For some years I have been dedicating myself studying topics related to self-knowledge such as coaching, happiness, stress, neuroscience, in addition to religiously practicing Mindfulness and Yoga.
Some people ask me for tips on how to "relieve" stress or tips on “self-care”.
Gallup considers 2020 to be officially the most stressful year in recent history, with a record 40% of adults worldwide saying they experienced a lot of stress the day before. This five-percentage point jump of 35% compared to 2019 represents nearly 190 million more people worldwide who have experienced much more stress.
The fact is that if it were possible to solve such complex issues as mental health, improvement of well-being and stress with only a few tips and exercises, people would have already managed to solve themselves and the numbers would not be increasing.
Just give a google search and we find hundreds of articles on how to deal with stress and many tips related to all these topics. I think it's great, there's a lot of interesting articles, tools and thousands of people sharing meditations, yoga, a lot of good stuff, even free.
The truth is that insights, results and real transformation can be obtained through working with a qualified therapist or mentor but unfortunately cannot be experienced in a simple google search or a 15-minute conversation. Real change happens when new habits are formed, when we can change the way we view and approach situations.
"Stress is not our enemy, it is our reactions to it"
Firstly, I would like to say that a little stress is necessary for our growth and personal development because it takes us out of our comfort zone and forces us to find solutions. However, when stress is experienced continuously and in exaggeration, without recovery time, it is very damaging to our health and to our feeling of happiness and well-being in general.
Stress can be felt in many ways. It's not just about work overload.
Stress can be felt if you don't find meaning for your life, if you feel that your values are not being respected, when you are not clear about a decision or where to go; if you are ill; if you have to many thoughts or suffer from insomnia, when you can't deal with emotions, if you're having fights in relationships or friendships and so on.
Everyone experiences stress at a higher or lower level daily.
What lies behind the stress are beliefs that have been created for years, often unconscious by the way we live in our society and in our culture. For this reason, it is not so simple to transform an acquired pattern from years, into a healthier one.
To heal from stress, it is necessary to have a closer look in our "mindset", the way we interpret our thoughts, the way we deal with our emotions, understand the influencers that cause stress and finally how we behave and take care of ourselves.
The focus of today's article is on self-care.
There is a disagreement about the concept of self-care and its prioritization.
So let's start by explaining what self-care is:
It's a way of being that makes you engage in activities that nourish you in all your aspects, when you feel "whole".
It takes self-knowledge to understand when you are feeling off balance and the wisdom in using tools that bring you that balance back.
Self-care is much more than a healthy diet, a day at the spa, and self-indulgences!
Why is it so complicated for people to practice self-care?
When talking about self-care, people typically fall into three types of automatic thinking, seeing through the following lenses:
1. Through lens efficiency and productivity
We live in a world that demands us productivity all the time, the thought of lack of time does not allow us to effectively devote time to ourselves, to take care of ourselves; because if we do that, we will no longer be productive. And if we stop being productive, we won't show our worth.
Many people associate their personal value with their value at work or in the efficiency of meeting goals and objectives. So even unconsciously, the kind of thinking that is behind is:
"I can't stop being productive, because if I stop, I won't show my worth" .
"If I don’t show my worth, how can I experience self-worth?"
2. Through the lenses of self-sacrifice
We have been conditioned since we were kids that we must do certain things, even if we don’t want, but to demonstrate that we are "a good person". If we do not sacrifice, we will not be seen as a good person, we will be seen as selfish.
At some point in our lives, many of us must have gone through these teachings, at home, or at school or even at work.
The most common is at home, think about it: how much did our parents not sacrifice themselves for us? Working tirelessly to give us the best they can, often failing to do what they themselves dreamed of in order to take care of us. Then, in our mind, again unconsciously, we build the thought that self-sacrifice equals love.
3. Through the lens of guilty
It is very important to cultivate self-love and generosity with ourselves.
How many of us have a poorly conceived idea that taking care of ourselves is in some way a selfish act?
For cultural or philosophical reasons, self-love was often seen as a selfish thing and caring for others was seen as something altruistic. Selfishness has been regarded as immoral by many thinkers over the centuries. Because being selfish is immoral and bad, many people infer that self-care has a negative connotation, even if it is unconsciously. In this way, the common interpretation is: “taking care of myself is being selfish and to take care of others is being altruistic.”
We tend to make this correlation because we were created in a dualistic world, where things are seen in extremes: good or evil; white or black as if there were no multitude of possibilities between the extremes. That is, through these ideas, the concepts of self-care (self-love) and caring for others were seen as irreconcilable opposites.
In short, the kind of thought that the person experiences is:
"I am selfish if I put myself as a priority; I must take care of others first."
One feels guilty about taking care of themselves.
While any focus on the topic "self-care" and "well-being" is relevant and a step in the right direction, many proposals are still on a more superficial level.
I'm sure that what causes stress and restlessness in people, is much deeper than healthier eating, snacks, cosmetic treatments, massage, flexible hours, lack of vacation. Of course, all this is very valuable. However, his "mainstream" model ends up being flawed because we are faced with a tired self, which often feels empty, and will always need another snack, another massage, or more vacation.
The numbers speak for themselves. People are getting more and more stressed.
Mental health is "the" topic.
Therefore, I believe it is more powerful and sustainable to learn how to manage stress, when we look at the beliefs that are driving our thoughts, emotions and stressful behaviours. Consciously and subconsciously.
We must learn to see ourselves kindlier and develop a new way of being, where our personal value is not conditional on our busy schedules and millions of deliveries.
We must learn that the fact that we want to take care of ourselves is not a selfish act and therefore we should not feel guilty. In fact, the only way we can contribute to others and the world is to take care of ourselves first.
Self-care is a prerequisite for loving others.
Only when we love ourselves, we can develop real compassion with others. To be happy, you must develop that quality.
When you have arrived home, when you have known who you are, then a love arises in your being. Then the fragrance spreads and you can give it to others.
How can you give something which you don’t have?
To give it, the first basic requirement is to have it.
Self-care is the basis on which we build our lives.
Everything we touch, do and share depends on and is shaped by how "whole" we feel.
With this feeling within us, we transfer, consciously or unconsciously, to everything else we do.
This means that if we are living, creating and serving from a place of exhaustion or lack, this energy can be "felt" by others. But when we take care of our body, mind and spirit – we are energized, inspired and then we can live and serve from another place, a place that radiates from within, that inspires.
What's the solution?
Instead of waiting to do everything first and then “take care of ourselves", we need to pervade self-care into everything that we do.
The mindset shift is seeing the "self-care"as how we do everything.
It is how:
we prioritize our day, spend our time, spend our money, feed our bodies, engage with work, connect with others, connect with nature, define our boundaries, talk to ourselves, interpret our thoughts, process our feelings, express our truths, etc.
Self-care is our leadership basis
To be real leaders of our lives and to thrive and grow, we need to be masters at taking care of our mind, body, and spirit regardless of what's happening in our outside world.
Self-care is not what we do after all we need to do is done; Self-care is how we do everything
Carla Camargo works with human development, she is a career transition and well-being mentor; helping people reducing internal noise, having more clarity and improving performance by identifying the root causes of people’s feeling stressed and supporting them to build new habits.