By Mindy Rhoades
The first time I heard about self-care, I laughed. I really thought it was a joke. Now, years later, I am so glad that my graduate program emphasized its importance and that the world at large has come to understand how crucial self-care is to our overall well-being. Ultimately, I define self-care as being able to say yes and no, to both ourselves and others, as we need to. While I like to think I was pretty good at self-care, 2020 put that to the test. Somehow I don’t think I’m alone in that. So, after spending a lot more time than I had anticipated inside with my cats in the past year, I realized that my cats have taught me some important self-care tips, while reiterating others:
- A good schedule is important. My cats are absolute sticklers for being fed on time, and while that can be frustrating on occasion, it was very helpful for me in the early days of quarantine. Having to get up to take care of them helped me take care of myself. They also are fairly scheduled, in that they seem to do basically the same thing every day at the same time: eat, bath, sleep, watch birds, play, eat some more, repeat. I found that when I followed this example and was more scheduled, I felt better.
- Rest. In general, cats are master sleepers, getting something like 15 hours of sleep a day. Since I am not a cat, I didn’t rest that much, but I was reminded that while a schedule and some productivity helps me feel better, I didn’t want to overdo it either. Taking time to rest and recharge is absolutely vital to self-care. And on days when living through a pandemic was overwhelming, my cats were visual reminders that sometimes it’s okay (and necessary) to take a day to relax.
- Play. While my cats definitely sleep a lot, they also like to play. They chase each other through the house, play with their toys and Amazon boxes, and like to hunt birds (safely from inside my house – no birds are harmed in the entertainment of my cats). However, it is so easy to forget the importance of play as adults. Yes, that can include movement and exercise, but I think it also comprises laughter and fun. When I make sure to do those things that are fun for me and intentionally seek out those things that make me laugh and enjoy life, I find that I am in a much better place emotionally and mentally.
- A healthy balance of solitude and interaction. My cats are fairly social creatures; they greet us at the door when we come home from work, and they like to spend time with each other and with us. However, they also spend plenty of time alone. For me, alone time wasn’t much of an issue during the pandemic; I had that in spades. However, it was more difficult to create times of meaningful interaction. While this required some creativity at times, striking this balance helped me reduce my stress levels by allowing me to feel connected and loved while also having time to practice creativity and staying aware of my emotions and thoughts during this unprecedented time.
- Be honest. My cats never fail to let me know if they don’t like something. I know when they are content or upset because they tell me with their meows and their actions. This generation has never lived through a pandemic before, and I think it’s important to be honest with ourselves about how it is affecting us. Some days will be better than others, and acknowledging where we are on a mental and emotional level is the first step to being able to do something about it. If you’re doing alright, that’s great! If you’re struggling, that’s okay; we have all had tough days in the last year. I hope you can also reach out to a trusted loved one, or a professional, if you feel that you are struggling more than you can manage. We are in this together.
Bonus: Learn new self-care strategies. While my cats didn’t teach me this one, it was a 2020 theme for me. Pretty early on, I realized that my typical self-care strategies weren’t cutting it anymore, as this wasn’t a typical stressor (and some of my usual strategies were no longer safe, like eating out with high-risk loved ones). So, it became a year of being willing to try new things; some worked and others didn’t. Here are some things I’m glad I added to my routine: going on walks when the weather is nice, keeping a gratitude journal, having at least one meaningful conversation with a loved one per day, and finding something that makes me laugh and passing it along to others. If your old self-care methods aren’t working, I hope you can be creative and persistent in finding new ways to meet your self-care needs.
About the Author: Mindy Rhoades is a licensed professional counselor candidate practicing at Family Solutions Counseling. In addition to being EMDR trained, her clinical focus is on helping individuals overcome their battle with depression and/or anxiety, grief, trauma, and religious & spiritual trauma.