Rarely has it been more important to take good care of yourself. England is heading into a month long lockdown. The other devolved UK nations are in various stages of significant restrictions. This is in line with what’s going on in other countries near or far. And with the election in the US, the racial tension and conflicts over Covid, the pressure on all of us has just gone up a gear.
Here’s a link to the www.gov.uk website with the latest information.
Oxygen mask on yourself first
If you’ve ever been on an aeroplane, you’ll be familiar with the phrase: “Place the oxygen mask on yourself first, before assisting others”. It’s basic and fundamental advice and most importantly, life saving – and no that’s not metaphorical; it’s literal.
For those of us who have done a fair bit of travelling, we’ve come to expect it and treat it almost as ‘ambient noise’ (not that we’re flying all that much at the moment because of Covid). But have you ever stopped to consider why this advice is given and think through the actual implications of it?
Counter-intuitive lesson for parents
Parents find this especially hard to comprehend. Your instinct in the event of a crisis is probably going to be to help the child first e.g. put their mask on first, before then reaching for your mask.
But what happens if you pass out from lack of oxygen before you’re able to do that and then, even worse, die!? You’re going to be of no help to your child at all in either the immediate or long-term future.
The actual risk of lack of oxygen
Reported on the Huffington post, researcher Destin, with help from NASA, experienced first hand that ‘…passengers have just seconds to put on their oxygen masks before oxygen-saturation levels drop to a perilous point’.
This video shows not only how quickly lack of oxygen can affect us but also and perhaps more importantly how it prevents us from realising that we need to take action before it’s too late.
However, if you fix your own mask first and secure a steady supply of oxygen, you are going to be in a much better position to not only help yourself, your child, but also others around you by staying alive and having enough oxygen to think and function.
Take a moment and think this through (watch the video – it’s about 10 minutes), don’t just pay lip service to this but actually take this onboard.
Misguided belief about being selfish
This is one of the most difficult lessons that I work through with the people I support. I have witnessed people placing themselves and those around them at considerable and significant risk of illness or injury. Why? Because of the misguided belief that making sure that we are alright is ‘selfish!’
When you consistently keep putting off looking after your own needs because you believe that someone else’s needs should take priority, you’re missing the point. When you run out of energy, health, resources etc, you’re not going to be able to help that person at all or anyone else for that matter.
Making a date with yourself; a one-to-one (or a check-in)
Chances are you look after your relationships with people that are important to you. You make time to check in with them, call them, arrange to meet up whether by video or in person and spend time together doing activities you both / all like.
Have you ever considered doing the same with yourself? When we neglect our own relationship with ourselves, we inadvertently reduce our ability not only to look after ourselves but also to help others.
Sustainable lifestyle for you
This blog is about why it’s so important to make time for ourselves and that includes spending quality time with ourselves, doing activities that we enjoy and having meaningful conversations with yourself.
You may or may not be familiar with Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. For those of you who aren’t, one of the 7 habits he introduces is Sharpen the saw and create growth, a habit of continuous improvement. To do this, Covey says, people need to create a sustainable, long-term, effective lifestyle.
The cost of overspending your resources
Consider how often you say: “I’ll just squeeze this in”, even though you’ve already got too much on your plate. By doing this you are constantly living in the overdraft of your own energy and resources. There will come a time when there’s no more overdraft and the interest will cost you dearly.
Whether it’s loss of physical, mental or social health and wellbeing, the cost is real. Illness, breakdown in relationships or losing your job are all too common costs. Sometimes they even happen all at the same time.
This is much more likely to happen when you don’t check in with yourself and have no idea how much energy you have left in the tank or how you refill your tank and replenish your resources.
Your primary relationship is with yourself
This is why looking after your primary relationship: the one you have with yourself is so important. After all, as we discussed in our previous blog post on health anxiety (here), it’s the ONLY relationship you have that’s with you every breath of the way throughout your entire life. No one else, not your parents, your children, your partner(s) are with you every moment of every day.
Making sure you understand your own needs, physical, psychological and social, isn’t a luxury, it isn’t an act of disrespect to others, it’s a vital component to a sustainable, long-term and effective lifestyle for both you and those important to you.
