How do you take care of yourself? What do you do to relax, de-stress, take the edge off? This is a question I ask most people when they call in for a counseling referral.
One activity I recently rediscovered is reading the morning paper. It slows down my morning routine of rushing around getting ready for work. I do need to get out of bed a few minutes earlier, but I notice the benefit as soon as I start reading the first article.
Another activity that de-stresses me – though I am not able to do it every day – is working with wood. Not carpentry or cabinetry, but cutting, splitting, stacking and burning. Having a wood-burning stove growing up, we did a lot of this type of “woodwork”! Last Tuesday I had three big trees cut down at my house. Once they were down on the ground, the rest was up to me. With the long holiday weekend, I made a good start on the cutting, stacking and burning – yet I have a long way to go. I am loving it. I am in my own little world, with outside concerns not having much success entering my brain.
Both of these activities stem from my childhood. Eating breakfast while reading the paper with family is something I remember well. When people have difficulty thinking of things they can do for self-care, I usually suggest hobbies, exercise and creative interests or pursuits. Activities we have fond memories of from childhood may be worth considering, too.
Our self-care activities are still valuable even when we no longer feel their physical or emotional benefit. Our wellbeing will decrease further if we stop making the time to care for ourselves. While the activity may need to change, continuing to do something for self-care keeps us in practice of doing the things that help us de-stress.
When it does not seem there is enough time for self-care, it is important to ask why not. Many times our reasons are not valid. Extraneous activities that we, or others, have created for us will lead to limited time and energy. A hard look at what we are doing and why can eliminate many of the things we “need” to do.
When we are stressed and there is no extra time, it does well to look smaller. Although we can survive for a short period without meeting our own needs, letting things go too long will damage our health. Self-care may need to come in smaller chunks when time is at a premium – stopping at a scenic viewpoint for a few minutes on our daily commute to clear our mind; a walk during our breaks at work; taking the dog for a short walk, rather than just letting him out in the backyard (you will both enjoy it). These things can help.
What do you like to do? What helps relax you? If you can’t think of anything, look back to things you have enjoyed in the past, or things you thought you always wanted to try. In looking back, don’t hesitate to look all the way back to childhood, to those things that gave you a sense of belonging. You may be surprised.
Reggie E., MSW, CEAP, joined Empathia in 2005 as an EAP Counselor. Reggie has a master’s degree in Social Work as well as bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy and the Comparative Study of Religion from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Prior to a career change to social work, he worked in a variety of fields including banking, trucking and metal fabrication.