Self-Care in the New Year
January is a month made for looking forward, creating goals, and breaking in those shiny new planners. Nonetheless, I’ve learned that I cannot effectively look forward and create realistic, life-giving goals if I have not first looked backward and evaluated from whence I came. Unfortunately, this year’s look backward was sobering. I met some of my goals at the expense of my own self-care and ended the year drained and depleted. Even my hair looked tired.
If your 2019 ended with more of a groan than a ta-da!, then I hope this exercise will help you develop a plan for 2020 that prioritizes taking care of you and not just your to-do list.
We begin with making a list. The list is titled: How to Get from January to June without Burning Out.
But Laura, you say, the year stretches from January to December, not June! Yes, yes, I know. But the reality is that each season is unique, and we cannot possibly anticipate what will drain or fuel us next August or November. Let’s focus on one season at a time and reevaluate in June.
Now. Once you’ve written your title at the top of your list, maybe ideas will start flowing out of you like frozen yogurt into a sample cup. Maybe you are a self-care genius. But if you are like me, then your drained and depleted self might feel overwhelmed and defeated at the very idea of solving this puzzle. Take heart – I have a plan.
Give your list 5 subject headings and leave yourself a little room to make some notes under each heading. Your 5 headings are as follows:
Take each heading, one at a time, in any order, and make some notes on things you could do in each area. *However, do not treat this like a typical brainstorming session. Brainstorming is usually categorized as limitless idea-making. It disregards the feasibility of ideas and encourages out-of-the-box thinking. I am all for creative, out-of-the-box thinking, but this exercise is about small, manageable steps that can help us feel less overwhelmed. Jotting down notes about how going to Hawaii would be fun for you - but you’re afraid of flying and in debt up to your eyeballs - will not energize you. Keep your ideas realistic and manageable.
Here are some prompts to help you think:
What is FUN for you? Does coffee with a friend energize you? Does going for a hike or ride on your bike make you feel more alive? What are some activities that you can incorporate into your calendar that are about fun, not achieving something?
With regard to CREATIVITY, there are two elements to consider. First, what can you ingest that will fuel your creativity? Does time in nature inspire you? Can a trip to your local library provide creative inspiration? Is there a magazine subscription that always inspires you? Creativity is highly personal. You can think outside of the box on this one, just stay within the bounds of realistic expectations. Second, what is a creative outlet for you? This can be anything from knitting, to baking bread, to coloring in a coloring book. The point is that you have a practice in your life that stimulates creative expression. If you are human, you are creative. Don’t neglect that part of yourself.
Assessing what you need to LIMIT in your life requires some radical honesty. How much time are you spending on social media? Who do you need to say no to that is hard to refuse? What commitments do you need to step away from in order to respect the limits of your own energy and mental health?
Your answer to the limits category will inform your notes about HELP. What do you need help with? Are there responsibilities that you can delegate to your spouse or kids, but you keep doing them because you’ve always done them? Many of us are the proverbial frogs in the pot. Our roles and responsibilities have slowly piled up on us and if we don’t pay attention, our brains and bodies will be cooked. Respect your limits. They are not character weaknesses or personal failures. They are part of being human.
Last, but not least, how can you practice the habit of GRATITUDE the next few months? Is a gratitude journal realistic for you? Would you rather put a jar on the kitchen counter and drop a slip of paper in it a couple times a week? Start a list on the fridge right next to the grocery list? There is no one right way to practice gratitude, and practice will not make perfect; but it does make permanent…and I want gratitude to be a permanent part of my life.
Now that you have curated some ideas on how to take better care of yourself in the next six months, begin to incorporate these ideas into your calendar. Do it NOW. Do not wait until you have all your work done to schedule your fun. That is how you got in this burned out, depleted state in the first place. Take whatever next step you can take in each category and commit to doing it in the next 24 hours. That might mean scheduling a trip to the library or scheduling a hard conversation. Either way, get it scheduled on your calendar.
Listen. It doesn’t matter if your goals for this year include losing 10 pounds or changing jobs; you will not be able to achieve them if you are depleted and depressed. Your friends and family would rather have a happy, rejuvenated you than a miserable-but-achieved-all-my-goals you, and I’m guessing you would too. So make a plan to take care of your self that leads to a June bloom and not a June burnout.
You are worth it.
P.S. You may have noticed that I did not address soul-care and our spiritual lives. This is not because our spiritual walk is secondary to fun and creativity. Our walk with God is vitally important to our mental and emotional health! It just requires its own post. So stay tuned…you are not done planning your new year if you haven’t planned how you will stay connected to the vine…