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A Doula’s Guide to Managing Your Own Self-Care

Alexis Wolford | February 13, 2021

What do moms, doulas, teachers, caregivers, coaches, and so many others all have in common? They give A LOT of themselves to others! 

As a yoga teacher, reiki practitioner, and doula I am constantly concerned with the wellbeing of my clients/students. I love to ask if they are taking time to do at least one thing they love everyday. The irony in that? When I get busy the first thing to go is my daily meditation. It feels more important for me to jump straight into work even though I know meditating in the mornings makes a noticeable difference in my day. I continue to show up and give my absolute best to the people I serve regardless of my needs, as I know so many others reading this do. But as I am sure many of us have learned the hard way, it is impossible to continue to give from an empty cup. Or should I say, it is possible, but it looks like you crying in your car in between meetings because all you really want to do is take a nap, and you were managing fine until you accidentally read a spoiler for your favorite show, and now all that sleep deprivation just hit you like a ton of bricks. 

If you have ever had one of these moments you are not alone! As womxn, it is easy to put our needs aside for others. It is even easier to cope with our daily stress and exhaustion by impulsively buying that expensive new bag or ordering take out for the third time this week and calling it #selfcare. But this is not quality self-care. Coping is reactive, self-care is preventative, and quality self-care is rooted in intention and self-love.

That is why I made this self-care guide. So we can not only integrate intentional self-care practices into our daily routine, but so we can move away from reacting to preventing burnout from happening.

 Self-Care Guide:

Schedule time for yourself like you would schedule time for anyone else. 

That means plan in advance, put it in your calendar, share it with your partner or anyone else that might try to interrupt you, and stick to it! Ideally, we would be making time for ourselves every single day, but it also has to fit into your life. Maybe you only have 2-3 hours a week to spare, well that is plenty! Now decide how to use it. For one person that might look like 20 mins in the morning before anyone else wakes up to meditate, to another that could be one 2-hour pampering session weekly. The point is, it is way too easy for us to push our commitments to ourselves aside for the needs of others, and we have to change that if we also want to feel nurtured.

For those who feel they really don’t have time to spare right now, don’t worry! You can also integrate intention and self-love into the things you already do:

  • Turn your morning or nightly routine into your self-care ritual. Instead of seeing washing your face as a chore that you rush through, make it an opportunity to slow down and decompress. Maybe you add some affirmations as you watch yourself in the mirror or you close your eyes and focus on actually feeling and massaging your skin.
  • Use your commute to practice breathing deeply. Traffic stress can easily manifest tension throughout the body. If we are practice breathing mindfully throughout our commute we can keep the mind and body from tensing up
  • Set (silent) reminders every 2 hours or download an app to remind yourself to drink water throughout the day. As you are drinking you can even visualize the water as a beautiful golden light soaking into your body and energizing you.
  • Expressing gratitude, and eating slowly. By taking just a moment to acknowledge and express gratitude towards our food and the people that grew it, we infuse intention into our eating. Once we are intentionally eating it becomes easier to slow down and try to appreciate our food. Not only will eating slowly make your food taste better, but the thorough chewing actually allows our bodies to digest food better and absorb more of the nutrients available! 

There are tons of opportunities for self-care in our daily lives, so get creative! This leads into step two:

Identify what self-care looks like for you. 

I gave some examples already, but you want to pick activities that are actually restorative for you. Even though working out is good for your body if you have to drag yourself to the gym everyday because you don’t like running on a treadmill then it is not self-care because it is mentally depleting. Of course there are the go-to’s: a long bubble bath, curling up with a tea and good book, or going for a long walk with a podcast but you could also try taking an ecstatic dance class, learning to paint, or joining an acro-yoga group! Don’t be afraid to try something new, and have fun! Self-care doesn’t have to mean only calming activities. If you are someone who can walk out of an intense hot yoga session feeling more alive and energized than when you walked in, then that is self-care!

The yoga teacher in me feels it is important to mention finding balance in this step. Our mind, body, spirit connection is more powerful and impactful than we know, so try to pick practices to nurture your whole self, not just one aspect.

Be flexible & be forgiving.

As I mentioned, your self-care routine should be rooted in intention and self-love. But by no means am I saying that self-care can’t be spending a night in sweatpants, watching your favorite movie, and eating snacks. It absolutely can! So be flexible, and be forgiving. You might not always be in the mood for certain practices.That is okay! One time I went to a hot yoga class and laid in savasana the entire time. No shame at all. I thoroughly enjoyed laying there in the hot air with a towel over my eyes as the other students moved around me. It was amazing, but it was only amazing because I didn’t beat myself up about it afterwards. I was flexible with my plan and I was forgiving with myself. If you decide you want to use your personal time for sweatpants and snacks, and you don’t feel guilty about it after then that can be just as restorative as a meditation.

Reflect on how you feel.

This is where you want to take the time to assess if your new self-care rituals are doing what they are intended to do. Sometimes a self-care practice can sound great on paper, but doesn’t feel as restorative as you thought. Maybe you love taking baths, but taking a bath can very easily turn into a bathroom cleaning spree before you are able to actually relax, and then the frustrations over the toothpaste left in the sink can overshadow the serenity. Even just taking a moment to ask yourself out loud, “How do I feel? How does this compare to how I felt an hour ago?” will help facilitate better understanding of your needs. It will also improve the communication between your body, mind, and spirit. When we are able to listen to these different aspects of yourselves, we are able to design our self-care with things that actually refill our cup.

Switch up the ritual.

Too often as womxn, we expect ourselves to do it all, all year round. The reality is, we are cyclical beings. We have rhythms and systems in our bodies that eb and flow on a monthly and yearly basis. When designing your self-care ritual try to account for where you might be in your cycle or what season it is, and allow that to influence your practice. Connect to your cycle by establishing a ritual that you always do on the first day of your menstruation. Honor that time by turning inward to reflect in your journal or let creative energy flow by writing or drawing. Use the winter to prioritize abhyanga (self-massage with oil) when your body might need the more intense moisture, and summer to do a cooling cucumber face mask. Learning how to honor these rhythms can make a huge difference in the quality of your self-care and your overall wellbeing.

If you feel as if you are constantly on the verge of burnout, then let this guide you on the journey toward a nourished self. Remember, when it comes to self-care (like so many other things) what works is dependent on the person! Let yourself explore and experiment! Self-care is an opportunity for self-love and self-discovery, and when we take the time to do this work we enable ourselves to better show up for others. When we do the work to nurture ourselves we are better able to nurture others.

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