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Building your Toolbox: Learning to Look After You

By Amy Gowland

There are many of us, me included, that tend to neglect our needs and wants in order to fulfill the expectations of others, meets deadlines and put others ahead of ourselves.

But when we do that we are adding fuel to an already angry fire building within us.

I’m sure many of you have heard of the expression that you need to put your own oxygen mask on first before you can help others, because if you run out of oxygen yourself, you are not going to be of any use to anybody else.

Upon reflection, it all makes sense, but in the moment, it can be a really tough thing to do.

I reflect on this quote often from, Bessel van der Kolk, who is the critically acclaimed author of The Body Keeps the Score. The quote reads “once you start approaching your body with curiosity rather than with fear, everything shifts” alongside, “in order to change, people need to become aware of their sensations and the way that their bodies interact with the world around them. Physical self-awareness is the first step in releasing the tyranny of the past”.

Whilst these quotes can be somewhat confronting in nature, they do offer a valuable insight into the experience of unicorns and need to be respected regardless of the individuals we are working with. I know, when someone says to me “You need to prioritise self-care”, it is not uncommon for me to become defensive, as I see this as a demand rather than something that I am wanting to do for myself.

Reframing needs and wants can be critical in this space, as needs assume expectations, which is not what unicorns require, but rather promoting a desire for self-care is the essence of what is trying to be achieved. There are many ways self-care can be incorporated into daily life, both in a planned and unplanned manner. But first, consider what self-care looks like to you…there is no right or wrong answer here.

Is it taking a bath? Reading a book? Watching TV? Listening to a podcast? Listening to music? Sensory depriving yourself? What does this look like for you?

Tiny moments of self-care, still enable you to practice self-care daily and increase your capacity to be compassionate with yourself. It could be as simple as taking a few deep breaths whilst you drink your coffee in the morning or taking a moment to recognise what is happening around you. One of my favourite things to do is to sit with my coffee in the morning and practice this quick sensory grounding technique:

  • Notice 5 things you can see

  • Identify 4 things you can touch

  • Name 3 things you can hear

  • Notice 2 things you can smell

  • Acknowledge 1 thing you can taste

Pain can be a debilitating distraction to opportunities for self-care, but it doesn’t have to be. You have every right to experience moments of self-care, regardless of pain or no pain. See if you can make a commitment to yourself in relation to allowing yourself the opportunity to experience moments of self-care.

I acknowledge that this is not going to fix everything, nor is it going to be something for everyone, but if you have the time and are willing to try – give it a go :)

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