“Self-compassion enhances well-being. It reduces depression, anxiety, and stress, increases happiness and life satisfaction and improves physical health. One way it does so is by changing our physiology.” —Dr. Kristin Neff, author of Fierce Self-Compassion
A lemon soufflé is baking in my oven at the moment.
Diving into first-round edits on my third book this past weekend, I was reminded why having four years in between books is an incredibly wise idea – you forget about the headaches that inevitably will arise no matter how much you want your book to be its best. Differences of opinion with the editor, miscommunication (by moi!) as to the intention of a particular passage, and then there is formatting (don’t even get me started). Needless to say, those four years of breathing room allow you to focus on why you love writing, the ideas you want to share and why you want to share them.
But why the soufflé? How does it tie in at all to editing a book?
I needed to step away from the editing and calm down. Stepping into the kitchen, for me, reduces my heart-rate immediately, makes my smile grow wide and my tastebuds begin to hold my entire focus as I cannot wait to enjoy what is either being baked or cooked or both! In other words, it gives me perspective to think clearly and not be rash or make an unnecessary mistake.
Knowing how to heal ourselves in our everyday lives – to soothe ourselves after a taxing day at work, after an extra straining workout, after a challenging conversation with a loved one – is an act of self-compassion as associate professor educational psychology at the University of Texas at Austin Dr. Kristin Neff write about in her new book.
Now there are those who scoff at the idea of self-care, as it would seem doing so, being self-compassate exhibits a weakness. One writer recently argued even Ralph Waldo Emerson would scoff at healing and self-care, choosing work and “the affirmation of will.” However as someone who reveres the founder of the Transcendentalist movement, if we all had direct and immediate access to Mother Nature in the woods of Concord, Massachusetts (as Emerson did, taking hikes regularly and for extensive lengths of time nearly every day), we wouldn’t need ‘self-care’ because ironically, he was practicing his own form of self-care even though the term wasn’t used.
Emerson asserts in Self-Reliance, his seminal work, for each person to think for themselves, slow down and live simply developing their own culture which nurtures each person uniquely rather than following society’s, in his time, the religious institutions at that time’s dictates and expectations. “Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.”
Yes, work may be an outlet to seek tranquility if indeed we can consume ourselves with the state of flow that results. As Rebecca Minkoff shares in her new memoir Fearless advocating for working incredibly hard and pushing past one’s fears along with many nay-sayers, “The times that I’ve experienced burnout is when I hate what I do.” In her case, self-care was her work.
To purport that self-care will be the same for every individual is a misunderstanding of what self-care, real self-care is.
Effective self-care as shared in episodes #242 and episode #227 is not about bubble baths and facials (although those are awesome rituals that may help prompt the intent of self-care). Self-care, at its core is about improving one’s own health and attaining optimal well-being. What optimal well-being is for you will likely not be exactly the same for anyone else.
Take the soufflé. Many people would rather run a marathon than hope their soufflé rises. I get it, and I will let you go running while I whip up the egg whites (but I promise to share when you finish your run). But that is just the point. I can no more tell you exactly how to effectively care for yourself, than you can tell me the same. Which is why we must become our own ‘self-care’ physicians, and becoming an expert in the subject that is each of us uniquely takes time and conscious attention.
From strengthening our emotional intelligence and self-awareness to being willing to be vulnerable and working with someone wiser than us in certain areas (i.e. a counselor) to explore our emotions objectively, honestly and productively, any of these and many others are approaches which will reveal what would best work for healing self-care.
Self-care is needed regularly and not just when extraordinarily trying times occur. Self-care when done well and applied to the right patient (i.e. you with the expertise of yourself), is a preventative action just as much and arguably more than a responsive action. We cannot know what we prevent from occurring when we find a balance in our days of productivity and rest, play and strain (exercise both physical and mental) as well as routine and new tasks.
Below are a list of activities and practices you might want to explore for potential self-care:
- Spending time outside in Mother Nature
- Laying in bed before beginning your day to listen to the birds or a favorite music station
- Cooking or Baking
- Saying no
- Establishing boundaries
- Strengthening your mind
- Tending only to your tasks and letting others tend to theirs
- Reduce your expenses
- Spend well, invest in better and sustainable options
- Give in your own way
- Accept yourself unconditionally and remain present in your days
- Explore what grabs your curiosity and find ways to spend more time immersed in this task/hobby/etc.
As you can see ‘self-care’ depends upon who the ‘self’ is. You are different than others, but when you know yourself, you also need to be honest and acknowledge when you are stressed and not at your best. Such observation demonstrates self-awareness and when you step back, step away or take a breath for a respite, you are giving everyone, including yourself, two gifts. The first gift, you are practicing self-care, and the second, you are modeling doing so is not a weakness, rather it is being human. Take what you need, and then finish the task. Taking the knowledge gained from that experience to clearly communicate what you can do next time and how you can do it better or how it can be improved based on your experience and first-hand observation benefits future efforts.
Most importantly, knowing we are human and honoring not only our strengths and the awesome feats we can accomplish, but sagaciously acknowledging there must be fuel to burn in order to live well, we elevate the quality of our lives and remind others it is okay to do the same.
But back to that soufflé. I just tasted it – lemon, light, lovely! (recipe to come this Wednesday – stay tuned!) The calming effect worked, and the editing will commence tomorrow with a clear, rested and eager mind.