Self-care: The art of minding your own business
As expats, we’re reminded more than most people of what self-care is every time we fly to our next assignment or home to visit loved ones. We’re urged, in case of an emergency landing, to put on our oxygen masks before assisting others… even our children. If we’re struggling for breath, how can we help someone else breathe?
Yet this is precisely what happens in our daily lives. We, particularly women, are so busy caring for others that we rarely ever put ourselves on the ever-growing to-do list until we’re on the verge of suffocation.
Self-care is about putting our energy and attention back where it belongs: on what we really want, not what our parents wanted for us, not what our spouses expect from us, not even what we think is right to want for our children. Like any new habit, it’s tough to put ourselves at the top of the list because we believe it’s too selfish.
Yet, in her phenomenal international best seller Loving What Is, Byron Katie maintains that there is no greater expression of self-care than minding our own business. For Katie, there are only three types of business in the universe, namely yours, mine and God’s. Furthermore, she argues, “Much of our stress comes from mentally living out of our own business. When I think, ‘I want you to be happy, or you should be on time,’ I am in your business. When I’m worried about earthquakes, floods, war or when I will die, I am in God’s business… If you are living your life and I am mentally living your life, who is here living mine?”
So, how do we begin to mind our own business?
Show yourself kindness
Most of us limit self-care to booking a massage, signing up for a yoga class or organising a girls’ night out. While fun, these things focus exclusively on the temporary attempt to soothe our bodies. Showing ourselves kindness actually starts cognitively and emotionally.
We think thousands of thoughts a day, surprisingly with little variation. The majority of our thoughts are negative and focused on one subject: our inadequacy. A familiar voice constantly tells us we don’t have the will power to lose weight, reminds us that we’re bad parents, scolds us yet again for making the “wrong” decision. It’s no wonder we engage in self-sabotaging behaviours and habits.
The moment we become conscious of that little voice and the many forms its criticism takes, we will have taken the first step toward self-care. Furthermore, it’s only in recognising the self-sabotaging thoughts that we can talk back to them by asking ourselves “How true is it that we have no will power?” Certainly there have been times when we’ve achieved difficult goals. Call those successes to mind when the critic starts yapping!
Be aware of how you feel
After we’ve started paying attention to the quality of our thoughts, we can take the next step towards self-care, which is becoming aware of how those thoughts make us feel. This is what is meant by practising mindfulness. We don’t have to bend ourselves up like a pretzel and sit still for an hour willing the cramps out of our legs. Mindfulness can be as simple as asking ourselves throughout the day, “How do I feel right now?” or “Do I feel good right now?” or “Am I doing what I want to be doing right now?”
Understandably, most of us don’t ask those questions because we’re afraid of the answers. We believe that if we don’t feel good, we’re doing something wrong. We believe we don’t have the resources to create a feeling of well-being. Or we simply have become so disconnected from how we feel that we always feel “fine”.
The good news is that we don’t need to fix ourselves because there’s nothing wrong with us. It’s simply that we haven’t practised using the tools we already have: our emotions. Quite frankly, we’re taught to ignore how we feel physically and emotionally. If we’re tired, we should go to the gym. If we’re feeling down, we should think positive thoughts. If we women are mad, we shouldn’t express it. And for goodness sakes, if we’re men, we shouldn’t ever cry.
The point is that our emotions let us know our response to the world around us. When our toddlers fall down, we acknowledge the hurt by picking them up and soothing them. Now is the time to start doing that for ourselves, practising what Dr. Gabor Maté, author of the best seller When the Body Says No, calls the reverse ‘Golden Rule,’ “Do unto yourself as you would like to do unto others.”
Strive for authenticity
Maté argues that authenticity is one of the two basic human needs, the other being attachment. He defines being authentic as knowing who we are, knowing and expressing how we feel and honoring that in our behavior.
While the essence of self-care is authentic living, we tend to focus more on setting and achieving external goals. Instead of attuning to how we feel, we’re trying to control the outcome. We’re all pumped up when we’re ‘successful’ and disappointed or mad at ourselves when we ‘fail.’ Wouldn’t it be nice to focus on the ride instead of the high? Self-care is about finding ways to be our authentic selves, which can’t be limited to a few hours here and there when we pay someone to pamper our outer selves. Self-care is, in fact, a daily practice much like eating and drinking regularly.
Keep calm and be quiet
Now more than ever we have so many options and choices, so many ways to spend our time. Our minds are also more easily distracted and for longer periods of time by smart phones and social media. Jennifer Glaese, member of the ACCESS Counselling Network, reminds us that the natural state of humans is just slowing down and just hanging out, which is easier said than done.
According to Glaese, “Our human mind loves to stay busy. It loves to learn, solve problems, engage in and watch drama (our own or someone else’s), etc. Yet we also have a heart which I use to define our emotional self. We also have a body. And perhaps we also have a sense that there may be something else to life as well.”
Doing less is a gift we can choose to give ourselves at any moment. How we treat ourselves in that down time will determine the quality of life we lead.
Be willing to ask for help
Many of us, especially in the expat world, will encounter a situation that we simply cannot resolve ourselves. Unfortunately, we tend to wear our DIY mentality as a badge of honour, refusing to ask for help until we’re on the brink of burning out. Taking care of ourselves means sometimes reaching out to someone for help. Glaese and the rest of ACCESS’s team of international psychologists, counsellors and therapists are on call to give more information related to self-care and mental health.
About the author
Carolyn van Es-Vines is a life coach and trainer as well an author of black and (A)broad: traveling beyond the limitations of identity.