By Steve Denham
There is no better resolution for this New Year than “radical self-care”. In fact, let’s make it a mantra. I’m a relative newcomer to self-care. But in recent years, my voluntary work as a crisis counselor has brought home to me its importance.
Anyone working in caring professions will of necessity be aware of the need to monitor and maintain their own well-being; but maybe not so obvious, is the growing need for self-care for all of us, no matter who we are or what we do.
The world has changed, and continues to change at an exponential rate. The technology-driven acceleration of life in 2016 has ripple effects for everyone. But the stressful consequences of radical change in the way we communicate, work and generally go about our lives, cannot be handled by the ordinary ways of the past. Today, self-care needs to be radical. As Kate has well-observed, this should not be confused with self indulgence; similarly to how authentic self-love has nothing to do with vanity.
So what does radical actually mean in the context of self-care? The word itself gives us some clues. The dictionary tells us “radical” refers to the root cause of a problem and what is needed to address that; or to a revolutionary new approach to something, or just a major departure from the way we usually do things. It is even slang for “wonderful” or “excellent”.
So what might radical self-care mean in practice? First, let’s understand more fully why we need it. In theory, technology should save us time. In practice, however, time poverty is the malaise of the age of information we live in. Our relationship to time is today’s equivalent of what is “rotten in the state of Denmark”, to borrow from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The problem is, we don’t know how to stop. The unprecedented ease and speed with which we are able to accomplish time-consuming tasks of the past, has freed up time for us. Yes, but we are not calling time out! We have effectively turned all this extra time into unmanageable workloads.
But while our speed-driven, time-poor lifestyle can be linked to rapidly advancing technology, let’s not lose sight of the fact that we are still responsible for our actions. Technology per se is not the problem - it’s the way we use it. Technology can give us increased leisure time if we call time-out. But if we fill up that extra time with work, we put ourselves at risk of stress and in the long term, the different ways stress makes itself manifest - burnout, fatigue, nervous tension, heart disease, cancer, panic attacks and so on - all of which can, in turn, affect family life, relationships and our quality of life as a whole.
Kate is right is when she says self-care doesn’t necessarily mean retreating overseas “to the tropics for weeks at a time, having stick drinks and daily spa treatments” (although of course there’s a place for that!). Radical self-care can mean developing an inner alarm clock that reminds you to simply take a few conscious breaths, or whatever it is that works for you; even when you’re in the thick of work or full-on activity of some kind.
Radical self-care draws from that deep well of knowing that resides in your innermost self. Know thyself, urges the ancient Greek maxim. But again as Kate says, this is a journey, not a destination. There can be no end to the process of self-knowing, and likewise, what radical self-care means for us will continue to evolve throughout our lifetime.
We cannot undo technological evolution. It is here to stay. So rather than retreating from life to some far away, natural habitat, we can learn to make technology time-saving for us, instead of time-consuming. We can learn to stop and turn this extra time at our disposal, into an opportunity to create. Now the meaning of this multi-faceted word “radical” fully reveals itself; telling us that both the problem and the solution, lie inside us. All you need to know about what radical self-care means for you, is what your inner self is telling you it needs.
Of course, radical self-care means different things for different people. But in her book Beauty from the Inside Out, Dr Libby Weaver makes a case for “breathing well” being essential to everyone embarking on the road to radical self-care: “Your breath leads. Your body follows. Breathing dominates your autonomic nervous system, and because we breathe 5000 to 30,000 times per day – or 200 million to 500 million times in a lifetime – it has the potential to influence us positively, or negatively, in many ways”.
Breathe well and consciously, no matter what you do as part of your own radical self-care program. Remember, the breath is an integral part of ancient spiritual traditions. For my self-care, I believe in Vitamin J (that’s “J” for joy!) and what I call my “soul food diet”; for this, meditation and coming to stillness through the breath at different times during the day are essential. I find that swimming laps every week helps to restore balance between mind and body; and my partner Emma and
I love our “balcony time” at dusk during the working week, when we debrief about each day’s events. Music of all kinds – gentle, powerful, even challenging – is also a special soul food for me, as is being employed in work that allows for meaningful engagement with people.
Listen to what your innermost self is telling you. Understand what radical self-care means for you, and use this as a springboard to fulfilling your life’s special destiny and purpose.
STEVE DENHAM is a freelance writer. In 2011 he had his book “A Plate of Eggs” published and since then has had articles published for Insight magazine, InnerSelf newspaper and LivingNow magazine.