[5/23/22] Mind-Body Monday: Self Care, Self Indulgence & Soul Care
I wanted to talk today about something that seems to be a very confusing topic for many people and that includes myself, lol.
And that is: how we take true care of ourselves, versus how we muffle our souls' voice or our bodies' needs in favor of what just feels good or what is just easier to do. So today I am going to try to give you different examples of what self-care would look like and how that would compare to other types of caring for self that perhaps aren’t as beneficial or as healthy.
So first I would like to talk about self indulgence: self indulgence always feels good in the moment, is something that we do primarily to minimize or mitigate feelings of inadequacy, frustration, guilt, shame and overwhelm. It is the way we try to tell ourselves it’s going to be OK, by catering to our inner child and trying to distract ourselves from the ways in which our adult-self fears that things are not or will not be okay.
So examples of self-indulgence would be things that we do for, or to ourselves, that give us either a. A minimal level of satisfaction or B. A level of satisfaction that isn’t ongoing so it might be things that we appreciate in the moment but we would not be grateful we did an hour from now or a day from now or a week from now
One example might be eating foods that aren’t healthy for our bodies, but that simply please our mouths. They give us either a brief sense of satiation or they simply distract us with a physiological reaction, like sugar, useless carbs and/or addiction responses to things like caffeine, nicotine or alcohol. Will we be glad we indulged in an hour? In a day? Next week? Or were we simply trying to distract ourselves from an emotional state that we didn’t want to sit in. Were we trying to save time, over saving our lives? Were we forced into a child-like self-soothing dynamic, rather than being that healthy loving parent of self, that practices self control?
Another example might be spending money. Perhaps we are spending money we don’t have to spend or spending money on trivialities that we don’t need. For different people this could mean different things. This could be spending lots of money or spending a little amount of money buying things that are unnecessary or buying things that we’ve convinced ourselves we deserve. It depends on your own financial health. But what I have found is that generally when we are convinced that we deserve a “treat”, a lot of times it is an inner child response. Whether we make excuses about our deservedness, or whether we tell ourselves how hard we worked, or what we had to put up with, it seems to bypass logical thought and instead kind of fulfills that pouting inner self that is feeling sorry for itself, or put upon or martyred in some way. So as I’ve seen it, when we are self indulgent, it is often just a response to our inner victim.
Ultimately,if we stopped to think about it, we probably would know before we were indulging in whatever act it is, that we are NOT going to be glad we did it a day from now, a week from now, or a month from now. It is purely to serve the now and to distract us from what we don’t want to look at.
In contrast, self-care generally has effort attached to it. It is Thoughtful, vs. unthinking. It has some measures of self control, some measures of self-respect, it is for instance the way a mother might treat a child. Helping a child get its needs met without indulging that child in things that are unnecessary to meet their needs they are just simply wanted. Think ‘feeding a hungry child the food it’s body needs, vs the snacks or desserts, the child is begging for.’
Self-care is not just doing what’s easy, it’s doing what’s right. it’s not just doing what’s wanted, it’s doing what’s necessary. Self-care could be taking the time to prep food so when you’re hungry you just don’t grab for something that’s quick and easy to put in your mouth. This is especially important if you know you’re always running behind and don’t have time. Self-care is not stopping by a store and spending money that isn’t needed except for some distracting “retail therapy”. It is saving money so you don’t have to borrow it, in order to get something that really matters to you, not gives you a dopamine hit at the moment, and thus just makes you feel better momentarily.
Brief Educational “side-note”: Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that is released to give us a feeling of satisfaction after a pleasurable experience. The bigger the experience, the bigger the hit. Think of a gambling addict. Someone who is addicted to the “hit” of winning, and will keep playing even if they are losing because they remember the dopamine release when they win.
Self-care is not about a dopamine release. It is planning ahead, planning for your future, planning for your Health and planning for your life. Self-care is watching acts of self indulgence and making sure they are balanced with acts of self love. Self-care is getting enough sleep, taking time out of your day to honor your need for rest. It’s getting some sort of movement exercise (preferably one that elevates your heart rate) every single day in order to keep all of your organs functioning properly. Your heart is a muscle and as a personal trainer of mine is happy to say, “You need to take your heart for a walk.” Self-care is eating food that your body loves, and doesn’t just satisfy your taste buds..
It’s noticing when you are using substances to manage an unhealthy mental or emotional state that really could use therapeutic assistance or introspection, and instead you are utilizing addiction. It’s not leaving yourself or your needs for last until you no longer have the time or energy to see to them. It’s refusing to let yourself be martyred, codependent or a people pleaser.
It’s standing up for yourself even if no one ever taught YOU how to do it, or no one else would do it for you. It’s doing things that will make you feel better tomorrow or next week or next month or next year. Not just something that’s going to make you feel better right now. You need to ask yourself every day, heck several times a day, if your future self will be glad you did what you are doing, or thinking of doing, and if the answer is no it is likely you were being self-indulgent instead of self-caring.
