How do you take care of yourself when you're feeling sad or "off"?
Most of us have ways that we get through our toughest times- this could look different for everyone.
One surprising- and suprisingly common- thing that we as humans do is label something as "self care" that in reality is the opposite of self caring.
In Buddhism, this is called "searching for nirvana in samsara". Nirvana being paradise, or freedom, and samsara being the painful repetitive cycle that we now find ourselves in, or the cycle of birth and death.
An example may look like this: we're tired and have had a long week of work. Instead of working out as we normally do, we decide to head straight home. Instead of eating a healthy dinner, we choose to eat an entire pizza followed by enough ice cream to make our stomach hurt...
While we may say that we are choosing these things in the name of "self care"- we want to relax! We want to eat comfort food, We want to give ourselves a break... it's easy to see that these choices, ultimately, are not in our best interest.
Instead of feeling guilty or upset about it (and spiraling into a deeper cycle of choosing increasingly self destructive behaviors), we can take a moment to consider an easy acronym for what self care can look like.
This model was developed by Dr. John Arden, who worked for many years as the chief psychologist for Norther California region of Kaiser Permanente, then the Lead Trainer for Mental Health. On his website, he writes:
"Recent research in neuroscience and psychology that shows the mind is not one thing, but is composed of ongoing interactions between mental operating networks. For example, chronic inflammation and autoimmune disorders are strongly associated with depression and anxiety. Dysregulations of immune system, diet, and even gut bacteria profoundly affect mental health." ~https://www.thescienceofpsychotherapy.com/john-arden/
Dr. Arden developed the SEEDS model to address the fact that folks need to consider several factors in pursuit of mental, physical, and emotional health.
Here's what each letter in the SEEDS model stands for, and what they mean.
S: Social – Form and maintain social contacts. Make time to connect with friends, join groups- online on in person- or make a date to hang out with family.
E: Exercise – Find a way to move your body regularly. This could mean making time for a walk, run, bike ride, or dance class. Aim for 30 minutes a day.
E: Education – Learn new things. Take classes and read books. Learning new things builds new connections in the brain and gives us more cognitive reserves to work with.
D: Diet – Eat in a way that feels nourishing and supportive to your body and your brain. Avoid fatty foods and carbs. Eating a lot of simple carbohydrates (especially sugar) makes your brain more rigid and difficult to rewire.
S: Sleep – Get 6 or more (ideally 7-9) hours of good sleep every night, and practice good sleep habits*. Choose a ritual at night that will signal to your body and mind that it's time to sleep- have a cup of tea, download a sleep app like Calm, or do some stretching or yoga. And (I know this is a hard one) consider putting away your phone or tablet for an hour before you sleep.
*If you're feeling anxious before bed, or feel your mind revving up as your body winds down, harness the power of your mind and imagination to your benefit. Consciously make space to visualize or imagine positive, uplifting images, places, and situations. You can have a nightly ritual of retuning to your favorite spot in nature using imagery and imagination. This is most helpful and effective if you bring in all 5 senses- tuning in to what you see, hear, feel, smell and taste in this environment.
In looking over the list, you probably have an area that you are doing best in, and one that needs more attention. If you have no idea where to begin with a self care practice, this can be a good place to start.
Choose one of the 5 areas that feel the easiest, the most accessible, or that you're most excited about and focus on that for the next week. Incorporate creativity- write or draw with a friend over zoom, join a dance class, learn about your favorite artist, cook while listening to your favorite album, or journal before bed.
You're doing self care! It doesn't have to be complicated, expensive, or time consuming.
What's most important is having a map and moving forward with intention.
As you move forward with a clearer idea of what self care is (and isn't) I invite you to continue to treat yourself with kindness.
“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe deserve your love and affection.”
And remember, there's no right (or wrong way) to "do" self care. What matters most is your intention, attention, and consistency in showing up for yourself.