Today I'm starting what I want to be a recurring segment on A Terracotta Life. Every month I want to write on the importance of Nurturing Nature. I think it is our most important responsibility as humans to care for the world around us. That includes the earth: water, soil, plants, and air. It includes animals of all kinds (even annoying insects!). And it definitely includes the people around us, especially ourselves. It is so easy to not think about all of these things or how they affect each other. We need each and every part of these ecosystems for nature and the world to function. We can't poison one part, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, and think that that won't have a chain-reaction.
Over the years I have learned that I need to begin by taking care of myself before I'm any good to anyone or anything else. A big struggle for me, especially as an adult post-college, is learning how to relax. I often feel guilty when I try to relax because I'm not doing anything "productive." Vegging out in front of the TV feels like a waste of time, even if it's what I actually want to do. There are so many other things I "should" be doing. This year, one of my (ten) New Years resolutions is to give up the "shoulds" in my life. I don't want my life and my free-time to be driven by all the things I feel like I should be doing. Instead, I want to focus on learning my needs vs. my desires. Instead of saying, I should clean the house before I paint, I want to think of it as what needs to happen. There are definitely things in life that are needs: we need to get groceries and make meals, we need to clean our clothes and our home. In my case, I need to haul water and clean the compost toilet. But do they always need to happen when I worry they should? Maybe I can take a day to do something else, something fun or creative, or nothing at all!
Only by focusing on my own needs, including self-care, can I then turn my focus to the needs of all parts of creation and nature.
One thing that sounds easy to do but can feel almost impossible to achieve is changing my thoughts. It's difficult to be aware of myself enough in the moment to know that my emotions and thoughts are my choice. I can choose to be angry in a situation or I can choose to let it roll-off me (which is soooooooooooooooo hard!). That incessant internal dialogue can be changed. For most people, and especially women, that internal voice is nasty. It is cruel! It rips me apart, compares me to every other person, and tells me all the reasons why I suck. It tells me how fat or ugly or pimply I am, why I'm not good enough at my job or as a person or in life in general; it complains to me about my clothes or my home and reminds me of all the shallow reasons why I shouldn't eat something--which then drives me to eat more of it!
This voice, my voice, is constantly distracting and detracting from enjoying life! Why allow this voice to dictate my actions and emotions? It keeps me from being in the present moment, from relaxing without guilt, from pursuing what I want to do or love to do. It keeps me bogged down and I miss out on the beauty and joy of the world around me.
This voice is something I have always struggled with. Over the past few years I have worked hard to change my thought patterns. Sometimes that voice creeps back in and starts shouting at me. But now I am more aware of it and can reply with how did you get back in here? This voice doesn't have any purpose for me that isn't negative and I try to do a better job of choosing not to listen to it and not dwell on it.
Theodore Roosevelt said, "Comparison is the thief of joy." This is a quote I try to remember whenever that voice slithers it's way to my ear. When that voice is talking, it is grounded in comparison. It is only saying that nasty thing to me because I am comparing myself to other people at my job, on Facebook, in my family and among my friends, or even celebrities! And the crux of the problem is that I compare, knowing all the dirty details of my own situation and none of theirs. That isn't fair. It isn't self-care or self-love.
When I find myself comparing, I try to be aware of three things:
1. Comparison is the thief of joy (an easy quote to say to myself and be reminded). Why allow myself to compare and be unhappy? I have no reason to give up my joy in that moment. Stop comparing and be present, be grateful, and be happy.
2. Remind myself that no matter what, someone is always going to be better than me and I will always be better than someone else in whatever it is I am comparing myself. If that nasty voice keeps telling me I'm fat and makes me visualize all the real or imagined women I can who have better bodies than me, I try to remind myself that someone else might be thinking that same thing about me. It's all relative! I might be thinner than someone and bigger than another person. Who cares?! We are all different and it shouldn't matter so much. It doesn't need to be a constant thought trickling through my mind!
3. Repeat an affirmation to myself. I came up with one affirmation that I especially like to say and it works well to almost chant it while doing something (for me, it's usually while I swim).
I love myself, I love my body; I am healthy, I am happy.
Feel free to borrow it if you need one. :)
So, start caring for yourself. Give yourself 20 minutes (or a day!) to rest without guilt, to have some fun, and to definitely love yourself. Only once you are able to love and appreciate yourself can you then love and appreciate the world around you. Check out this self-care 101 or this how to take care of yourself on an 'off-day' to get you started.
What do you do to de-stress and relax? What are your favorite ways of caring for yourself?