The spring semester of my second year in Naropa University’s Transpersonal Counseling Psychology program has come to a close, which means that I finally have some time to sleep in and finish all those little projects I’ve been putting off for the last several months. Having all this free time has made me think about the ways that I spend my time, particularly when I don’t have much of it. And it’s also highlighted for me the importance of spending that time on self-care, which I’ve decided I’m actually quite good at.
For those of you who know me, this may seem a very funny statement. For those of you who don’t, let me explain.
Have you ever met one of those people who are so busy that you don’t know how they managed to maintain any sort of social life, or have any fun, much less focus on self-care? Well, I am one of those people. And while it is true that I do tend to be very busy, I actually do find the time to take care of myself. Admittedly, part of it comes down to the fact that I’m fairly high-energy anyway. But a big part of how I am able to accomplish so much and be so busy without burning out is that I’ve figured out ways that I can effectively “recharge.”
Learning how to recharge is one something I frequently discuss with my coaching students, as it seems that many of us were never taught how to do that. Part of this could be due to our culture of busyness, in which taking two weeks off per year is supposed to provide all of the rest and relaxation one could possibly need. Not a lot of value is placed on really taking care of ourselves, and very little information is available on how to do this. There are definitely many books on how to feel “at peace,” or how to increase one’s energy through exercise, for example. But there seems to be a common assumption that self-care looks exactly the same for all people. At Naropa, people tend to conceptualize self-care as involving alone-time, rest, and maybe yoga or some other type of physical activity. I suspect that these things can be very helpful for many people, and I certainly don’t mean to imply that they are not, but I’d like to suggest the possibility that the correct method for taking care of oneself cannot be prescribed by another person, and definitely isn’t one-size-fits-all.
This gets to the heart of what I’m talking about. I agree that self-care is very important, and that if we don’t take care of ourselves we won’t be useful to anyone, least of all our future clients. But trying to force ourselves to go sit alone in nature when we really want to be dancing to dub step won’t get us very far. Every person needs different kinds of self-care, and I sometimes think that not enough attention is given to encouraging people to take care of themselves and the way that actually makes sense for them.
I think that, too often, we have a default way of spending our time, and that we don’t stop to consider whether our “free time” actually feels like a break. Often, I think we get stuck in habitual ways of spending our time. This may be watching Netflix, or doing chores, or browsing the Internet. And while those could feel recharging for some people, they could also just be a distraction to keep us from noticing how exhausted we are. When we get to the end of that time, we may not feel any less exhausted, and it may seem like our “break” wasn’t really worthwhile. This seems common among people who work a lot, and who are tired a lot, which is unfortunately typical for grad students.
So if this sounds like you, maybe stop and pay attention to the way you feel *after* you do the things you do in your spare time, and don’t be so concerned if those things are typically labeled as “work” or “fun.” It could be helpful to keep a journal, or to record in some other way how you feel after doing certain things for a couple of weeks. The results may surprise you. I discovered that one of the best ways I can recharge is by cooking. I also discovered that while spending time alone doing artwork is enjoyable for me, it’s very hard for me to do a unless I already feeling energized. And I figured out that lounging by myself in a bubble bath listening to nice music and “relaxing” is actually strangely draining, and doesn’t do much for my energy levels. I know people who feel energized and ready to meet the day after cleaning the house, or after going for a run, or even after getting into lively debates with their friends.
The whole reason we’re in this program, or any grad program for that matter, is because we have found something that we want to do with our lives. But we can’t expect these things to sustain us when they are also our chief sources of stress, work, and worry. For that, we need self-care, and in order to take care of ourselves we need to figure out what we actually need to feel energized.