Self-Care: It’s Okay Not to “Optimize” Yourself

Many people have been making New Year’s resolutions, and some are even sticking to them! For most people, however, they won’t last very long.

It’s completely valid to want to make changes to yourself and to your life, but pay attention to what you are telling yourself in the process. You may be telling yourself that you will finally be acceptable if you can meet your goals. The “if” lets us know that if we don’t meet our goals, we are not acceptable. We often believe (consciously or not) that there are only two choices: exceptionally fantastic, or…crap. (To state it plainly.)

Guess what? You are already acceptable! You are wonderful and miraculous! Yes, even on your bad days.

The idea that you aren’t good enough unless you are the best of the best is an expression of perfectionism, and perfectionism is a life-killer, a progress-killer, a killer of the good. We seek progress, not perfection.

Instead of telling yourself that you “must improve,” try the dialectical approach:

“I am already acceptable as I am, AND I would like to try doing this a different way to see if I like that better.” (No “buts” allowed!)

This makes it clear that it is a choice you are undertaking, rather than a “should.” Also, it is a way of making a choice to try change but without browbeating, judging, and criticizing yourself–all things that, ironically, make change much more difficult.

If you accept yourself as already okay, then you are free to try changing things all year around, as the opportunities present themselves. But–this is key–you don’t have to “improve” yourself in order to be acceptable.

While we’re here talking about accepting yourself, here is a great article about expressing your vulnerabilities:

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What to Say Around the Table

For many people, the holidays are a time of increased anxiety and depression because of ongoing family conflict. Often people struggle to find ways to respond to outrageous or subtle expressions of prejudice or bigotry. Responding to the prejudice of family members and neighbors is even harder if you experience anxiety, PTSD, or your family is a mental health risk! It can help to make sure you are feeling stable yourself, and to be prepared beforehand.

First of all, remember to take care of yourself. You deserve protection, and you are allowed to set boundaries about how family members treat you! You are also allowed to withdraw and rest when you need to, to ask for help with tasks, to say “no” to unwanted activities, and to take care of bodily functions such as eating and going to the bathroom. That may sound obvious to some, but if your family has some dysfunction, those may be things you need to practice allowing yourself.

Secondly, try reading through this list of six steps (below) to speaking up. It will help you to frame your responses and to feel stable in your understanding, which will reduce your anxiety about a possible confrontation even if no conflict occurs. It also explains how to point out unacceptable behavior without name-calling or escalation:

Six Steps to Speaking Up Against Bigotry

If you are interested in broadening your skills in speaking up, here is a comprehensive list of a variety of situations and topics for which you might need a concrete and useful way to respond:

Responding to Everyday Bigotry

Have a peaceful and healthy weekend!

Mindfully Running a Half-Marathon

Having PTSD and asthma means that there are many times I can’t run or my training is derailed for short or long periods.

I began running because it was an activity I remembered enjoying in childhood, and I really wanted to reclaim it. I also wanted to improve my cardiopulmonary health. I never thought I would make it up to even a single mile! But that wasn’t the important part. I wanted to develop a habit and create new, positive mental associations.

My training method was this: I would run only as far as it felt good and enjoyable, and then stop or walk. If I felt like it, I could start again. When I felt done, I was done!

Because I took the performance pressure (“shoulds”) off myself and made the activity 100% about enjoyment and health, it ended up being something I have stuck with, and I progressed far more than I imagined possible.

Not only do I only run as much as feels okay, I likewise never pressure myself to run when I’m not feeling well, or I’m too tired from missing sleep, or something hurts.

In this way I am mindful of not being a punitive taskmaster towards myself, which would activate PTSD symptoms and also put me at increased risk for injury or illness. Exercising punitively is a form of perfectionism that can be injurious very quickly.

I accept my current level of ability as it is, knowing it does not make me superior or inferior to anyone else. I also know my ability is temporary, fluctuates, and includes a large component of sheer luck.

I pay caring attention to my body’s needs, which sometimes (often!) means I have to re-start my training all over again from mile 1. But it also means I am more likely to be able to continue running further into my lifespan.

