Imagine you have a bad day and things are not going the way you hoped them to. Your friends, family, and the (eerily accurate) social media algorithm are all pointing you in the direction of this elusive practice of “self-care”. So, you decide to jump into a bubble bath, have a glass of wine, binge watch Netflix, and take a few deep breathes. Things seem okay for a moment, but the following day it feels like you are right back where you started and left questioning why this “self-care thing” isn’t working. After all, isn’t it supposed to get rid of these negative emotions? Not quite.
If you have tried different self-care activities with the intention of escaping or avoiding your feelings, you may have experienced this phenomenon. Although distraction has its place in short-term coping, once you finish the distraction activity, the emotions are still there. Further, the longer the emotions are left unheard, the louder they tend to become.
Self-care is not about getting rid of your emotions. As neuroscientist Antonio Damasio said, “…we are about as effective at stopping an emotion as we are at preventing a sneeze.” In other words, trying to fight the wave of emotion is futile, so why not grab a surf board? Either way they are going to happen.
Self-care is about creating a life that is aligned with us, and enhancing our ability to cope with the things we cannot change.
Self-care is complex and has many facets; however in this post I am going to focus on emotional acceptance and exploration.
Creating a life you enjoy isn’t about always being happy. Happiness is a state that naturally comes and goes. If someone we love is sick, taking them to a doctor’s appointment is not about being happy. We often do things that won’t make us happy, because the goal of doing something that matters to us is more important.
Where does emotional exploration and acceptance play into this? Our emotions function as though they are built-in compasses pointing us in the direction of what matters; our values. If we don’t stop to listen to them, and work on accepting them, we can become disconnected from ourselves, making it difficult to build a life we love.
If you are feeling up for a challenge, you can start with these prompts:
- Who in your life are you grateful for in this moment?
- If you feel comfortable, recall an experience of gratitude that you had with this person. You can write about it, speak about it, or imagine it. Who was present? What was the weather like? What scents were there? What could you hear?
- If you feel comfortable, tune into your body. You might want to imagine a scanner starting at the top of your head moving all the way down to your toes. As you scan over your body, recalling this person and experience, notice if there are any sensations present. How might your body be communicating gratitude with you? Really see if you can notice even the smallest sensations.