Do you need the toilet? Part II – more lessons in self-care

When I
wrote last week’s blog post on self-care, I hadn’t planned for it to be a two
part piece.

however, pride comes before a fall and in the days since I learnt another
important lesson about looking after oneself.
I want to share that with you too.

Let’s go
back to last Friday.  I got up and drove
for two hours to teach some visiting undergraduates that I’m working with this
summer.  On route I was feeling pretty
pleased about the blog post I’d written on self-care the day before and my new
insights on the topic.  I lectured the
students then inexplicably decided that I could run straight into their
individual tutorials without even taking a comfort break, let alone anything
more substantial.  Self-Care Mistake #1.

tutorials proceeded well enough.  We looked
over their assignments and I gave feedback and suggestions.  I had a very interesting discussion with one
of them about the differing healthcare systems here in Britain compared to the
U.S., with us both coming away more informed.
Yet rather than feeling invigorated by the interactions, I felt
completely drained.  Despite eulogising
about self-care only the previous day, I ignored what I knew.  I’d pushed on, giving and giving without
taking time to nourish myself even in the most basic ways (Do you need the
toilet?  Yes I do, but I’m going to wait over
an hour before going for no reason whatsoever).

perhaps unsurprising that Self-Care Mistake #2 followed quickly after.  By the time the session was finished, I was
past the point of being able to make the kinds of healthy decisions that follow
much more easily when you’re in a good place already.  Even though I could hear the internal voices
screaming ‘No! Don’t do it!  Get your
lunch first!’, I chose to drive straight home rather than getting something to
eat, thereby compounding Mistake #1.

It was
downward spiral for the rest of the afternoon.
I picked up a second Diet Coke even though I knew I’d feel better if I
drank water instead (Mistake #3).  I
convinced myself that I could survive on half a tub of Rocky Road in lieu of
actual proper food for lunch (Mistake #4).
In short, I did exactly the opposite of everything I’d talked about in
Thursday’s blog.  I even thought that
somehow I could offset this damage by having a bath when the working day was
done rather than making a decent meal (Mistake #5).  

None of
this would have been an issue had it not affected my state of mind and my body,
but these poor choices quickly took their toll.
By mid-afternoon I was physically sluggish, growing ever more mentally
befuddled and increasingly forlorn too (no doubt berating myself for failing to
act upon advice that I’d publicly shared didn’t help on that front).

Then, just
as easily as I slipped into the first mistake, I made a simple choice that
changed my direction.  Rather than
finishing the tub of Rocky Road as a substitute for dinner, I cooked a stir
fry.  As I sat at the table after eating
it, I could feel the internal shift.  My
body felt energised.  My mind
cleared.  My mood picked up.  Overall I felt cared for.

When faced
with cake or cooking, I knew that one decision would make a big
difference.  Stirring the food in the
pan, I realised that it’s the same with all our self-care choices.  Every single one, however small and seemingly
insignificant, has a big impact.  Every
single one has the potential to send us into a downward spiral – or can help to
keep us moving in the right direction.

At the same
time, we have to keep on making those self-care choices.  These are not a one-time only decisions.  We may take water with us on the school run
today but what about tomorrow?  We have
to do it again.  We may adjust our desk chair
so it’s the right height but give it a month or two and it’ll sink.  We have to do it again.  We may go to bed earlier tonight but what
about tomorrow night?

that I can’t just do self-care choices once but have to repeatedly make those
decisions feels like a useful insight (albeit probably a self-evidently obvious
one for some people).  It’s added a further
level of awareness and given those small everyday moments a wider context.  Picking up a bar of chocolate rather than a
banana doesn’t seem to necessarily make a difference in itself, but what about
the bigger picture?  

What about
your bigger picture?  Are you aware of
particular choices that are consistently detrimental to your self-care (the
extra glass of wine, anyone?!)?  Do you
have a specific pinch point where you can feel things begin to unravel?  For example, do you end up getting fast food
with a colleague because you want to spend lunch with them – even though you’ve
already bought in something to eat from home?
Does your partner suggest a film at night and your desire to spend time
with them overrides your commitment to getting to bed earlier?  Does reacting to the needs of small children
prevent you from sitting down to eat a decent meal in the middle of the day?

questions echo those from last week but I’d encourage you to think broadly
about them rather than just focusing on what is happening right now today.  How can you help yourself to make a good
self-care choice time and time again?

You may
come up with a novel idea or a new system to help (for the stay-at-home mum
with small children, perhaps you could make a lunch the night before to stick
in the fridge?).  Or it may just be that
awareness of needing to make a decision again, then again, then again, is enough.  You see it in your day today, then laugh when
you’re confronted with it at the same time tomorrow.  Maybe we can even learn to greet these
choices as old friends rather than enemies.

Let me know
how you get on.  What choice do you
consistently struggle with?  What
solutions can you come up with?  Get in
touch by commenting below or via social media: there’s Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest or the A Life Of One’s Own Facebook page.
And of course you can also email me (
If you feel stumped and frustrated with a particular aspect of
self-care, it may be that coaching could help you; again get in touch to find
out more.

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