In order to prevent stress-related health issues today, self care must become radical. This means learning to tune in, or listen to your innermost self, in order to understand what your unique, individual brand of radical self care means. This is an ever-evolving process; a journey more than a destination.
In a world where science and technology have an unprecedented capacity to prolong human life and well-being, it may at first seem counter-intuitive to think we are somehow more at risk. In theory, technological automation and streamlining has freed us up to devote more time and energy to do the things that really count. Many of the old, slow and clunky ways of doing things have been replaced by faster, more efficient processes, goods and services – but this hasn’t necessarily enhanced our quality of life. Rather, this new world has come with a whole new set of demands. We juggle unmanageable workloads in the office, and endless to-do lists at home. We are busier than ever before!
The world continues to change at an exponential rate. The technology-driven acceleration of life in 2016 has ripple effects for everyone, and managing the stressful consequences of radical change in the way we communicate, work and generally go about our lives, requires special attention. Today, self care needs to be radical! As Kate Alexandra, yoga teacher and author of ‘Radical Self Care Project: A Manifesto’, explains; “when depletion, exhaustion and overwhelm become the norm, self care becomes radical”.
Anyone working in caring professions will already, of necessity, be aware of the need to monitor and maintain their own well-being; but maybe not so obvious is the growing need for self care for all of us, no matter who we are or what we do. As Alexandra has observed, however, this should not be confused with self-indulgence; similar to how authentic self-love has nothing to do with vanity.
So what does ‘radical’ actually mean in the context of self care? The word itself gives us some clues. The dictionary tells us ‘radical’ refers to the root cause of a problem or what is needed to address that; it can also refer to a revolutionary approach to something, or just a major departure from the way we usually do things. It can even be slang for ‘wonderful’ or ‘excellent’.
But what might radical self care mean in practice? First, let’s understand more fully why we need it. In theory, technology should save us time. In practice, however, time poverty is the malaise of the age of information we live in. The problem is, we don’t know how to stop. The unprecedented ease and speed with which we are able to accomplish time-consuming tasks of the past has freed up time for us – yes – but we are not calling ‘time out’! We have effectively turned all this extra time into unmanageable workloads.
While our speed-driven, time-poor lifestyle can be linked to rapidly advancing technology, let’s not lose sight of the fact that we are still responsible for our actions. Technology per seis not the problem – it’s the way we use it. Technology can give us increased recreational time if we call ‘time out’, but if we fill up that extra time with all manner of things to do we put ourselves at risk of stress and, in the long term, the different ways stress makes itself manifest.Burnout, fatigue, nervous tension, heart disease, cancer, panic attacks and so on, can all affect relationships, family and our quality of life as a whole.
Kate Alexandra is right is when she says self care doesn’t necessarily mean retreating overseas “to the tropics for weeks at a time, having stiff drinks and daily spa treatments” (although of course there’s a place for that!). Radical self care can mean developing an inner alarm clock that reminds you to simply take a few conscious breaths or whatever it is that works for you; even when you’re in the thick of it.
Radical self care draws from that deep well of knowing that resides in your innermost self. Know thyself, urges the ancient Greek maxim, but this is a journey, not a destination. There can be no end to the process of listening radically and deeply to what our inner self is telling us it needs. As Kate explains: “Getting clear about what your body, mind, emotional and spiritual self needs to be sustainable is a process; and one that will evolve and change over time”.
We cannot undo technological evolution. It is here to stay. So rather than retreating from life to some far away, natural habitat, we can also learn to make technology time saving for us, instead of time consuming. We can learn to stop and turn this extra time at our disposal into an opportunity to create. Now the meaning of this multi-faceted word ‘radical’ fully reveals itself; telling us that both the problem and the solution lie inside us.
So while radical self care means different things for different people, let’s also look at common denominators. In her book Beauty from the Inside Out, Dr Libby Weaver makes a case for ‘breathing well’ which makes it an essential tool in our radical self care kit: “Your breath leads. Your body follows. Breathing dominates your autonomic nervous system, and because we breathe 5000 to 30,000 times per day – or 200 million to 500 million times in a lifetime – it has the potential to influence us positively, or negatively, in many ways”.
Breathe well and consciously, no matter what else you do as part of your own radical self care program. For my own self care, I believe in Vitamin J (that’s ‘J’ for joy!) and what I call my ‘soul food diet’; for this, meditation and coming to stillness through breath awareness at different times during the day are essential. Swimming laps every week helps me to restore balance between mind and body; and my partner Emma and I treasure our ‘balcony time’ at dusk during the working week, when we debrief about each day’s events. Music of all kinds – gentle, powerful, even challenging – is also a special soul food for me, as is being employed in work that allows for meaningful engagement with people.
Listen to what your innermost self is telling you. Understand what radical self care means for you, and use this as a springboard to fulfilling your life’s special destiny and purpose.
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