Healing approaches

The importance of radical self-care

self-care

By Gemma Kennedy, transformational coach

At the start of May this year, I attended the Bodykind Festival in Totnes, a two-day event dedicated to the revolutionary act of showing kindness to our own bodies in order to change the world.

Something that struck me throughout a day of talks, workshops and panels was the sheer number of people discussing how much work they have put into treating their bodies kindly. After endless years of dieting and self-loathing, doing so does not necessarily come naturally to many.

But the people at the event were setting out on a mission to develop a positive relationship with, and be kinder to, their bodies. While such a shift may undoubtedly change an individual’s life for the better, it also has wider societal implications too because self-care is not all about bath bombs and pedicures. In fact, it includes a whole range of activities and practices, which, importantly, look different for everyone.

Sadly, self-care has to date been co-opted by commercial organisations as yet another way to sell us stuff. The promotion of self-care often focuses on appearance-related products and services, such as face masks and pedicures. But in order to go deeper than that and actually take care of our bodies effectively, regardless of how they look and how we feel about them, something more is required.

In my transformational coaching work, I prefer to use the term ‘radical self-care’, which usually involves practices that cannot be purchased in a shop or day spa. Instead the focus is on making daily life more manageable and enjoyable, which entails taking decisions to support yourself in the best possible way.

Small changes can be made across all areas of life to make things easier. The sum of these small shifts can lead to an altogether less stressful life as well as the capacity to better support others. We have all heard the clichéd advice to put on your own oxygen mask before you assist others, but it really is essential.

Woman Standing By Waterfall With Her Hands Raised

Aligning with your own needs

It is also important that self-care does not become just something else you can fail at – as with dieting or any of the other myriad things we ‘should’ do. Step one of radical self-care is about being gentle with yourself. There will be days where you are unable to take care of yourself as well as you would like, and reminding yourself that this is okay too is vital.

When I start to become self-critical, I like to ask myself whether I would talk to my children or a close friend in that way. The answer is always ‘absolutely not’ and it helps me to shift my inner talk to become more positive and compassionate.

Another issue I have with the mainstream self-care industry is that it requires a certain amount of privilege in order to engage in it. Beauty products, treatments and outings are costly, which means that those who are often most in need of self-care are excluded.

While it is still a privilege to have the time and energy to engage in radical self-care, it is much more accessible. Taking just a couple of minutes out of your day to breathe or move your body in a way that feels good can work wonders.

Other radical self-care activities I engage in regularly include ensuring I eat regular meals that my body actually wants rather than skipping them or eating something I dislike because it is quick; lighting a candle and drinking a cup of tea alone; and taking time to read or journal before bed or first thing in the morning.

But much more radical than any of these is the fact I check-in with myself regularly to ensure that what I am doing feels aligned with my needs.

Leap of faith

Changing yourself – and the world

In the past, I have found people-pleasing all too easy a pastime – and definitely to my own detriment. Setting clear boundaries around what I do and do not want to do, as well as removing myself from toxic relationships, have helped me make huge improvements to my quality of life. If I do not spend my time doing things against my will just to avoid upsetting others, I find I conserve so much more energy, which enables me to do the things that actually bring me joy.

Of course, as a mum it is not always possible to focus on my own needs. But I am open and honest with my children when I require a quiet morning at home or when I cannot play with them because I have to make sure I have eaten something (to avoid my hangry tendencies).

To some, this may sound selfish, but not only is it important to take care of myself in order to be the best parent I can, it is also about modelling radical self-care to my children too. At the ages of three and seven, they are already aware of the importance of listening to their bodies and setting boundaries around what does and does not feel good to them. I hope this awareness will stand them in good stead to help them avoid the pitfalls of things, such as diet culture, that I unwittingly fell into.

So can radical self-care change the world? I mentioned at the beginning that this approach has wider societal implications, and they have become glaringly obvious during my own endeavours in this area. Just as I am able to be a better parent when I show myself compassion, I also have a huge amount of extra energy to plough into my activism and coaching practice. The energy I would have spent on hating my body, or perhaps feeling exhausted by a lack of boundaries, can instead be spent productively on working for actual social change.

For many – myself included – it is one hell of a journey to get to a place where we have positive or even neutral feelings about our bodies. But it is worth every single struggle to arrive at a space where we can contribute to something bigger than ourselves – and feel nurtured in the process.

Gemma Kennedy

Gem Kennedy is a Body Positive activist and transformational coach. Having started her first diet aged 10 and spent many years promising herself that this would be the year to lose weight and start living, a switch flicked in 2017 when she discovered the Body Positive and Fat Activist communities. After training as a transformational coach, she now specialises in coaching and mentoring clients both individually and in groups to help them shed the burden of today’s diet culture and feel confident enough to be in the world exactly as they are, right now.

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Three reasons why parental wellbeing is vital to children

family of three lying on bed showing feet while covered with yellow blanket
Photo by Simon Matzinger on Pexels.com

By Sarah Stollery, kundalini yoga and meditation teacher.

