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Self-care: 'Ireland is the only country where 'you love yourself' is an insult'

Here are four important ways to incorporate self-care into your New Year’s resolutions, writes Amy Plant.

Amy Plant Counsellor/ psychotherapist

THE FESTIVE SEASON is here again, a time for friends, family and light up novelty knitwear. Hot on its heels of course is everyone’s (not so) favourite month, and with it the inevitable flurry of “New Year, new me” mantras.

Every January, we are hit with a litany of articles that encourage us to adopt of series of punitive habits as resolutions, and advise us how we might stick to them. Resolutions that have a tendency to revolve around restrictive diets, rigorous exercise regimes and other ways in which we might force ourselves to be “good”.

This kind of thinking has us convinced that rigid rules, strict regimen and self-criticism are the way to incite change, when in fact research would suggest otherwise.

Self-criticism steeps us in shame, and keeps us stagnant, whereas self-care and compassion helps us to learn, grow and understand ourselves better. This in turn helps us lead healthier, happier and more fulfilling lives. For those of us looking to be healthy and resilient in the New Year, self-care is a must.

What is self-care?

Ireland seems to be one of the only countries where the phrase “you love yourself” is considered an insult of the highest order. We’re a nation of self-deprecators, we fob off anything that even comes close to praise, lest we get a “big head”.

The result is a population who often confuses self-care with self-pity, indulgence or the shirking of responsibility. In reality self-care is not selfish, it’s not a matter of telling ourselves that we’re never wrong, it is simply a matter of taking care of your mental, emotional and physical health. It is the key to a good relationship with yourself and others and paramount to enact change in our lives.

So with that in mind, here are four ways to incorporate self-care into your New Year’s resolutions.

Be kind to yourself

This might seem pretty obvious, and yet it’s something that so many of us neglect. Like I often say to my clients, it’s simple but not always easy.

Many of us are unaware of the way in which we speak to ourselves and often develop an unkind inner monologue. It can sound like a cliché, but a good rule of thumb is to treat yourself the same way you would treat your best friend.

When a loved one makes a mistake or experiences a setback, we don’t judge or predict terrible outcomes. So when you experience a difficulty, ask yourself “what would I say to my best friend if they were in this situation?” Then direct those kind words to yourself.

Set healthy boundaries

In the words of Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho, “when you say yes to others, make sure you are not saying no to yourself”. Your time, energy and emotional reserve is valuable and limited, so try to become aware of the people, activities or responsibilities that no longer serve you.

It can be difficult to say no, especially to those we care about, but establishing healthy boundaries is good for both our self-esteem and our relationships.

Try creating a “no” list, with things that you no longer want to do. Examples might include, no checking my emails after 7pm or no attending functions because I feel I “have” to.

Look after your physical health

This is one of the most basic elements of self-care, and yet it frequently gets neglected. Make sure that you get enough sleep, a reasonable amount of exercise (not excessive) and are eating enough.

If you have any health complaints that you have been neglecting, be sure to prioritise a doctor visit.

Use your resources

This can refer to both internal and external resources. Internal resources include how we speak to ourselves, what we tell ourselves about the way we are, happy memories we may have or reminding ourselves of positive traits we possess.

External resources might be calling or texting a friend, reading a book, cuddling a pet, watching an episode of your favourite series, the list is extensive and dependent on the individual. It’s about giving yourself permission to do the things you enjoy.

One of the first steps to prioritising self-care is to revise our thinking on the matter. Taking care of ourselves is not selfish or weak, but rather a basic human need and a catalyst for change.

If you want to see improvements in your mental health in 2018, then give up the self-criticism and judgments. In the words of Carl Rogers “the curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change”.

Amy Plant is a counsellor/ psychotherapist working in Dublin City Centre. She has a special interest in the areas of PTSD and trauma, anxiety, anger management, sexual issues and couples counselling. Find her at amyplanttherapy.com or contact her on 0876279243.

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About the author:

Amy Plant  / Counsellor/ psychotherapist

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