Ever heard the expression ‘You can’t pour from an empty cup’? We all experienced it at some point and it proved to be oh so true.
Yet Western culture (that’s all of us, especially mothers with a penchant for control. Ahum) also attaches a sense of righteousness and validation to people who are ‘powering through’ stressful times and remaining ‘productive’ even in the most challenging conditions for their body and mind.
Now, stress is not all bad. As a one-off event, like you being on high alert when you surprise burglars in your kitchen at night, stress is super efficient at guaranteeing our survival. But the issue is: our bodies do not differentiate between real and imagined threats. And this is where it matters to body image and disordered eating recovery. The simple fact of carrying the idea that your body is unlovable at a certain weight and NEEDS to change to be worthy of acceptance turns stress into a chronic ailment. And when stress is constantly felt in the body, it affects our whole metabolism negatively. On a digestive level only, it decreases nutrient absorption, oxygen supply, thyroid hormone and gut flora population. Chronic stress increases blood cholesterol, cortisol and insulin resistance. It encourages the body to store fat, not build muscle and deregulate our natural appetite, thereby turning our body hating thoughts into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
That’s why self-care is so crucial. If you have never heard of self-care, you might associate it with taking a bubble bath. Going the extra mile might mean a mask on your face or cucumbers on your eyes and (let’s go crazy) even candles around the bathtub. Although taking a relaxing bath can be self-care to some, it is in fact a much broader concept: “the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s own health”. By reducing stress and prioritizing how we FEEL in our bodies instead of how our bodies LOOK, self-care is a powerful ally in the journey to foster a positive body image in a body hating world. But there are a few points to keep in mind around self-care:
Self-care is highly individual
What works for your sister/colleague/best friend might be more of a burden to you. The key is in listening to oneself and finding the practices that truly act as an emotional first aid, replenish your batteries and induce a relaxation response in our body. When deciding what self-care means for you, a period of trial and error might be necessary.
Self-care doesn’t always involve ‘doing’ something
In fact, a lot of the time, it doesn’t because it focuses a lot more on emotional wellbeing and on fostering the right mindset. It could mean resting or giving yourself permission to lazy on the couch. It could involve reconnecting to a higher power and spirituality, it can be living in the ‘now’ more. It could mean saying ‘no’ more often or slowing down to feel more relaxed throughout the day. It can mean offering yourself more self-compassion and kindness as part of your inner dialogue or it could mean sitting still and taking deep breaths.
Self-care is not selfish
Removing the guilt and shame around taking time for yourself is key to move your body in a relaxation response. By improving digestion, lowering cortisol and insulin, boosting your metabolism and regaining your natural assimilation and appetite regulation, you can feel better and therefore be more patient and available to others.
Self-care cannot become another ‘to do’ on your list
The surefire way to avoid getting replenished from your own self-care routine is to try to ‘do it all perfectly’. Be kind to yourself always, take baby steps, self-care is not a competition, it is a practice that builds up over months or years.
In a future post, I will detail my own emergency self-care and practices I tried that did (or didn’t) work for me. In the meantime, if you are looking to explore what works for YOU, you could find inspiration here, here or here. Do share your favourite self-care practices here or on Instagram/Facebook!