4 Ways To Take Care Of Yourself During Hard Times
Whether it’s a breakup or an election, we can’t always control the events in our lives.
“Sex and the City,” I answer, to my dear friend’s question, “How did you cope with your breakup? How did you get through it?"
She laughs. “Like the show?” She raises her eyebrows, skeptical.
I nod and explain, “It was the worst pain of my life. I could barely breathe. I just needed someone else’s story to focus on while I put myself back together.” She takes a sip of beer. Her eyes are far away. “Look,” I tell her. “It sucks. But the thing that you can do now is take care of you.” She glances up. I go on, “Like be a bad ass self-care chic.”
“A b.a.s.c.?” she offers. We laugh.
Sometimes life throws you a curve ball. A breakup. An illness. An election. While we can’t avoid these challenges, we can choose how we navigate them. One of the healthiest ways to cope with any loss is to practice extra self-care. Here I offer 4 ways to take ultra-care of yourself during tough times, no matter what the circumstances are.
- Let yourself feel.
One of the very hardest parts about grief is that our culture does a shitty job acknowledging it. We are all too quick to tell grieving people how to feel, to be grateful for what they do have, or to acknowledge life could be worse. But grief is grief, and comparing grief is futile and cruel. One way to acknowledge your grief is to let it come up and come out. When I got sick and was unable to have a baby, I couldn’t go near the baby section in Target for months without being overcome. Finally, I stopped caring if people saw me crying. So what? I’ll never see them again. It was my grief. And over time it healed. So cry. Scream into a pillow. Give yourself extra time to allow for emotions to come to the surface. NOTE: This is not the same as stalking your ex's Facebook or drunk texting – those are actions (not super helpful ones), not feelings.
- Put your mind on better feeling thoughts.
The thing about feeling your sadness and anger fully is that it comes on so strongly it feels like it might kill you. But then it subsides and doesn’t get stuck in the body. Once you’ve given yourself some time and space to let it out, it is good to begin to focus on what you do want. By being intentional about your thoughts and directing them towards what you do want, you can gradually shift your mindset to the positive. It’s the difference between thinking, “I don’t want to feel sad anymore,” and thinking, “I want to feel joy again.” It might be good to break it down into specific, manageable steps like, “I want to sleep through the night,”. NOTE: This is not the same as pushing negative emotions away and not dealing with them. Refocusing can only come after letting the feelings come on full force.
- Tune into your body, not out of it.
Our biology is designed to help us survive, which means avoiding pain at all costs. Unfortunately, the body doesn’t know the difference between physical danger, like a dinosaur chasing our ancestors, and emotional pain, like the heartache of a loss.This survival instinct can make us prone to avoidance behaviors like drinking, staying really busy, or jumping into another relationship. Avoiding pain just prolongs it, and sometimes cause additional problems. The body is smart and is the first place to check in when you’re feeling checked out. Notice your breathing. Feel your feet on the floor. Tune in to what the feeling in your body is grounding, even if it’s uncomfortable. It may help to name it with a phrase like, “Wow, my heart is racing. I am really suffering.” Acknowledging what is happening physically gives us the opportunity to reconnect with ourselves and to take steps to heal rather than to stay numb. Healing starts with an attitude of self-compassion.
- Practice self-compassion.
One of the best things we can do for ourselves when we are suffering is to practice self-compassion. Self-compassion is like damage control – it doesn’t take away the pain but it helps to not make it worse with judgments and self-criticism. The risk of living in a culture that typically doesn’t take care of each other during grief is that we can turn on ourselves in our worst moments, telling ourselves to move on or believing there is something wrong with us if we can’t. It can help to check in and think, “This is suffering. Suffering is normal. It will not kill me or last forever. It’s ok to be sad.” Just a few inner words of self-kindness can help support you during life’s hardest moments.
Whenever we open our hearts and believe in something – a lasting love, the collective ethical compass of US voters, we are choosing to believe in good. That is a beautiful thing. When things fall apart or don’t go the way we want, we can help ourselves heal by refocusing on taking extra care of ourselves.
To read more about healthy dating, check out Girls’ Guide to Healthy Dating or read Girls’ Guide to Healthy Dating: Between the Break Up and the Next U-Haul.
Kim Baker, author of the Relationship Red Flags Mini Book and Girls’ Guide to Healthy Dating: Between the Breakup and the Next U-Haul, is a dating columnist and writer whose writing examines healthier dating through the lens of mindfulness and self-care. Find her at www.girlsguidetohealthydating.com or join her email list by texting gg2dating to 22828, message and date rates may apply.