Hey, friends! My last post was about doing the work of taking care of ourselves rather than expecting others to do it and I wanted to keep building on self-care. It’s such an ambiguous word that I want to make sure you have a grounded understanding of it because it’s truthfully at the core of what therapy is: it’s learning to take care of yourself.

A new pet

I want you to imagine for a moment that you’re getting a new pet. You have your heart set on something exotic. I don’t know if ya’ll know this but I have two sugar gliders. They’re marsupials (the females have a pouch that they carry joeys -babies- in) and they’re super cute. I’ll share a picture since you asked so nicely?

Anyways, I digress. You’re getting this new exotic pet. You’re going to research it, right? You want to find out what it’s needs are! Before you jump in with both feet, you’re going to figure out what it needs for its habitat to thrive (not just survive- let’s be real here. You’re probably already planning, making, or buying enrichment toys, right?) and what kind of diet it needs to have healthy cells and a long lifespan. Therapy is about getting to know your own needs.

What do you need for yourself?

I want you to lean in and ask yourself what’s needed. Give your body some time and space to respond. An intuitive eating RD (registered dietitian) that I really like (Tracy Brown, RD, check her out if food/eating/eating disorders are something that make your needs more complicated to figure out) that I really like suggested setting a timer for 5 minutes and just listening.

When I practice this, I put one hand over my heart and ask, out loud, in the most caring voice I can muster “How can I take care of you today?”. Sometimes the first time I ask, I sound so annoyed and frustrated that I have this huge inconvenience of having a body to take care of that I wince. That’s a sign to clue in. I thank myself for the bravery to continue and keep pushing forward by trying again. Sometimes, I apologize aloud to my body: “I’m so sorry. You don’t deserve that. What can I do to help you?”

I had a realization awhile ago that I tend not to listen to my own needs. It often feels like “too much work” and it’s easier to prioritize other things.

We don’t prioritize ourselves

Think about all the ways we don’t prioritize ourselves. When we check social media first thing upon waking, what is that serving? Who are we taking care of? When we zone out with mindless eating in front of television we’re not really paying attention to or playing the 867th level of candy crush again hoping for a better score, what are we satisfying? Often, we’re leaving ourselves, the selves that need some care and nurturing, in the dust, all alone, because they’re too much work.

Would you let a baby just cry?

You deserve to have your needs met just as a crying baby does. We pay so much more attention to the cry of a baby than we do to our own bodies. Babies are adorable and innocent and full of potential, but you are worthy of just as much love and treating yourself lovingly will yield fantastic results (being more present, being able to show up fully for whatever you do, and being able to actualize your best self, for example).

Exercises

So this week we have two exercises to help guide you. The first is to make a list of all the ways your body is begging you to slow down and crying out for your attention.

  • Do you zone out?
  • Do you become demanding?
  • Do you attempt to control people or things outside your control?
  • Do you reach for emotionally unavailable people?

The second piece of homework is to list ways you can show up and respond to those cues.

  • Can you practice pushing into a wall or into a chair if you’re sitting?
  • Can you take three deep breaths?
  • Can you pause to take an inventory of how you’ve done feeding and watering yourself today?

Learning Curve

Expect a steep learning curve here: there will be moments where you can’t seem to put a finger on what you need even though you know you need some self-care. That’s OK! You’ll learn your own patterns but it takes time and there are very few shortcuts. This is trial and error and that’s alright. Awareness is your first step and the rest will come. Be gentle (remember the “voice” I used earlier in this post to coax out the needy little voice from inside) and be patient. This is really hard work.

When you can lean in to your vulnerable, needy self and figure out what you actually need in those moments, you’ll be well on your way to being a champion of self-care.  I am sending you lots of love to help you on this mission. Until we meet again, be well!

Connect with Perspectives Therapy Services if self-care is something you are ready to work on.

Kayla Valley is a Licensed Master of Social Work (LMSW) who works at the Highland location of Perspectives Therapy Services. She became a therapist to help people struggle with the depression and anxiety that she understands intimately. She loves being a Michigander and is an avid sewist who loves spending time with her cats and sugar gliders.

Perspectives Therapy Services is a multi-site mental and relationship health practice with clinic locations in Brighton, Lansing, Highland and Fenton, Michigan. Our clinical teams include experienced, compassionate and creative therapists with backgrounds in psychology, marriage and family therapy, professional counseling, and social work. Additionally, we offer psychiatric care in the form of evaluations and medication management. Our practice prides itself on providing extraordinary care. We offer a customized matching process to prospective clients whereby an intake specialist carefully assesses which of our providers would be the very best fit for the incoming client. We treat a wide range of concerns that impact a person's mental health including depression, anxiety, relationship problems, grief, low self-worth, life transitions, and childhood and adolescent difficulties.