submitted by Kathleen Bell, RN, MSN, CNM, MS1-BC, AHNBC
In my roles as a certified Advanced Holistic Nurse, Meditation Specialist, and teaching faculty for AHNA’s Integrative Healing Arts Program (IHAP) I read a LOT. And it seems to me, in the new year 2020, that the “buzzword” within integrative health circles has changed from mindfulness to self-care. I cannot count the articles I have read recently that reiterate holistic nursing’s foundational truth that caring for yourself not only increases your own well-being, but improves your abilities to relate to and care for others. So what is self-care? Let’s first examine what it is not:
- Self-care is not one-size-fits-all. Self-care means asking yourself what you need, inviting yourself to listen, then giving yourself an honest answer. Follow-through on that answer is up to you; it means something different for everyone. This reflective inquiry process can be done daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly or at any interval that seems sensible in your situation. Since the time I got a “diary” as a girl, I have been attached to journaling. If writing resonates with you, check out The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron and look at the practice she calls “morning pages.” IHAP suggests exploring what sort of reflective practice fits your needs: some people meditate on a cushion, others at the beach or in the forest or mountains, others on a running trail or bicycle or at a yoga studio. Others sing, dance, draw, read inspirational writings – what feeds your soul and makes your heart sing?
- Self-care is not self-indulgence. It is not just for the privileged, wealthy, or frivolous. For many years I enjoyed “occasional” massage only as a treat when I was on vacation – spending many dollars at a ski resort or some faraway venue. When I discovered holism (admittedly more than ten years into my nursing career) I began to understand that massage was integrally related to healing and health maintenance, and I found talented and affordable practitioners in my own environment. For my birthday one year (one of those with a zero on the end!) my present to myself was a promise to get a regular massage every month as a way to ‘stay well’. (Some of you may have heard my personal health mantra: “It is easier to stay well than to get well”.) I have also been successful at convincing health care practitioners to prescribe massage for a variety of conditions, so the cost is covered by insurance for a time.
- Self-care is not always fun. Self-inquiry can be difficult if you take an honest look at habits that you have created for yourself and examine their long-term effects: eating, sleeping, substance use for stimulation/relaxation, how much/what kind of physical movement your life contains, work/life balance, relationship/behavioral habits, media use, etc., etc. If you’ve been doing something that causes you to think “Maybe I need to stop (do less of) this…” then a commitment to self-care can be an invitation to take your own good advice. Prioritization and discipline are needed to stick with decisions that may not be easy right now (like going to bed earlier and/or waking up earlier in order to have personal time, or saying “NO” as a complete sentence and not feeling guilty about it) but will feel really good later on! I once had my nurse-practitioner write me a prescription (to show to my nurse-manager) that said my medical condition could no longer support night shift work. My circadian rhythm was dangerously disrupted by working both days and nights, and my symptoms resolved when I began to sleep when it was dark again.
Your “Self” is NOT only about you! Your self is truly bigger than just you as an individual. Most of us have been socialized to feel guilty about self-care, because we have been conditioned to believe that putting ourselves first is #1) selfish and wrong as a person, and #2) unprofessional as a nurse. Seen holistically, our view of ourselves expands beyond the individual to include everyone and everything we touch in any way: our families and friends, our workplaces and communities, the whole of the natural world that we share with all beings. Practicing self-care improves our interactions with literally everything around us, which can lead to increased creativity, cooperation and understanding, protection/conservation and even transformation. Can you imagine what would happen if everyone understood caring in this way?
“Self-care is not a virtue…it is a radical act of love.” (Tygielski, S.)
For me, becoming whole again meant dedicating one day a week as a sabbath, a day set apart. I have been doing this for 20 years now (and I have only been retired for 6!) My preference has always been to spend as much of this day outside (and off the grid) as I can. Watching the sun rise on a mountaintop, hiking all day, walking the beach, watching for whales or birds or seashells, skiing, eating outside, meditation at sunset, biking, reading a book, writing in my journal in the sunshine or the forest – these are activities that never cease to renew me.
Cameron, J. (1992). The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Greater Creativity.
Tygielski, S. (1/19/2019) The Five Rules for Self-Care, Mindful Magazine