s so much blood and oxygen pumping through your brain, it’s like rocket fuel. Right now you could run faster and you could fight harder. You could jump higher than ever in your life. And you are so alert it’s like you can slow down time. What’s wrong with scared? Scared is a superpower. It’s your superpower. There is danger in this room and guess what? It’s you. Do you feel it?”
For me, this description of fear serves as a reminder that in the moments, when we feel most weak or vulnerable, we are also strong because we are accessing the greatness within ourselves. Fear is not our adversary; it is simply, one of the means by which we activate our superpowers. Thinking about fear in terms of it’s function helps us to feel less out of control of our bodies and our minds. I wish I could go back in time and explain this to my 8 year old self, because it would have eliminated the thought that I was broken because something I loved had literally become the thing nightmares are made of. Lucky for me, this particular fear was short-lived and approximately a month later, I was back in troll heaven.
Trauma and loss collided for many in the community as this episode of mass violence unleashing a wave of public emotions ranging from common emotions like anger and sadness; to feelings of numbness, which are often associated with shock and trauma. In the weeks that have followed the Pulse massacre, we have been continually reminded of the fragility of life and as a community, have entered into a collective process of grief.
Collective grief or mass grief is distinct because it stems from a shared circumstance, yet, the experience is completely unique and individualized for each person. As we learned of the 49 innocent lives taken from our community, the process of public mourning began. It quickly began taking the form of 24-hour TV coverage, blood donation lines that wrapped around blocks, the candlelight vigils, the public memorial services, the placement of rainbow flags throughout the community, monetary donations and hashtags spread through social media; all which fostered social connection among people who vitally needed it and helped move the community towards healing.
During collective grief process we experience the emotional and physical symptoms of grief without necessarily having shared a close personal relationship with the deceased. Regardless of our level of connection to the deceased, we are commanded by our hearts and the physical manifestations of grief to remain present and experience the pain associated with the loss in our community. This process is further complicated because our natural human instinct to empathize and reach for connection also makes us hyperaware of our own mortality and the mortality of our loved ones. This hyperawareness, coupled with the violence surrounding the events of the pulse massacre and the news of other recent acts of violence has evoked a secondary traumatic response for many.
In the weeks since Pulse, I have heard many people expressing their struggle with the idea that that they are not in the right place in their grief process, questioning; what grief is, how they should go about grieving and frequently asking themselves, “Am I grieving correctly?” Then one day, I was reading through my social media feeds and came across a quote from Patton Oswalt, which I believe perfectly described the confusion, longing and loss experienced early in the grief process:
“102 days at the mercy of grief and loss feels like 102 years and you have shit to show for it. You will not be physically healthier. You will not feel ‘wiser.’ You will not have ‘closure.’ You will not have ‘perspective’ or ‘resilience’ or ‘a new sense of self.’ You WILL have solid knowledge of fear, exhaustion and a new appreciation for the randomness and horror of the universe.”
I think it is important for us to accept that grief is a very individualized and personal experience, which happens gradually and should not be hurried. In the wake of Pulse, we must have grace and accept that in order to heal we must be present in our emotions and be patient and kind with ourselves and each other.