Although you may not realise it, your health and wellbeing as a parent are really important to the health and wellbeing of your children. Here’s why:

1. We regularly undergo sensory overload

Parenting today is more challenging than it has ever been. We are constantly exposed to a tidal wave of conflicting advice and are under pressure to be perfect homemakers, while often working full- or part-time into the bargain.

But we are also constantly processing sensory information from the world around us, sifting through it at a rapid pace, discarding what is insignificant and attending to our top priorities. It is about engaging with our surroundings, whether virtual or physical, and we do it during most of our waking life. As a result, we tend to place little value on those unstructured periods of internal focus such as day-dreaming.

The problem with this situation is that an overemphasis on the external can lead to sensory overload and a chronic neglect of our own wellbeing as well as that of our children. We zip along feeling fine, but because we spend little, or no, time listening to our own internal voice, we fail to notice that we are filling up with frustration, intolerance, anger and sadness – until it all gets too much and we end up feeling depressed or anxious.

So now more than ever it is crucial to find opportunities for solitude and give ourselves time to reflect, daydream and just simply to be quiet so we can hear the voice within that is so often drowned out.

So make a point of scheduling moments to enjoy a bit of silence. Here are some tips for making quiet time part of your daily routine at home:

  • Choose a time of day that works for everyone in your family (if possible) i.e. if you have school-age children, a good time may be just after they have had a snack but before they start their homework. For younger children, between bath time and bed time may work better;
  • Decide on a short chunk of time, say five minutes, and work up to more if it suits you, but do ensure it is achievable for your family;
  • Involve your children when planning how to spend your quiet time. Would they like to try a meditation (see the Relax Kids website for lots of guided meditations for kids and adults)? Would they rather listen to music? Could you even make a corner of your home into a Relaxation Zone?
  • Invite your children to chat about anything that arose for them during their quiet time. This is a fantastic opportunity for you to connect and find out what’s going on for them;
  • Some children may like to keep a diary during, or just after, their quiet time in order to help them process their feelings and experience.

 

light sunset people water
Photo by Negative Space on Pexels.com

2. Children learn by watching what we do not what we say

As the old adage goes, actions speak louder than words. So the most effective way to teach our children how to make wellbeing a lifelong habit is to model this behaviour for them now.

But this is far easier said than done as it means taking a hard, honest look at our own wellbeing habits and assessing where we can make changes in order to provide the example we would like our kids to follow. Here are some examples of where we, as parents, often overlook our own wellbeing by:

  • Being socially isolated and failing to ensure we have adequate emotional and practical support around us;
  • Ignoring our own needs for developing a creative outlet;
  • Consistently making ourselves the lowest priority, overlooking the importance of self-care and failing to meet our own health and wellbeing requirements;
  • Feeling unable to express ourselves authentically and without judging ourselves;
  • Denying our parental intuition due to external pressures;
  • Overstimulation from input such as social media, the news etc.

The idea is that if you explicitly attend to your own wellbeing, your children will follow suit and grow up doing the same.

3. Awareness is Key

When we begin to proactively manage our own wellbeing, tune the world out and tune in to ourselves, we naturally become more self-aware. I am not talking here about critical self-judgement, which is about analysing our own behaviour and giving ourselves a hard time about it.

Instead I am talking about taking a step back and assuming the role of observer in order to look at what you are doing in an objective way. The aim here is to find ways to effect the positive changes necessary to improve you and your children’s wellbeing.

So, for example, if you missed the deadline for signing up for that Zumba class again, rather than downplaying it as an oversight or memory lapse, it might make sense to dig a little deeper. Perhaps the real reason you did not sign up for it is because you do not actually like dancing and, deep down, would prefer to sign up for a painting class to get in touch with your creative side.

Despite being a trivial example, it does serve to illustrate how it is all too easy to undervalue wellbeing and thus unconsciously communicate this attitude to your children.

But awareness can also offer a different perspective when facing challenges with our children that may have a direct impact on their wellbeing. For example, realising that I felt the need to control what my son ate had a huge impact on my behaviour at mealtimes, which in turn affected his eating habits – for the better.

Sometimes coming to such awareness can take effort and be uncomfortable and challenging. But with such awareness comes objectivity and, with objectivity, we can start to parent in a way that truly puts the wellbeing of our children front and centre.

In other words, cultivating awareness is at the very heart of wellbeing. It is what allows us to be conscious that we would love to try painting, for example. And the great thing is that, as we cultivate our own wellbeing, our awareness develops in tandem. This means that our wellbeing improves still further, and accordingly, that of our children, in a truly virtuous circle.

sarah stollery headshot

Sarah Stollery is a kundalini yoga and meditation teacher and co-founder of The Cabin, a self-directed learning community for home-educated children. She is passionate about empowering people of all ages and stages of life with the tools to thrive in these challenging times by creating space to learn, explore and integrate a wide range of wellbeing practices.