Everyone is talking about self care right now but how many people are actually doing it?

So you’ve seen the lists of things you can try to make yourself feel better and you’ve perhaps tried a couple or been so overwhelmed by the list that you haven’t even started yet and now you’re criticising yourself for not doing all the things you think you should be doing. Everyone else seems to be managing just fine so why is it that you can’t?

I want you to know it is perfectly normal to find self care hard and to avoid doing the things that we know might help us. I also want you to know that people who teach these skills find it hard too, and not everyone is managing as well as it might seem on social media. I notice myself avoiding my seated mindfulness meditation some days and that can be for all kinds of reasons but I know that dwelling on what I haven’t done doesn’t help, and instead I focus more on what I know can be helpful for getting started again.

Whilst the pandemic is definitely a good enough reason to be struggling right now, it affects everyone in different ways and plenty of people were finding it hard to attend to their own needs before it started. I’m going to provide a list of some common barriers to making helpful changes, and will then go on to provide some possible solutions you could try.

Common barriers to change

  • the goal is too big and feels overwhelming
  • you don’t know where to start
  • it was managable once in ideal conditions but not realistic for your current daily life
  • you keep forgetting to do it
  • you’re worried about getting it wrong
  • you feel like you don’t deserve it

Things that might help

We often underestimate how many steps are involved in forming new habits so it can be helpful to write a list of what we might need to do and tackle each one in order. For example, you might have decided to try yoga but one month after thinking of the idea you still don’t know why you haven’t started. If we take the goal of trying yoga and break it down into smaller steps, you may want to consider whether you want to attend a studio class or private session (where this is permitted), a live online class or private session or a pre-recorded class that you can do in your own time. You may want to consider which style of yoga you would like to try and whether you can afford to pay for a class at the moment. If you’re going to attend a live class (whether online or at a studio), you might want to consider which time of day would work best for you. And once you have made all of those decisions, you still need to book, if relevant, and do the actual class. That’s a lot of steps and I haven’t even factored in thinking about the personality of the teacher and if they are a good fit for you. But if you look at that list, is there one step that feels managable on its own and seems like a good starting point? If so, setting that as your goal before tackling the next step is going to make the process much easier for you.

Sticking with the example of yoga, but you can apply the principles to any activity; if you used to go to a class last year but haven’t been for the last 10 months, expecting yourself to go back to your old routine may not be fair as something has got in the way. Instead of criticising yourself for not managing it anymore, could you think of what you might need in order to fit in into your life now? Maybe you need a short online practice so you don’t have to spend time travelling to and from the class, maybe you need something early in the morning so that you can attend to other important tasks in the day or perhaps you need a much gentler style than you were previously used to due to more of your energy being used up right now. Whatever it is, let that guide your choices, even if it doesn’t feel ideal. If perfectionism is an issue for you, it is likely to be acting as a barrier to starting your self care practice too. The more you practise taking a good enough approach to these activities, the easier it will be to sustain in the long term.

Forgetting to do new activities that we want to try is a common difficulty as humans tend to act based on habits, except where we plan carefully. Part of planning around this might be to set a reminder on your mobile phone or to add it to your diary/calendar. Whichever option is most likely to be noticed by you in time is the best one for you to try. Whilst that might sound straight-forward, I know that many people hate setting reminders for things that they feel they should be able to remember but when we are busy and stressed, we’re much less likely to remember, and it’s a waste of energy trying to keep it at the front of your mind when there’s no need. It doesn’t mean you’ll need to set reminders forever, but even if you do, is that better or worse than not doing the activity at all?

Once you get started, giving yourself permission to get something wrong or to do it imperfectly is a gift. Try embracing the learning process as this can be more valuable than you might think. And if you are still too concerned about not doing it right, attending a live class or, if it is an option for you, investing in a private session for that activity may be the best solution for you so that you can get feedback and guidance from a teacher.

The last point about feeling like you don’t deserve it may require further support, e.g. psychological therapy, especially if it is the biggest barrier to taking action. However, like confidence, sometimes this improves by trying the activity in spite of the thoughts that you don’t deserve it. If you can encourage yourself to try it anyway, and keep doing it, that can be an incredibly powerful experience in shifting your relationship with your tricky thoughts. There is no shame in requiring professional support, and there can also be considerable benefit in using self-help resources for those in a position to work through them independently.

I’m aware that the list I have provided in this post is only a small selection of the very real barriers that people can face in making changes. If you found it helpful, I would love to hear from you regarding which part in particular made a difference. And if you didn’t find it helpful or felt that your concerns were not addressed here, your needs are just as important as anyone else’s and I hope you find the information you need.

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