Published on July 31st, 2013 | by Becky Castle Miller
How to Feel Better Through Unique Self Care
You are spectacularly unique.
One piece of the Getting Help puzzle is self care–helping yourself feel better through the choices you make. But because of your uniqueness, the best ways for you to take care of yourself may differ wildly from other people’s ways. So the first step of good self care is giving yourself permission to care for yourself in your own way. I’ll go into detail about this in a moment, but I want to give you the second step before I do.
The second step of good self care is recognizing when you can’t meet your needs alone and need others to help you get healthy.
When you have no energy for self care because you’re miserable, it’s time to ask for outside help. When you are working on self care but are still struggling emotionally, it’s time to ask for outside help. When you want to feel better but can’t, it’s time to ask for outside help.
Sometimes we can’t even start getting healthy on our own. Difficult circumstances, mental illnesses, and other health problems can sap our energy and strength to take care of ourselves. Counseling, medical care, and strong support can be necessary to help us function at a basic level. That’s okay. Some people may try to shame you for not being able to “handle life on your own,” but they are wrong. Ignore them, and get the help you need.
The third step of good self care is choosing one or two areas to work on. Don’t try to overhaul your entire life all at once. Make gradual changes, and you’ll be more likely to stick with them.
So. When you’re ready to embark on your self care journey, where should you start? We have physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs to meet. Each part of our lives requires care.
There are some basic categories or buckets to consider when thinking about helping ourselves feel better, but what you put in each bucket depends on your needs. Here are just a few examples of aspects of self care, with considerations you can take in deciding your own best mix of ingredients.
• Food. Different diets work for different body types. I love personality typing, so I was fascinated to hear about nutritional typing. (I’m a Protein Type.) The great diet that’s giving your friend amazing results may not actually work for you. Figure out what your body needs.
Consider that undiagnosed food allergies or sensitivities may be causing your difficult emotional or mental symptoms. Sugar, artificial food dyes, and gluten would be the first things to cut out experimentally to see if you feel better without them.
• Exercise. Find something you enjoy in a way that works with your personality. My husband is an extravert and loves doing things with people. He knew that in order to get fit, he would need to make a commitment with another person. So he joined a rugby team with a friend. They go to twice-weekly practices and have built their friendship and camaraderie with the other guys on the team. Their desire to do better at rugby (appealing to a competitive nature) later led them to join a gym and add extra cardio and weightlifting workouts.
I, on the other hand, hate team sports. I love solitude and personal challenges, so I started running after my second baby was born. I began eight-weeks post-birth barely able to run a mile. Over the next couple years, I trained for and ran two half-marathons and a full marathon. The hours of running alone were incredibly emotionally healthy for me. (Don’t push yourself too hard, though…I ran that marathon on an injury, and now I can’t run pain-free.)
• Learning. Learning about subjects we’re interested in can make us feel more alive. Understanding your learning style can help you figure out how you can most enjoy learning and fit it into your life. Are you a kinesthetic learner who picks up new skills best by doing them? Are you an auditory learner who likes audio books? I feel like I don’t absorb information well by hearing it. I am a visual learner who needs to see something to understand it.
• Spiritual pursuits. I like both the structure and the beauty of a liturgical prayer book. People who are more thinking-oriented may prefer in-depth study of religion and theology. Those who are more spontaneous might prefer unscripted prayer. I have many musical friends who make music a part of their worship. Don’t worry about following someone else’s specific instructions for spiritual practices. Nourish your spirit in a way that is authentic to you.
• Sleep. Your body has different sleep needs than someone else’s. My husband does well with six or seven hours of sleep a night. I function best with eight to nine hours. Give yourself the sleep you actually need. Also realize that ongoing sleep problems–either sleeping too much or too little–can be a strong symptom of depression, anxiety, or grief.
• Rest. This is different from sleep. Here I mean recreation that re-energizes you. Knowing your personality type can help. Doing activities that align with your type and preferences is relaxing, whereas working against type wears you out.
My favorite personality typing system is Myers-Briggs, which posits four pairs of traits, giving you one of sixteen four-letter combinations. (Take a free MBTI personality test online.)
This system provides a vocabulary that teaches us that I’s (introverts) recharge by being alone while E’s (extraverts) recharge by being around people.
In the second pair, S (sensing) or N (intuitive), do you focus more on the external environment around you and the present, or on your internal world and the future? For an S, organizing closets may be restful (focus on environment), while for an N, sorting through bookmarks on your computer and exploring rabbit trails of related links and seeing connections (focused on ideas) may calm your mind.
The third pair is F (feeling) and T (thinking). If you’re an F and you’ve had to focus on thinking-oriented activities, you may need to engage your feelings, your relational strengths, in order to rest. And vice versa if you’re a T.
The fourth pair P (perceiving) and J (judicial) have to do with your preference for nailing down plans. If you’re a P and you’ve had to do a lot of scheduled activities, you may want to take some free time with no agenda and enjoy the day as it comes. A J will probably want to schedule and structure down time for it to feel truly restful.
As an INFJ, I rest best when I can plan (J) for alone time (I) to focus on developing emotionally (F) interesting ideas (N). Creating Wyn Magazine has been a source of rest and joy for me.
All of these examples can weave through each other. Many people find their quiet form of exercise contemplative, and it melds into their spiritual practice. Hobbies like recreational cooking include a learning component. Just as our experience of and connection to the life we live cannot be broken into clean categories, so our responses and rebuilding efforts can be useful in more than one area.
What do you think would be the ideal prescription for self care for yourself? Or do you find yourself needing to go back a step, recognizing your need for help in getting healthy? Please share your perspective on the related blog post, “My Self-Care Prescription.”