Self Care – Everyone Needs It!

Dealing with a major illness can be traumatic on all levels—physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Similarly, recovery from illness also needs to happen on all levels. Self-care refers to simple practices that nurture the mind, body and spirit. As part of a healthy lifestyle, self-care practices can help boost resilience or one’s ability to “bounce back” from life’s challenges. By incorporating self-care practices into your daily regime you can build resilience and support your body through the recovery process. Examples of self-care practices include prayer, laughter, fun, meditation, delicious food, deep breathing, and building strong, supportive relationships. Strong, supportive communities and nurturing self-care practices can help us sustain the shocks and losses associated with trauma.

Trauma, physical or otherwise, involves complicated loss—a loss of life as you knew it, a loss of privacy, normalcy and of dreams for the future. Such losses must be grieved. According to Verena Kast in “A Time to Mourn”, the stages of grief include denial, emotional chaos, search and separation, and new relationship. I believe we experience these exact same stages of grief in the process of transforming one’s life after illness. The stages of grief and transformation are not linear but rather circumambulatory. Self-care includes taking the time to grieve your losses. Memorializing through rituals and art-making are ways of acknowledging and grieving your losses. For example, you might want to create a funeral ritual for your cancer cells and other illness-related losses.

For many of us, incorporating self-care practices into our daily routines involves making lifestyle changes. Making and sustaining such changes takes commitment and requires mindfulness on a daily basis. But it’s worth the effort. Building a healthy, flourishing life filled with mental, physical and spiritual nutrition has many health benefits including lowered blood pressure, reduced anxiety, and reduced stress.

Each person’s self-care plan is very personal and intimate. We all have certain beliefs about illness, health and healing. These beliefs can be personal or cultural. Different cultures have different beliefs about illness, including beliefs about who gets sick, where the illness originated, who is part of the healing team, and what roles allopathic and non-traditional (complementary) medicine play in healing. To ensure success, it is important that your plan is aligned with your own individual belief system. For this reason, in order to create a plan that is best suited to you, you might want to spend some time reflecting on your beliefs about illness and healing.

I purposefully challenge you to make a list of your own self-care practices, tailored to your unique personality. Be creative! Here are some ideas you can implement right away:

  • Make a list of  things  you’ve always wanted to do and make a concrete plan to make them happen
  • Prayer
  • Meditation
  • Surround yourself with people and activities that feed your spirit in a positive way
  • Jot  down a list of 100 things you want in your life—material possessions, relationships, career endeavors, etc (think big)
  • Keep a dream journal. A dream journal allows you to collect your thoughts about dream imagery and can possibly give insights into the unconscious processes in your life. The information might assist you in dealing with situations in a waking state.
  • Eliminate non-positive self-talk
  • Take a “no complaining” pledge
  • Take the scenic route to your destination
  • Read  something that gives you pleasure
  • Eat a delicious meal without calorie counting
  • Incorporate fruits and vegetables into your diet

In conclusion, you can take steps towards your own health and healing. Creating a self-care plan is empowering—it puts you in control of your health and wellness and can help you navigate your way to recovery. In addition, illness never only affects one person; its branches reach out and impact those around us: our families, friends and colleagues. Therefore, having a self-care plan can improve our personal relationships and can even help alleviate some of the burden on a primary caregiver. Clearly, recovery is not just a prognosis but a state of mind where concrete due diligence must be enacted. It is an active and ongoing process. Having clear directives in place can make the recovery process a smooth and pleasant transition. Moreover, self-care is important for everyone, not just those recovering from illness. Having a loose plan to support your emotional, mental and spiritual needs can boost resilience and better prepare you to deal with life’s surprises—be they illness, death, financial woes or relationship struggles.

Balancing realism and positive hope can build healthy objectivity to navigate life’s challenges.
Here are some suggestions for further reading:

“The Resilient Spirit: Transforming Suffering Into Insight and Renewal” by Polly Young-Eisendrath

“Soul Without Shame” by Byron Brown

“When Bad Things Happen to Good People”  by  Harold Kushner

“When Things Fall Apart” by Pema Chondron

“A Time to Mourn” by Verana Kast

“Creating a Life: Finding Your Individual Path” by James Hollis

Category: Experts Speak

Tags: blood pressure, body, Breast Cancer, cancer cells, Caregivers, major illness, reduced anxiety, reduced stress