Safeguarding space for you
Whenever you arrange to meet a friend or colleague, you agree on specific details, such as where and when you’ll see each other. It’s obvious! The same applies when you’re arranging time to have with yourself.
Time and day
Start by agreeing on a day and time. Not sure when’s best? Why not take advantage of the free Monday Mindful Check-in live sessions I am hosting on Insight Timer. I’m experimenting with hosting them every Monday at 5:15pm UK time, starting tomorrow, and they could just provide the helpful start your week needs.
These sessions will provide an opportunity to help you build the practice of checking in with yourself and boosting the chances of it becoming a regular habit. If Monday afternoons don’t work for you, make time somewhere else in the week for your one-to-one check in. Remember, make it specific and set aside the day and the time, put it in your diary and set a reminder on your phone.
Choose where with care
Now the second factor that’s important to consider is where you will have your one-to-one. Just like when you’re arranging to meet with a friend, you need to specify where you are actually going to meet.
Choose space or place that’s going to be conducive to you having a helpful, nourishing and productive ‘meeting’ or check-in. This might be your favourite chair or given that few of us are likely to be able to go somewhere like a cafe or library due to Covid restrictions, it might be driving your car to your favourite (local) spot and parking up where the view is nourishing.
Do Not Disturb
Whatever the space you choose, ensure it is free from distractions and interruptions as this is an important meeting you’re going to be having.
Helpful things, tips and tools for your check-in
Finally, make sure you have the tools, things and tips you need to have a fruitful meeting with yourself. Whether that’s a notebook, favourite pen (mine is a fountain pen with cobalt blue ink), incense, candles, flowers, music or smartphone (if you’re listening to the Monday Mindful Check in), whatever.
Look after the detail
Bring in your favourite tea, coffee or beverage that’s genuinely helpful (and yes, that could be a glass of red wine but make sure it’s your favourite and no, opening another bottle is unlikely to be helpful).
Choose your favourite glass, cup, tray etc. Be sure to wear comfortable clothes. That’s because being physically comfortable is really important as it will allow you to relax and fully concentrate on the meeting. Prepare the setting with the care that you would someone you love dearly.
Set a focus or some prompts
It’s helpful to have some questions and prompts. A possible list of questions to ask yourself could include:
- How are you feeling? Keep it real, this isn’t about ‘being positive’, this is about getting a sense of what’s actually going on.
- What’s important to you right now? Are you using your energy and thinking bandwidth on what’s important to you or do you feel like it is leaking into what you don’t want or need.
- Are you sleeping and eating enough? What about drinking enough water?
- Are you getting enough movement / exercise? With imminent lockdown reducing our activities even further and not being able to go to exercise classes or going running with you mates, this is an important aspect to look after in line with your health and your ability.
- Are you looking after your social needs? Don’t underestimate how much social nourishment you get through casual contact and unplanned engagements you have with people. What can you learn from the last lockdown?
What do you do in a check-in?
We are often so focussed and oriented on the future, we forget to appreciate where we are right now, and how we got here in the first place. But if you do not have a sense of where you are now, thinking about where you want to be tomorrow becomes a lot more difficult. We refer to it as ‘Here Before There’.
Consider: How was last week? What was helpful? What was not helpful? Did I look after what I needed to? If not, what stopped me?
It’s all about being curious and appreciating where you are at right now.
Using your First Aid for Feelings: ABC
Our ABC for Feelings is a great place to start with this.
AWARENESS: Begin by thinking about how you are starting your week? What does this first day feel like? What are you thinking, feeling and doing?
BREATH AND BODY: Take a breath (it can be deep or shallow, whatever is comfortable for you) and become aware of your body. Shuffle your shoulders, wriggle your toes and notice all the sensations you are feeling.
CHOICE: Ask yourself whether the experience you’re having is helpful or not? If it is helpful, great! If it’s not, consider what alternatives there are to afford a more helpful outcome.
