We all need a self-care overhaul sometimes.

I put a lot of pressure on myself, on the people I love, on everything it feels at times.

I don’t think I’m alone in that sentiment.

We are not living in the calmest of times. There is disruption and there needs to be, because the current direction we’re going as a species needs an overhaul. Nothing is certain and I think we’re all quickly realizing that nothing ever was. People are on edge, shit’s getting real, and right now more than ever we need to be kind to ourselves and to others.

It’s really overwhelming to know where to begin when it comes to self-care, especially looking to the great abyss that is our collective future.

But, caring for our community starts with caring for ourselves.

I see the current state of affairs in the world and it makes me want to run into the woods and maybe never come back. My partner, brother-in-law, his sweetheart and myself went on a much needed 9 day retreat into the woods of Algonquin earlier this month. Coming home, it was really difficult for me to readjust to cellphone service, city-life and work again. It felt strange, that camping was just a luxurious trip and not an actual step towards a different way of living.

Is it just me, or are we all feeling a little bit of the dread? Like things need to change, big time.

So I thought a trip to the serene woods for a week and a half would leave some lingering feelings of relaxation, rejuvenation, calmness. But… it didn’t. I came back full of uncertainty, anxiety and dread compounded with confusion as to why I wasn’t feeling better.

My partner and I have been celebrating our one-year wedding anniversary. It’s the first one we’ve ever had, so I put on a lot of expectation that I didn’t necessarily know I was putting on both of us until the trip was over.

Big events (including a global pandemic), travel and family get-togethers can be energetically draining if you aren’t prepared to take the time to care for yourself as well. I learned that this week.

Rather than beat myself up for getting to this point, I’ve decided to seek help.

Partially by developing a better self-care routine, partially by educating myself further in this realm. I started with cleaning our home, our place of safety, our nest. At first it made things worse. It almost felt like a form of self-punishment for having let myself come apart at the seams. So I asked for help, when the clutter cleared, I started to feel like I could breathe again.

I know not everyone is like this, self-care is deeply unique and personal.

After that first step, I recognized the importance of setting up a plan for yourself when things start to get a little off-kilter. Coming from someone who has found all sorts of creative, therapeutic practices that they love, I found myself in complete darkness. All I could think of was: tidy, tidy, tidy and all the bad thoughts will go away.

But I need so much more than that.

I needed to figure out what those needs even were. I needed to connect with my partner and share what was happening. I needed to freak out and feel and then pick myself up and learn from it.

I needed to be okay with having needs, because I have them, and so do you.

Simply cleaning is not self-care, neither is hiding in a bath tub with a fizzy ball (or pouring another glass of wine.) It’s coming up with a program you can follow. So, I’ve sat down and decided to do some research on what self-care really means and I came up with a gentle, follow-able plan for yourself when things become a dark abyss. Especially when you least expect it.

Step One: Forgive

First part, forgiveness. Forgive yourself, you’re but a human. We are in the midst of certain global chaos, pandemic and systemic injustice on many levels. It’s totally cool to veer off the beaten path, into the deep end, no matter how long it’s taken you to get here.

Breathe.

Forgive yourself and then your loved ones, we are all in the thick of this. Take some time to find out what it is you’re feeling, feel it out and let it go. You have needs, so does your family, your partner, your pet, your colleagues. And guess what, that’s okay! It’s okay for all of us to have needs! We aren’t always going to be pretty, perfect production machines.

Write a letter, give (or take) a hug, or just sit for a moment and feel what it’s like to forgive yourself, your loved ones, even humanity as a whole. You could put your hand on your heart, feel the subtle sensation of it beating, if you want to.

You’re doing the best with what you have.

Step Two: Write

Let’s talk about the power of writing. It’s fun-da-mental (cue Ru Paul impersonation.)

Many of us are very capable of it and it’s a sure-fire way to help you get some shit out of your system. Grab your computer, journal, a pen, paper, set a timer for 15 minutes and let it all hang out. If you don’t know what to write, start with “I am writing words, these words are helping me sort out what I’m feeling inside.” No judgment. You don’t even have to read it after, ever, you could burn that shit to the ground.

Once you’ve gotten all the willy-nilly feelies out, write out your goals, dreams, what you want to accomplish, what you want to bring more of into your life. Write down all the desires that are swirling around in that beautiful little psyche of yours and see them. Process them.

If we knew what our future was, we wouldn’t be able to create it.

Step Three: Plan

Now it’s time to come up with a game plan. This is the fun part. We get to address those unique, lovely needs. They come in a few major categories: emotional, work, relationships, mind, body, spirit. You can list these categories on a piece of paper and begin to brainstorm in each one. I’ll give you some examples.

