Radical Self-Care: The Practice of Being Good to Yourself Even When You Don’t Feel Like It

 

Have you ever gotten really frustrated with yourself for making a mistake or struggling mightily with with something? Have you ever had difficulty accepting some part of yourself or your life that you don’t really like? Have you ever felt so beaten down and overwhelmed by your life that it seemed like you could barely see straight, much less take care of yourself? If you answered yes to any of these questions (and I bet you did just by virtue of being alive!), then I have a prescription for you. Don’t worry—I’m not the kind of doctor who prescribes medication. I’m the kind of doctor who prescribes healthy behavioral interventions. My prescription for you: radical self-care. Radical self-care is the practice of taking good care of ourselves even when we don’t necessarily feel like it. This radical self-care prescription can be a tough pill to swallow when we are feeling bad about ourselves or completely swamped and overwhelmed by life. When we are going through a rough patch, however, it becomes even more important to treat ourselves with care and kindness. Why? Because if we don’t, we may be inadvertently prolonging the rough patch. Being unkind to ourselves can take a negative toll on our long-term emotional and physical health.

 

Here’s an easy example most people can relate to. As I’m writing this, I’m actually home sick with some kind of a bug. I feel achy, hot, and exhausted. It probably goes without saying that I don’t like being sick. Not only do I dislike feeling bad but I also hate cancelling work. In situations like this, it can be very tempting to push ourselves when we’re not feeling well, skipping self-care in order to pursue our relentless obsession with productivity and accomplishment. Or maybe we push ourselves because we hate to let others down or be perceived as weak. Often times, we might try to motivate our unwell selves with harsh self-talk. What’s your favorite nasty way to talk to yourself when you’re sick? “Don’t be a whiny baby!”, “Just suck it up!”, or my personal favorite, “It’s all in your head—get over it!” Sometimes we can get away with pushing ourselves through illness but what happens when we push too hard when we’re really sick? Yep, it can totally backfire and we run the risk of making ourselves sicker. Sound familiar? The same thing can happen when we are emotionally unwell. These days, when I’m sick, I take my own prescription and practice radical self-care.

What’s involved in radical self-care? First and foremost, we need to practice self-compassion. In a nutshell, self-compassion is the ability to treat ourselves with respect and kindness, which includes comforting, reassuring, and encouraging ourselves when we are struggling.* Radical self-care means being kind and gentle with ourselves even when our harsh self-talk may be telling us to do the exact opposite.** It turns out that negative self-talk can be hazardous to our health. There’s a nice body of research showing that being compassionate towards ourselves contributes to better health, both physical and emotional.

Another important component of radical self-care is the willingness to tune into ourselves and our inner wisdom to determine what we need to take care of ourselves through a difficult time. When we learn turn down the volume on all of the noise around us and especially on our own negative self-talk, we might be able to discern what our body, mind, and heart really need. Maybe we need a cup of hot tea or a long bath. Maybe we need to go for a long walk or to our favorite yoga class. Maybe we need to take a sick day or make changes that allow us to get more sleep every night. Maybe we need to mend a relationship rupture or find a way out of a toxic situation. Perhaps we even need to seek out guidance and support from trusted others. Radical self-care means creating space to listen to the quiet flow of wisdom inside of us even when there is a fierce storm raging at the surface.

Your prescription: engage in healthy self-care even when you don’t want to take the time to do it! Now, please pardon me but my inner wisdom is saying it’s time for me to sign off and go engage in my own radical self-care.

Until next time, be radical and take good care of yourself!

Dr. Jen

*For a more in-depth discussion on self-compassion, please check out my earlier blog post devoted to that topic right here.

**Need some additional help with negative self-talk? I’ve got a blog on that, too! Check it out here.