Since COVID-19 entered our lives, we’ve had websites, online forums, and psychologists flooding us with self-care tips. “Write a gratitude diary,” “Try relaxation techniques,” “Schedule activities that you enjoy”—we now hear these all the time! These tips sound simple, and yet they can be incredibly difficult to carry out.
Self-care refers to any activity that we may engage in to take care of ourselves physically, mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually. When faced with challenges and stressors, self-care is even more important as we will need to keep well to fight on. When our friends go through tough times, it is natural for many of us to say, ‘take care’. However, when we experience challenging times ourselves, we often forget to take care of ourselves as we focus on the challenges and not on our energy to resolve the challenges and avoid the negative feelings of stress or anxiety that usually arise due to the challenges.
If you also tend to neglect your own self-care when faced with stress and challenges, you are not alone! Here are five reasons why we may find self-care difficult.
Reason 1: Not understanding how to do something, or why we should do it.
Know your strategies. Self-care strategies become more difficult to carry out when we do not understand how and why we do them. Take, for example, relaxation breathing techniques. We might be slightly confused about the techniques, and this inevitably makes them more tedious to try.
Seek clarification from your psychologist, counsellor, or therapist, if you are unsure. Try to understand the rationale for practising these techniques. If we don’t understand the rationale, we will lack the motivation to act. Worse still, we might have unreasonable expectations about the desired outcome, and lose confidence when things do not turn out the way we expect them to.
Reason 2: Not managing expectations.
Know your perfectionism. Self-care strategies take effort to inculcate, just like any new habit. Expect that the first few days beginning a new habit will be difficult. Start small, and slowly build up. Rather than writing down 10 things you are grateful for, start with one thing. Rather than practising relaxation breathing techniques for 30 minutes, start with five minutes. Do not give up—treat trying as a mini-success and build on your successes each day and celebrate small victories.
Reason 3: Negative beliefs.
Know your mind. “Does this even work? This is too difficult! If it were so simple, I would not be having this problem!” These are some negative beliefs that we might have about self-care. It’s worth taking a step back and asking, where do these beliefs come from? When we are struggling with our own mental health, we might develop increasingly negative perceptions about everything—including self-care.
The solution? Just do it! Not trying guarantees failure. At the same time, not all self-care tips work for everyone, but keep trying to find the one that works for you.
Reason 4: Shame.
Know your emotions. Shame is a powerful human emotion that is often left unspoken. Having to carry out self-care strategies may make us feel lousy about ourselves. (“I am the only one who needs this coping strategy, and this must be because I am weak.”) Shame makes us feel that we don’t deserve self-compassion. Invariably, this makes us even less motivated to work on self-care.
To reduce feelings of shame, ask yourself what a friend would say to you in your circumstance. Often, others are kinder to us, than we are to ourselves.
Reason 5: It’s too overwhelming.
Know your body. For some of us, things might just be too overwhelming at the moment. This is nothing out of the ordinary at a stressful time like this. Maybe you have lost your job, your financial situation is dire, and family relationships are strained. Listen to your body, and be aware of signs and symptoms that things might be getting too much for you. Watch out for a loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping, frequent headaches, the inability to concentrate, and a lack of interest in things you once used to enjoy. When you are physically and emotionally overwhelmed, it will be extremely difficult to try any self-care tips, and that is okay. At times, not doing anything is a form of self-care too.
If it is difficult to care adequately for yourself, you can seek the support of your family and friends to give you the needed care and support. Being open about your needs and asking for help provide the opportunities to build a strong relationship with your loved ones. If it still does not help, seek professional assistance to address your challenges. Some of the available resources include:
- Viriya Counselling Helpline
Tel: 6256 1311
- National Care Hotline
Tel: 1800 202 6868
The contributor is a Psychologist at Viriya Community Services.