Self-care is an essential tool to develop in everyday life as it is critical to maintaining good mental and physical health. But what is self-care, and how do you do it?
Self-care is all about putting yourself and your needs first. It’s about knowing what serves you best and implementing that into your daily life.
Furthermore, self-care isn’t something you force yourself to do and it doesn’t involve doing things you don’t enjoy. For example, a 5km a day run may be good for some people, but if the thought of it fills you with dread, then it definitely won’t serve you.
Self-care should leave you feeling refreshed, reenergised and with lower anxiety and stress levels than when you began.
Understanding what works for you personally is essential in creating a healthy life balance. Here are some things you can do to prioritise self-care, things that will have an impact on your overall physical and mental well-being.
Learning to Say No
Learning to say no can be a life changer.
Saying no is one of the things many neurodivergent people have difficulty doing, however. As people pleasers who generally want to show their worth and do the best they can, they develop the habit of saying ‘yes’ to everything – something which can be detrimental to their overall wellbeing, resulting in stress, anxiety and burnout.
There’s also the misconception that saying no is a sign of being uncooperative, selfish and difficult, and that it can result in negative consequences, such as being sacked from a job or being disliked.
Self-care isn’t a selfish act.
When you learn to say no, you are putting yourself first and establishing healthy boundaries. You are also taking care of yourself, putting yourself in a better position to take care of others, to have better relationships and to cope better with everyday life, something that will set you up for success in the long run.
The concept of energy accounting involves spending time writing up two lists –
- A list of what drains your energy (‘withdrawals’), and
- Another list of what replenishes your energy (‘deposits’).
A numerical value is then added to each to help identify how much energy each gives or takes away.
The theory goes that when a withdrawal or multiple withdrawals are made, deposits also need to be made to keep the energy levels in balance so as to avoid energy levels running into the negative, something which can lead to exhaustion, overwhelm and meltdown.
You can find more information about energy accounting here.
Interoception plays a critical part in noticing, understanding and identifying the physical and emotional states of the body. Interoception is often used to help children and young adults identify the sensations they are feeling and to connect those sensations to the emotions they are experiencing.
By using interoception as a self-care ‘tool’, it can help you to understanding how you feel and what is makes you feel that way. This can help in a number of settings including the workplace. For example, if you experience butterflies, nausea or dread about undertaking a task your manager has asked me to do, a great question to ask yourself is ‘Why am I feeling this way?’
Feelings of butterflies and nausea or dread are often associated with anxiety, and this anxiety could be coming from a place of fear associated with not knowing how to do the job, of needing to ask for help, or the fear of not getting the task completed on time.
When you recognise how you feel you can act upon it, and the sooner you act, the less time you will feel stressed, anxious or drained.
Mindfulness is all about focusing your awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting your feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. It similar to interoception, whereby you learn to identify how you feel and connect with emotions, mindfulness can also help to reduce stress and anxiety.
By implementing anxiety-reducing practices into your daily routine, like using a mindfulness app such as Smiling Mind regularly, you can reduce your stress and anxiety levels.
Note: Mindfulness can be difficult and triggering for some people, especially if impacted by significant past trauma. Sitting with one’s thoughts, being mindful and reflecting can possibly trigger and bring up negative thoughts and experiences. This is something you should discuss with your therapist or doctor if you’re considering undertaking mindfulness.
Developing healthy self-care practices is important in our day-to-day lives. When we learn to look after ourselves first, we finally appreciate who we are, realising we are worthy and that by setting boundaries and speaking up for ourselves, we are creating a much healthier and happier life for ourselves.
About Barb Cook
Barb is Director of NeuroEmploy, Autism and Neurodiversity Employment Consultant and a registered Developmental Educator (DE) who is passionate in supporting, consulting and mentoring on employment issues for neurodiverse adults and employers. Barb has a Master of Autism (education) with focus on employment from the University of Wollongong, where she is also a tutor in this program and a research assistant in the area of self-determination and self-advocacy for adults on the autism spectrum.
Barb was formally identified on the autism spectrum along with ADHD and phonological dyslexia at age 40, and is editor and co-author of the internationally acclaimed book Spectrum Women: Walking to the Beat of Autism, and editor in chief of Spectrum Women Magazine.
As a Developmental Educator, Barb focuses on developing individualised learning strategies, tools and supports with positive outcomes for individuals across the lifespan. Barb embraces a collaborative approach by working with health and educational professionals, support staff, employers, employees, families and caregivers to develop their skills, knowledge and understanding of a person-centred approach in fostering positive support and enhancement of life outcomes. Barb has extensive experience in working with people on the autism spectrum, ADHD and dyslexia, especially with adults in creating pathways in attaining life goals in the areas of education, employment, health and interpersonal relationships.