• Erin Bannink, DVM, DACVIM

Radical Self-Care

Updated: Apr 30, 2019


I'm about to head out for a silent weekend retreat. "You aren't going to talk? At all? For how long?!" So many people I talk to can't imagine this! But regular retreats are a part of my very important self-care practices. We all need these. And so often we don't take the time to care for ourselves properly. This lack of mindful self-care can take a real toll on our effectiveness in life and our ability to be present with each other. I'm in this mindset in preparation for the weekend, so I thought I'd share some thoughts, ideas and tools to help you create a more balanced life. Since so many of us need that!


Beliefs as Obstacles to Effective Self Care

Self care is very important. Whether you are working on a project, developing a relationship, or dealing with the daily stress and chaos of life, if self-care is neglected all of those things become more challenging and you become less effective.

In this culture, we have been conditioned to think in certain ways about certain things. Deconstructing these beliefs can be a powerful practice to shift us from where we are to where we would ideally like to be.

Often these ideas are not even conscious. But when we hear something over and over and over then it becomes a belief for us. Our life, whether we realize it or not, operates based on the beliefs that we hold. Sometimes we have beliefs that affect us and we don’t even realize that we hold these beliefs or that we are using these beliefs as a foundation to guide all the decisions that we make.

Two of these beliefs that many people have are:

“If I’m busy, I’m important”.

“If I take time for myself, I am being selfish.”


The Relationship Between Stillness and Peace

Most of us haven’t been taught to value the power of stillness, quiet and self-care. The irony is that we really can’t operate properly without it. Stillness and silence allows the brain to rewire. When we aren't balanced, emotionally physically and spiritually, we can’t effectively find and keep our center among all the chaos we encounter in life. When we aren't balanced, we don't thrive.

Actually, one of the most detrimental effects of this secret belief that we might hold about the lack of value in taking care of ourself is that we are kept in a state of conflict with each other. That is a pretty strong statement, but if you really think about it you can see it is true. What tends to happen when we get exhausted and unbalanced is that we focus on things that are not, ultimately, important in the grand scheme of being a human on this planet and with each other.

We often put our values in the wrong place because we have been conditioned to believe that things are important that are not, truly, important.


Living Wisely

So, how do we begin to honor our internal wisdom? How do we find a place where we can start evaluating our beliefs and asking ourselves where these beliefs come from?

Is this my belief?

Or is this a belief I have adopted because I feel like I am supposed to think this way?

Or because somebody else wants me to think this way?

Without a practice of self-care that is daily and consistent, you will not be as effective in your life as you could be. This body, this vehicle that you are inhabiting, is how you are able to be in the world. And linked with this physical body are the emotional and the mental bodies that go along with it. Self-care needs to focus on all three of these aspects.

Creating YOUR Thriving Life

We are all going to have unique needs that are unique to us because of our own personal story, the individual life circumstances that we each have, and our “personality complex” – what things nurture us and what things tire us will be different for each of us. Finding the balance between those two extremes and the truth of who you are is an art, and a very powerful tool for creating a thriving life.

The important thing to understand is that you know what you need. Inside of you, at your core, if you are able to access that place of honesty and internal power, you know what you need.

In this culture, we have been conditioned to believe that we need to conform to some social “norm” in order to be accepted. Or maybe we find we have been conditioned to believe "Someone else knows more than I do." All of those belief systems affect our current situation and how we deal with our current situation.

Instead of looking out to someone else to tell us what to do, we need to learn the skill of looking inside and honoring the internal wisdom that we all have and allow that to guide us. We need to develop our internal compass.


My Thriving Life

I've developed a real respect for the power that regular self-care has in contributing to more happiness, vitality and thriving in my own life. And, like all of us, I've also experienced what happens when I get off track. Through this process of trial and error and honest self-reflection, I've developed a set of practices and regular focuses that help me keep balance in my own life. And I try very hard to honor those. I'll share some of these elements of my self-care routine in case it may help spark ideas for your own life.

These elements, in some form or another, are important for just about everyone:

DAILY

Connecting to something bigger than myself

For me this means daily meditation, and walks in nature or gazing at the night sky

Eating for Well-Being

Eating Healthy, Enjoying the food I eat, Consuming foods high in phytonutrients and antioxidants and avoiding processed sugar

Being Grateful

Taking time each day to connect with my Heart, Appreciating the good things in my life, Remembering that what I focus on becomes my experience of life - what I feed grows

WEEKLY

Alone Time

I take a Bath...Okay, more than one :)

This is treasured "alone time"

Sometimes I schedule a day-long technology-detox

Or a half day silent "retreat" at home

Regular Exercise

Yoga and Running are my activities of choice

I'm my best self when I get four days in per week

Date with my husband & visiting with friends and family

Without a plan, life gets away from me and these important connections don't happen

Relationships take attention and energy

Relationships are important

YEARLY

Vacations

Real ones, where I'm far away from home and immersed in natural beauty

*Every 3 month Self-Care "Escape"

This can be a vacation, a long weekend away from working (on any of my 5 main life/work projects), or a silent retreat (I try for 2 retreats per year). I find I need these get-aways every 3 months to recharge or my "crash and burn" rate is unacceptably high.

You may need less than me. I'm a significant introvert in an extroverted job. So I need extra "alone time" to stay effective. This was the biggest key to my Thriving Life, and the one I resisted for the longest time!


Radical Self-Care

I want to create a little bit of space here to help you explore these truths and hopefully give you some tools to help you reflect on what elements would be helpful for you to care for yourself better, to recharge yourself, to create more balance in your life.

It’s important to remember that, as much as we all want to be useful and to help those we love, the only way we really can do that is by also taking care of ourselves.

So it is not that you are more important than everyone else. And it also is not that everyone else is more important that you. It is that you are equally as important as everyone else in your life. When you learn to balance the demands of your life so that you are giving yourself the care you require to thrive, you will be able to rise to fulfill your true potential.

Balancing Your Life Sectors

Think about your life sectors. Make your own image like the one below and use it to fill in the circles depending on where you feel you are in each sector right now.


  • The first ring is where you feel you are struggling.

  • Middle ring is where you are just surviving.

  • The top ring is where you feel you are thriving.

The wheel is an analogy for life. If you take your wheel and roll it, how will it roll? If your wheel is unbalanced it won’t roll smoothly. The goal is to find a balance in all the sectors of your life.

Life is a constant process of rebalancing. The important thing is that you do your best, and put some authentic effort and energy into creating balance, understanding that this is important for you to thrive.


Energizing Your Life

One interesting exercise is to reflect on what energizes you, what makes you feel happy. Sometimes the most effective way to identify this is to think back to a time in your childhood when you still felt carefree. What did you love to do? What activities were you naturally drawn to that brought you feelings of happiness or joy?

What things do you know are good for you?

Was there a time in life that you were particularly thriving?

What were you doing at that time in your life?

What things are nourishing for you?

What makes you feel good?

If you had a life that made you feel the best that you could possibly feel, what would it look like?

Make a list of these things.

You can see some ideas in the chart below.

Now, plan ways to incorporate those activities into your daily, weekly, monthly and yearly life using the chart below.

And put it in your calendar right now!


*These ideas and charts on the life sectors and energizing your life exercises are courtesy of my good friend Valentina Alvarez who co-teaches a weekly meditation group with me. You can check out her project at www.happyouhappyme.com


#CompassionateCareApproach #selfcare

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