Benefits of mindfulness
The benefits of meditation and mindfulness are numerous. While this is a very basic act of mindfulness, it is one that can really help put you in the right frame of mind to begin your week.
In fact, the benefits of meditation and practicing mindfulness are plentiful, having a positive impact on:
- Compassion (including self compassion)
- Anxiety and depression
- Weight loss
- Chronic disease
Managing your own expectations
Ahead of your planned one-to-one with yourself, or if you’re planning to join the Monday Mindful Check-in, it’s important to manage your expectations in terms of what you are going to get out of the time. Obviously, the time you alot for your meeting is finite, so you can only achieve so much.
In the case of the Monday Mindful Check-in it’s a 30-minute session (a 15 minute guided meditation, followed by 15 minutes of Q&A).
So what would you like to achieve in that time? Manage your own expectations and be realistic given the time frame.
Your experience now is information
The goal of your check-in isn’t to still the mind or to go from being severely stressed to completely calm. But rather to observe and be witness to the experience that you are having and noticing the information it is giving you.
Chances are you will gain valuable information from your check-in. This may include some actions like reaching out to friends depending on what your indicators are letting you know. Be moderate and kind to yourself in your expectations.
The information you take with you from your check-in will help you steer the course to that sustainable, long-term, effective lifestyle we talked about earlier. It enables you to make sure you ok enough and as is appropriate can then be there for your loved ones, friends and others in your life.
Benefits of having a mindful check-in
So why should you have a mindful check in with yourself? What are the benefits?
Here are the top four as I see them:
1. Get a handle on your own indicators
The recent blog on how to stay strong during the coming Covid winter [here], explored the idea of how we all have indicators. These act as a gauge for how we’re doing at any given time.
Practising checking in with yourself gives you a better handle on what’s going on for you. This allows you to be mindful of your own indicators before they tip into amber or you find yourself stuck in red. It’s also an opportunity to have a more gentle, supportive relationship with yourself.
Fire prevention is better than fire fighting. Remember: when we have enough oxygen, we can better be there for others.
2. Become more responsive than reactive
Having a regular mindful check-in also gives you a chance to be more responsive than reactive. That is to say more conscious and deliberate with your behaviours and choices. As we looked at in our ABC for Feelings blog, there is a risk of our reptilian brains taking over when we act out of fear or anger. In most cases, such reactions are not helpful and we often regret them afterwards.
The weekly check-ins will help you practice being more deliberate and intentional when it comes to your choices and behaviour going forward.
3. Opportunity to get a sense of habit energies and habit patterns
Regular mindful check-ins will also provide an opportunity for you to get a sense of your habit energies and habit patterns. You’ll have some sense of them already for sure, things like always saying yes to everything to avoid conflict, etc. Weekly check-ins will help you realise more and give you better insights.
Weekly check-ins will also allow you to get curious and experiment more. After all, if you don’t know what’s going on with you, you’ll never experiment with doing anything different. When we don’t experiment we don’t benefit from more helpful outcomes.
Your habit energy / patterns
It’s my experience that most people have a handful of key energy habits/patterns. I’ve never met anyone (including myself) who has just one or anyone who has dozens. The check-ins will be interesting exercise for you to gain clarity on yours and what might be more helpful.
4. Cultivate being kind to yourself
The final benefit of regular mindfulness check-ins is that they help you cultivate being kind to yourself. Chances are you are often kind to others, but how often are you kind to yourself? This is where taking care with the setting and the comfortable clothes etc comes in, providing additional satisfaction and relaxation and support. It shows you that you care.
Self care = caring for others
Don’t forget that being kind to yourself is a core self-care behaviour, which helps strengthen your self-esteem, confidence and self-resourcefulness. It can be radically beneficial not just for yourself but for those around you.
I’m inviting you to join me for the first ever Monday Mindful Check in on November 2 at 5:15pm. This is a free event on Insight Timer.
Me, myself and I have regular check-ins and it’s a practice that’s helps me stay sturdy and solid (at least more of the time) during tumultuous times as well as the more enjoyable times.
I hope that you’ll find it equally beneficial.
Go gently, hold steady, stay the course.
All the best, Thor
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