What are your emotional needs right now? Connection and spending time with friends, getting in touch with what I’m feeling through journaling, self-love, communication with my partner, feeling my emotions rather than trying to avoid them.

Work? Making time to create digital content, studying marketing, connecting with like-minded creators, a position where I can help others, consistency, creating products that sell, staying true to my values in the workplace, healthy workplace relationships.

Mind? Silence, time to unwind, to take social media breaks, follow uplifting accounts that bring joy, reading good stories, comedy, goal-setting, using my planner, writing, studying up on nutrition/culinary therapy/movement, allowing myself to be inspired, meditation.

Body? Having healthy food prepped in the fridge, snacks available for when I feel hungry, to stay on top of my hydration, regular and fun exercises I can do consistently, getting outside for fresh air and walks, taking my vitamins, building up my immune system, admiring my body in the mirror, hula hooping.

Spirit? Cutting out toxic people, allowing myself and my social circles to evolve and change, volunteering my time or money to help others in need, journaling and listening to my intuition, filling my life with things that bring joy, my movement practice, spending time on the mat.

These are my personal examples, but I’m sure they will spur something in you to find what it is that you may be needing in these categories. Once you start to brainstorm, you may be surprised by some of the answers that you’re getting and how easily they begin to flow out of you when you simply allow yourself to get in touch.

The best part? By taking the time to write down all of this stuff, you’re planting the seeds in your subconscious, you’re doing the work without even doing it.

Soon enough, you’ll have some heart seedlings of self-care growing in no time. You’ll be sitting there with a home-cooked meal, a candle lit, laundry done, because that is what you planted in your psyche. Beautiful.

Step Four: Put it into Practice

But you do physically, actually have to start doing things. It might not feel amazing at first, you might not even want to get out of bed. But laying around planning and writing is only going to get you so far. You are the great Creator of this thing we call life. Time to get up.

I like planners. Sometimes I go overboard and plan out everything entirely for a day. I maybe get about half the things I wanted done and then feel like a failure. So instead, I’ve started just picking two or three things and then filling the space with other things that I accomplished without even planning! Like: chatted with my friend, was grateful for…, had a delicious cupcake. Little memories, things I am thankful for, so that I can look back at my day and feel happy.

Make the things you don’t want to do easier. Break them down into smaller parts, like laundry (today I wash, tomorrow I fold.). Lately I’ve been throwing on some adult cartoons or Chef’s Table while I’m in the kitchen prepping and cooking. Makes it more fun for me. Some people put on music and pour a glass of wine. I used to do that a lot, but the wine lately just makes me sad, which is the opposite of self-care.

So I’m finding other ways to cope. Like listening to memoirs, podcasts, people that inspire me. I make sure I walk either to or from the subway to work, to always get in at least 20-40 minutes of light cardio. I carve out time to develop my movement practice. I bought tickets for my favourite hula hoop teachers workshops. Keep yourself accountable. Talk to a loved one about your self-help goals. If you can afford it, look into talking to a therapist.

Step Five: Build Your Toolkit

Now that you’ve written it out, planned a few things that you can do, maybe even put some of it into practice. It’s time to build yourself a self-care toolkit that will last. This could look like a pretty PDF you made on Canva, an artistic drawing on paper, a simple piece of lined paper and start writing down the things that are working.

Did you feel like crap, roast a chicken and then feel better? Write down: Roast a fucking chicken. Start a list of the top ten things that you can turn to that aren’t destructive that will help you when you’re spiralling.

I got this wonderful idea from the incredible Holly Whitaker over at The Tempest. She does this specifically for sobriety, but you can use this concept for life in general when things get tough.

I’ll give you some more examples:

– lavender essential oil
– making butterfly pea fizzy water
– putting on a record
– playing our Spirit Drum
– practicing a hula hoop move
– a 10-minute meditation
– making sourdough
– planting new seedlings or up-sizing a plant pot
– watering our plants
– get a massage
– give a massage
– have a nap
– watch an episode of The Regular Show

And with that my loves, I present to you a way to overhaul your self-care routine. Everyone’s lists, toolkits, needs, hopes and dreams are going to be different. But we all are going to find similarities too. I like to think of the acronym HALT. If you need to break it down fast and easy when you’re really in a rut, ask yourself these four questions.

H am I hungry?
A am I angry?
L am I lonely?
T am I tired?

If you’re any of the above. I’ve given you plenty of ways to work through how to not be those things. And ultimately, it’s up to you to pay attention to what your needs are. Because they aren’t as complex as you may think they are.

Sometimes, all it takes is a good nap, some tasty Thai peanut curry noodles and a bit of screaming into the void.

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