Emotional self care might sound a little bit bizarre... but hear me out on this one! I always thought I was great at my self care. I took baths, gave myself pamper sessions, spent time doing things just for me and preached to everyone else how important it was to take time out to do these things themselves.
And I wasn't wrong - practical self care - i.e. the act of 'doing' self care is all extremely important.
But then I discovered that there was a stage more. And this is where it gets HARD!
Emotional self care is a step on. It is the very important, very elusive missing piece of the jigsaw that I think so many of us block out.
What is emotional self care?
For me - and of course we are all different so it may look very different to you - emotional self care is about nurturing my mindset, my feelings, my thoughts and my beliefs. And by nurturing I mean getting curious as to how these are playing out in my life, getting up close and personal with them, and then sieving out the things that are helping me and making me feel good, and ditching the things that are not productive to my wellbeing.
Just like we have to cleanse our skin, our body, our homes and our environment... we have to cleanse the mind too - and this is where I believe emotional self care can help. Because unless we see and face the crap in the back of the cupboard... how can we possibly let it go?
Emotional self care looks a lot less like the 'doing' of practical self care, it is more about 'being'.
Emotional self care is about being mindful and conscious and feeling what emotions are coming up right now rather than dwelling on past worries or future concerns. Often these emotions may be things we have held onto for a while, or they may be linked to something we are anticipating - but they are being felt RIGHT NOW.
Are you choking your emotions?
In our world we have been taught to always be positive, to 'suck it up' and to put things in perspective - and these do have a place. But our emotions come up for a reason and if we simply ignore them or push them to one side then we can't move forward and it is often these bottled up feelings that lead to anxiety, stress and even physical blockages.
How often have you been in a highly emotional state and physically felt a blockage in your throat? If you try and swallow it down what happens? You feel as though you are choking. If you let that emotion out, the blockage normally fades.
If you can learn to gently face the emotions that come up then they will make their way to the surface - and sometimes this won't feel all that pleasant - but then you can let them go and move on. It may be that you need to seek the support of a friend, a family member or a therapist to help you release some of these emotions - but one way or another - they need to come up.
So for me, emotional self care is a continuous process of noticing how I feel and what emotions are coming up for me. Last week I felt anger - which for a moment I felt guilty about - and then I stopped fighting it and let it come to the surface. I let myself feel the anger and I expressed it in a non-harmful way (by shouting loudly in an empty room!!!). I also knew that the emotion I was feeling wasn't who I am and didn't mean I was a bad/negative/awful human being - it was simply an emotion I needed to release.
Here are a few things you can do to practice emotional self care...
- Take some time out to find your version of peace and quiet. Not everyone is able to sit on a yoga mat for 30 minutes - I completely understand this - but there will be something you find in your life that brings you peace and contentment. Make time for this as a priority as much as you can.
- Speak to yourself as though you would a friend. I know it can be hard to change the way you talk about yourself - but if you can start by spending 30 minutes a day talking to yourself as if you were speaking to a good friend - that is a great place to begin. Notice if your words are harsh or critical and question how that would make someone else feel.
- Apologise to yourself if you fall off the kindness wagon. I make slip ups all the time and catch myself being mean to myself - when I notice it I simply say 'sorry' out loud and at the same time I practice forgiveness towards myself. It simply isn't productive to beat yourself up for being mean to yourself!!!
- Find an download outlet. When I feel emotions rising up I get my journal out and write down everything and anything that is coming up for me. I never read it back to myself - and to be honest the writing is illegible anyway - it is simply a brain dump of all the emotions that are coming up for me at that time and how they are making me feel. It might be singing, writing, drawing... any outlet that resonates with you.
- Connect to your body and you will connect to your mind. Using movement, breath, guided body scans and any other form of mind body connection is a great way to practice emotional self care. A lot of our emotions manifest themselves in areas of the body - for example - I know if I am scared or anxious my chest gets tighter and my breathing becomes erratic. If I am dwelling on something that is approaching and feeling low in confidence then my tummy churns. Movement will highlight the areas that need your attention.
- Don't ignore your gut instinct. There is now scientific evidence to confirm the link between our brains and our gut - and that intuitive reaction you had to something is never wrong. If something truly feels like it goes against your instincts - then don't dismiss it. Delve a little deeper and get curious with it to see if it could possibly be a fear based reaction or a true inner guidance response. Sometimes our intuition guides us in mysterious ways and what makes sense on paper doesn't always match with our gut instinct.
Emotional self care is not a luxury - it is essential.
I have said it before, I will say it again... you cannot fill from am empty cup and if you want to be able to support other people emotionally in your life then you absolutely have to do the work to support yourself. Yes... even when it feels uncomfortable, difficult and awkward.
PS... I would love to hear your responses to this blog. Do you practice emotional self care? Have you been told to 'suck it up' and hide your emotions? Have you got any tips to share? Feel free to comment below or get in touch with me directly here.