Self-care at times of stress and difficulty

The 8 week radical self care course I’m currently a participant on has introduced this model of the three systems we switch between.

Drive system: the urge to push forward, to explore, to find resources.

Threat system: to detect danger and respond by fighting or running.

Soothing system: managing distress through self care, soothing and mutual trust.

Each week we take some time to consider our experiences and to notice in a difficult situation which of these three was most dominant at the time. What I’ve noticed is that the soothing system was the one that was least active for me. A lot of the time there’s the urge to look for something, to reach out for contact or to try and find a resource and the reaction of fear or anxiety to difficult events which would take me into the threat system….but seldom the act of self care in these challenging situations. The course has helped me to be much more aware that I can give this resource to myself at times of stress. I can’t always stop a difficult situation from occurring, but I always have the choice to give myself self-care.

The simplest way to do this is to bring some contact to my own body – resting a hand on my chest and belly, or on my forearm if I am somewhere public. Noticing this sense of touch, even when given by oneself to oneself, activates the mammalian care giving system – it makes us feel safe. Over the last few weeks in the group I’ve introduced this as part of the closing meditation, inviting people to rest a hand on their belly and heart, or to hold themselves in some way. The next time you are feeling stress try it – see how it is to give your self a hug! Or to simply feel the contact of your hand resting on your body with an intention of kindness.

What are the ways you care for yourself at times of stress? Or do you find that the sense of threat or of chasing after some desired objective, goal or person whom we desire is stronger than the care giving we give to ourself? Next time you notice yourself in a difficult emotional situation recognise if there is a sense of striving for something or a feeling of threat and ask yourself “how can I offer myself some self care right now”. That might be resting a hand on your body and taking a few deep breaths into the belly. It might be having a date night with yourself, running a bath, taking some time to pamper yourself. It might be dancing in your room or going for a long walk in the park or booking yourself a massage!

I invite you to take a few minutes to reflect on what your preferred self-care activities look like and how would it feel to receive this self care?

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