Self Care: What is it & How-to's

by Taryn Lacey, MA, MHC-P and Niagara Hospice Bereavement Counselor

My favorite natural analogy is the safety precaution taught to everyone on an airplane: "...one oxygen mask will drop down in front of you. Fit the mask to ensure you are able to breathe before helping those who may need assistance." This lesson can be translated into various avenues in our day-to-day living; life after loss, holiday stress, a fight with a loved one. For example, if you are caring for a loved one, who is caring for you? You may have a great support system, maybe not. Either way, the answer is very simple - "Love thyself most and best" - Woody Guthrie.

The thing with self care is that we 'should' be caring for our self first before we even attempt to help someone else. As a new parent I will admit that sometimes putting my needs first is a difficult task. However, it has become a daily morning-mantra that I say, "I will do something nice for myself today!" before lending my oxygen mask. By reading this blog I can tell you have a really big heart, and may only need a gentle reminder about the importance of self care and the "how-to's."

One thing is true; we are not all completely alike. We can share the underlying want/need to help others; however we still differ in personalities. I found some great ways to care for self-needs on the whatsyourgrief.com website. There are many ways to enjoy life that may not be listed here; I urge you to create your own list based on your own personality type.

The Emotional
Our emotions can spiral into total overdrive; they can fluctuate from day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute. Some of us are already more comfortable within this emotional realm.  However, grief can make us feel crazy, which is totally normal but can be incredibly distressing, even to those comfortable with their emotions. We can feel anxiety and guilt, deep sadness and overwhelming emptiness. Though most of us hide these tough emotions, there is great value in sharing our emotional side while we grieve. When these emotions overwhelm us, our inclination can be to avoid them; thinking avoidance will remove our pain. We don't like when our emotional side begins to take over everything, so we may run from it or feel embarrassed by it. Should we find our emotions spiraling, it can be helpful to manage our emotions by tapping into our rational and creative selves:

  • Embrace emotions
  • Write about emotions
  • Learn about the complexity of grief to better understand emotions

The Creative
When dealing with any extreme emotions, we are inclined to make or appreciate art. This creativity is often a way to express the emotions we are feeling - creating something unique or beautiful from our internal world. There are countless ways we express our creative selves, from photography to journaling, art therapy, scrap-booking, and music. The emotions of grief are difficult to understand and share, so these creative outlets can make it easier to face difficult emotions in non-traditional ways. When talking isn't working for us in our grief, for whatever reason, finding a creative outlet can be a different and positive way to manage the emotions of grief.

The Rational
Knowing, understanding, and learning brings us security and comfort. The intensity of grief emotions can be hard for us who lean toward the rational, as the emotions of grief can make it hard to maintain rationality. We relate to a grief style that seeks an understanding of grief and a need to learn the different grief models and theories. We may find comfort in the practicalities that need to be handled when grieving, as it gives us order and stability. Using rational tools can help with the necessary things that so many grievers struggle with - sorting belongings, preparing for anniversaries and special days, and supporting kids who are grieving.

I wish you all the best on your journey.

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