As another example, are you staying up late when you know you always feel better if you get up earlier? So instead you start your day behind and running late, feeling harried and stressed because you were too tired to wake up at a time that your system would have preferred, to not send you into a space of anger or anxiety? Not turning off computers, t.v.’s, tablets and phones late at night an hour or three before bed to let your circadian rhythms help you sleep, is an example of something that is self-indulgent. Something that made you feel good at the time, but not when you are groggy and unhappy in the morning. When was the last time you took a nap in the middle of the day (if it was possible) rather than do a chore? For you would that be self indulgence or would that be self-care?
So you probably have noticed by now that I’m not going to just be giving you a list of tasks or tools because really they vary depending on the person. If you are ordinarily incredibly strict with yourself then perhaps you really need some more gentleness.To take a moment or longer, to do something that is more self-loving and honoring. To set down the MUST DO list and take a break with the NICE TO DO list. If you are so strict that you never let yourself do something that you would enjoy then perhaps it’s time to occasionally do that. However, if you’re so self indulgent that you really don’t take good care of yourself , then perhaps it’s time to start making a plan and put it into action. It is time to for you take better care of themselves, which may mean being more restrictive at times, like a parent would be. Does this make sense?
When was the last time you went to a doctor? When was the last time you had a check up? When was the last time you had blood work done? You don’t have to wait until there is something really wrong with you to do this. It is okay to check on your body and your health on an annual or semi-annual basis. Have you been putting off a mammogram, or a Pap smear? Or perhaps it’s past time for a colonoscopy or a prostate exam? Self-care means checking on your health, especially when it isn’t fun to do. On this same vein, when was the last time you went to a dentist? Had your teeth cleaned? When was the last time you had your eyes checked? Or your hearing? Regular check-ups are a sign of a conscientious person, and being conscientious is a personality trait that is linked to living longer. Are you using sunscreen? Are you taking vitamins? Unless your diet is 80-90% of living foods, you are potentially nutrient deficient. Did you know you can get a “micro-nutrient” blood panel? To see how you are doing on those vitamins and minerals that keep you healthy. There is a strong genetic link to whether or not your body will process certain nutrients it needs healthfully, or whether or not you need to supplement.
Are you middle aged? Get a test to find out the levels of your estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. You might need bioidentical hormone replacement therapy, whether you are a biological male or female or intersex. Self-Care is caring for your body. Your physical self, your health and your well-being, making sure you have the longest possible life that you desire.
Some people are excellent at Self Care, but not as good at what I would refer to as Soul-Care. So what is that? I think of soul care, as the ways in which we care for our mind’s, emotions, and spiritual selves. It is those things we do that are planning for the future long term, while taking care of ourselves in the short-term. It can look like taking time to expand our minds with enriching information that help us to look at the world in a deeper and more profound way. It is learning to see more than one side of an issue or argument, so we are less likely to feel out of balance when challenged or triggered by belief systems not our own.
It is sitting with those uncomfortable emotions, and learning how to integrate them, rather than just pushing them down inside ourselves, or brushing them aside rather than dealing with them. This may mean seeking help. You were most likely not raised with emotional regulation tools and strategies that were enough to take you through your entire life. Even those raised without trauma and with healthy, happy, effective parents, your needs grow and change as you age, and you need to continue to seek out how to best care for yourself in order to stay healthy as you experience suffering and loss throughout your life. It is not enough to just care for your body, you have to care for your feelings as well. As the mind thinks, so the body suffers.
Soul-care is seeing a therapist, coach or counselor to help you through difficult times, relationships and losses. It is continuing to read and research more effective tools to help you be happy, for laughter is indeed the best medicine. It’s understanding that worrying is just another way of praying, but this time for something you don’t want.
Soul-care is minimizing the time you spend becoming inundated with the suffering of others, especially if you are not in a position to ease it in any way. There is no way to be happy if you continue to immerse yourself with everything that is miserable. It is not making anything better, as you cannot make anything better if you are overwhelmed with suffering. Learn the difference between information and inundation, and accept your right to make the differences you can make and let the rest go awhile, while you rest your soul.
Soul care is taking time to meditate. If not every day, then every week, in some way at some point. If you are unhappy and not peaceful then you need to meditate even more. Meditation has been proven to strengthen the telomere caps on the ends of our dna, thus keep them from fraying as early and our bodies decaying as quickly. Meditation also helps lower blood pressure and manage mood. I have personally never found a more effective technique for emotion regulation and intentional spiritual reset, especially when I am feeling out of balance with myself. If you don’t believe me on the powerful advances of meditation, look it up for yourself. Meditation also helps us experience being out of time.
By that I mean, taking us out of the stream of what was, and what will be and placing us directly and solely in the space of what is. As Lao Tzu would say, If you are depressed you are living in the past, if you are anxious you are living in the future, if you are at peace then you are living in the present.
As Neale Donald Walsch would say, “the present is the pre-sent moment, that you have given yourself, it is a gift.”
For those of us that are mono-chronic, in brief those that are run by the concept of time, one of the greatest soul-care gifts we can give ourselves is to “lose track of time”. To not pay attention to what needs to be done by when, and to just enjoy the expansion of the present moment when we are focused only on our internal experience of experiencing the external. :)
For those that are poly-chronic, those that seem to have no sense of time but rather are run by tasks. One of the greatest gifts they can give themselves is to stop “doing” something. Stop being distracted from one task to another. Stop reading, writing, driving, doing, and just be present without their minds taking in more information.