I hope that whatever kind of exercise you prefer, you remember that the point of exercise is to improve your physical and mental health, rather than to punish your body (for eating, for example!) If you are exercising in a self-punitive way, it will not be healthy for you for very long.

And I want you to experience as much physical and mental health as you can, for as long as you can!

Segregation In Living Memory

The experiences of Soledad O’Brien and Ruby Bridges remind us how shallow the skin of time in “post-racial” America really is. And how vigilant we need to be in order to avoid sliding back instead of continuing our hard-won progress.

American Psychological Association on Race Discussions

A brief introduction to race discussion.

Racism needs to be confronted in a useful way. Remember, “you don’t get points for disagreement if that disagreement happens in silence.” – J. Pavlovitz

 

For concrete, practical, simple approaches for speaking up in many situations, read Southern Poverty Law Center’s Responding to Everyday Bigotry.

You Are Not “Lazy”

“I’m not getting enough done, I’m so lazy.” “I ended up hardly doing anything Sunday and I felt so lazy.” “I need to get this one task done, but I keep being lazy about it.” “After work I’m just too lazy to work out.” “I’m too lazy to keep track of things.”

In fact, I have never met a lazy person.

I’ve met people who are: overworked, exhausted, sleep-deprived, in chronic pain, ill, mired in depressive episodes, struggling with anxiety, stuck in intolerable situations, and having attention difficulties, but I’ve never met a lazy person.

“Lazy” doesn’t really mean anything clinically. It’s a “folk” term, and it is primarily used as a pejorative towards self or others. One patient summed it up as “not doing what you think you ‘should‘,” and I think that’s a good all-around summation.

Calling yourself “lazy” is usually an internalized message from caregivers in your formative years. It could have been directed towards you or towards others. The message is “You are unacceptable unless you do what I want, regardless of your ability, wishes, or how you are feeling.”

If you are injured, walk it off! If you are tired, too bad! If you are sick, it can’t be that bad since you’re not actually in an ambulance on the way to the hospital! Just because you don’t want to do something is no reason not to do it! You’re just “lazy”! In other words, how you feel and what you want do not matter. Ignore your own feelings and your wishes.

“Lazy” has also been used (and still is) as a way to demean racial minorities, those with disabilities, the poor, and women. Please be especially careful not to re-enact racism, ableism, classism, and sexism on yourself by calling yourself lazy!

The implication is that if you would just “will” yourself to do whatever it is, then you would be acceptable and worthy. If not, then you must just be a bad, unworthy person and you must deserve bad treatment.

The fact is, you are already acceptable and worthy, without doing anything to “earn” that worth. Now, you might feel better or happier if you were doing certain things, and they are certainly worth trying, to see if that is the case. But telling yourself you are “lazy” is not helpful.

Feeling awful about yourself is not a good motivator for anyone. And it is in no way helpful in mitigating situational factors, such as poverty or prejudice. In fact, it is likely to worsen your exhaustion, depression, anxiety, insomnia, and concentration, which will make it even harder to do whatever it is you would like to be doing.

Instead of calling yourself lazy when you did not do something you intended to, try paying attention to your feelings. Are you tired? Has it been weeks since you had a good night’s sleep? Have you been working 60 hours at three different jobs? Do you have an infant or a toddler? Are you taking care of others’ needs? Are you sick? Are you getting sick? Are you going through an exhausting life transition? Are you grieving? Are you experiencing chronic pain or illness? Are you in a depressive episode? Are you experiencing anxiety/phobia about certain tasks? Do you have PTSD? Are there systemic barriers to your tasks that make them much harder than they are for others? Have you been paying attention to self-care?

It may be that you have internalized some unrealistic expectations for what you “should” be able to do. It may be that some others can do the thing you want to do. It may be that on “good” days you have been able to do twenty times as much as you are doing today. But where are you, just you, today, right here, right now? Maybe you’re doing the best you can with what you have at your disposal right now. Maybe that is enough.

Another day, you may be able to do something more or something different. But accepting yourself right now is even more important than doing the thing. And that does not make anyone “lazy.”