I am writing this post during a period of illness. I have a lingering virus that has left me on a roller coaster of energy highs and lows. While it is now that I need to practice some of my self care strategies more than ever, I believe that when it comes to wellness, long term health and long term improvements come from making hay while the sun shines.
This strategy is one which I first became aware of through positive psychology as a mental health care strategy. The idea is that you should not only attend to your mental health when you are feeling bad but you should make the best of periods of happiness by preparing for the inevitable times you won’t feel so good. The tendency is to tell ourselves that when we feel good hopefully it will last this time and that feeling good is ‘normal’. Then when the difficult times come again we may lament our misfortune and wonder why it keeps happening to us. The reality is that we will all experience ups and downs all the time and burying our heads in the sand and hoping the bad times won’t come is not a useful strategy. Instead we should view our health, both physical and mental as a piggy bank- one which we can deplete and replenish through deliberate actions. When we deplete our resources we can go into to debt and this can leave us feeling unwell, drained and burnt out. This can’t always be helped and sometimes life will just hand you a bad deal meaning you can’t help but end up run down and depleted. When we replenish our wellness piggy bank we restore ourselves. Rather than leaving it at that, we can keep adding to the resources so that next time the bad times come we have a more savings to draw on before we head into debt. This way we can see our self care as a way of building up resources. This is what I call resilience. Resilience is how much you have in reserve before you hit the bottom.
I am someone who to really understand about balance needs to go to extremes before I settle into a nice middle ground. With my health I have depleted all resources, gone into debt and then spent years building my reserves back up so I can cope with everyday life. In 2014 I experienced severe burn out while working shifts in a mental health hospital. The result was that my heart palpitated uncontrollably, I suffered frequent night terrors, chronic fatigue and digestive issues and I was so tired I struggled to feel any emotions other than indifference. For the next three years I have had to work from the bottom to build myself back up with frequent but increasingly spaced out dips along the way. The hardest of these years was 2016. During this year I had difficulties at work, in a shared house I was living in, in a bad relationship and with my family. This was on top of the ongoing fatigue and sleep issues and also chronic pain caused by a whiplash injury. Nothing was not affected by some sort of drama and it was draining me. During this time I never felt that my piggy bank got to a point where I had any savings. Any additional difficulty, even simply a rude email at work, pushed me back over the edge. I had to look after myself just so that I could have enough to cope with the next day ahead of me. I prioritised yoga and massage because they were the only things that alleviated some of the chronic pain. I went to bed early at weekends and forfeited going out with friends for a drink. I ensured that I always ate well and had food in the freezer for times when I didn’t have the time or energy to cook. Most of all I turned to certain friends who could provide me with the unconditional emotional support that I needed. Step-by-step I tackled the problems that came my way and started to make inroads into the huge wellness debt that was building up.
Fast forward to now. I am managing to keep fit and healthy and generally feel good most of the time. Life feels easier and I don’t feel so overwhelmed by everyday situations. What I know is that those self care strategies were what help me keep my head above water when I could have easily drowned in my problems. I still practice all those strategies so that I have a reserve to draw on when things inevitably do get difficult. It is wrong to make out that life is perfect all the time but I’d say my life is pretty good and it’s pretty good because I work hard to make it that way. I have difficulties, I still suffer with fatigue and I occasionally still have night terrors but I catch myself as soon as I see that I am depleting my savings and I add to them whenever I can. I have to sacrifice things I want to do for what I have to do to look after my health. I make hay while the sun shines and I urge you to do so to.
This doesn’t happen simply by thinking it though that is no doubt the first place to start. You need to actually plan what your self care strategies are. Put them in writing, tell important people in your life about them- be honest. When I start my current job I explained my health and personal problems to my manager and we agreed that I could take time off for self care when I needed it. I reassured her that this would keep me at work much more in the long term. When I suffered night terrors I would lie in for an hour and go to work later so I recuperated from the lost sleep before I built up a sleep debt. I started getting up ten minutes earlier and made a playlist on YouTube of yoga and Pilates videos which I do every workday morning without fail. The extra ten minutes is no longer extra, it is an essential part of my morning routine (You can find my YouTube playlist here. I document many of my wellness practices in my Pick Me Ups). These are some of the things that work for me.
You may need to find completely different strategies that work for you. But I urge you to do this and to do this while you are feeling fine. Don’t wait to deplete all your savings before you start to think about looking after your wellness, there is no better time than when the sun shines.