Do you need the toilet? My basic approach to self-care

The Gellert Spa, June 2014 (left), and the Szechenyi Baths, June 2015 (right)

I was lucky
enough to go to Budapest on a work trip last weekend.  This is pretty much an annual event and as
well as meeting with colleagues, I get a fair amount of freedom to explore the
city as I choose.  The combination of
regularity and time to myself means the trip often gives rise to reflection
about life in the present compared to how things were when I last visited.   On this occasion, many of my thoughts
focused around the topic of self-care.

You may be
expecting me to now write that my approach to self-care has become more
sophisticated, more developed, more in line with the kinds of advice that we
read in the well-being sections of Sunday supplements: ‘I begin the day with
thirty minutes of meditation followed by a green smoothie made from ingredients
I grow myself.  All organic, of course,
and harvested in sync with the lunar cycle’.

Only it
isn’t like that.  As I looked back to my previous trip in June 2014 and all the ones before, beginning in May 2007 (around six months before my ‘A Life Of One’s Own’
journey had even begun), I realised that the reverse is true.  My attitude to self-care has become less
sophisticated over the years, particularly so in the last twelve to eighteen
months.

I used to
take the major intervention approach.  I
focused on tactics that were costly, time-consuming and often beyond my
means.  Spa days and massages were high
up on those lists.  Budapest was a
god-send in this respect as spa days and massages are cheap and easily available
in the City of Baths.  I would engineer
my trip to maximise access to both, firm in my belief that if only I could have
more of this stuff then I would feel better all the time.  

Sure, a day
relaxing in the sunshine and getting an awesome pummelling did make me feel
better – and it still does.  But setting
aside money and a chunk of time does not amount to adequate self-care.  One day taking it easy didn’t offset a
chronic lack of sleep.  Getting the knot
in my shoulder blades manipulated didn’t compensate for my sedentary
lifestyle.  And the
cold-beer-and-ice-cream-whilst-lying-on-a-sun-lounger diet barely registered as
a treat when I failed to nourish my body adequately the rest of the time
anyway.

I showed up
for the spa days, and all the other self-care tactics I tried, believing that
they offered a magic solution.  They were
the rescue remedies to undo and reverse the lack of self-care that
characterised the rest of my life.
Clearly they didn’t.

I’m sure
I’m not alone in taking this approach.
We’re all drawn to magic solutions that seem easier than taking
responsibility for making changes ourselves.
Hell, I think I’d still choose colonic irrigation over a decent diet if
I thought the results were the same!

I can’t
pinpoint why or when exactly that my attitude began to change.  What I do know is that this trip highlighted
how much has changed.  Rather than taking
a sophisticated approach (or trying to), my idea of self-care has gone in the
other direction.  It is becoming ever
more basic.  Yes massages and spa days
still have their place (as the picture shows, I still went to a baths) but they
are about indulgence and pleasure, two different goals entirely.  

Self-care
is more low-level.  Care is about making
sure I have a decent lunch before travelling rather than kidding myself that I
can survive on a bag of nuts and pint of beer from the airport bar.  Care is about planning ahead for how much
water I really will need to drink en route to stay comfortable – and then
actually buying enough fluids.  Care is
about arriving at the hotel and having a shower (rather than a mini-bar beer –
is there a theme here?!) because I want to feel cool, clean and refreshed.  Looking after myself.  Anticipating what I will need and trying to
meet that, as we would if we were caring for a small child.  

This kind
of self-care generally clusters around a small number of areas: hunger, thirst,
sleep, movement, the bathroom, temperature, noise levels.  It isn’t glamorous.  It isn’t exciting.  Sometimes it means saying no: thanks but I
don’t want any alcohol until I’ve eaten; I’ve had a great evening but I’m tired
and going to bed now.  Oftentimes it
means listening to our bodies: I’ve discovered that the little tingling sensation
I get when sitting in the sun means put more suncream on.  Who knew?!

What can
you do to take better care of yourself?
Right now, right in this moment whilst you are reading this, is there
something that will help – grabbing a glass of water, nipping to the toilet,
putting on a jumper?  

Thinking
about your day more generally, what simple thing could you do to look after
yourself more?  Bin off the to-do list and
head to bed an hour earlier?  Take a
bottle of water with you on the school run?
Adjust the height of your chair at work so it is finally in the right
position?  

More
broadly still, is there one simple task that you can do to improve your
self-care?  Do you need to buy a reusable
water bottle?  An extra pillow?  More fruit?
See if you can remove the hurdle in your way.  

This stuff
isn’t rocket science but because it is so basic, so straightforward, it is easy
to ignore.  We forget what a huge
difference it makes until we reap its benefits again.  I certainly noticed it, coming back from a
work trip without the feeling that I needed another break to recover from
it.  How have you got on?  Let me know – get in touch by commenting
below or through social media.  There’s
Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and the A Life Of One’s Own Facebook page.  Share your self-care stories and experiments,
or ask a question.  I’d love to hear from
you!

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