How to be Gentle with Yourself
It's been a whirlwind of a year. It's February 2021, and goodness knows we've all been through a lot. For my family, we've had our fair share of stressors and joys. (Leaving us pretty exhausted!) My husband, Keegan, is the one with AxSpA. He's had a flare up that's kept up since March 2020. In the last year, we've gotten pregnant, had a baby, moved our toddler into a bed, bought a house for the first time, moved across the state, and there's probably something else I've forgotten. (Baby brain!)
In the midst of all of this, our therapists told us to be gentle to ourselves. I laugh at that sentiment sometimes. When can I be gentle with myself? I barely have time to shower! Keegan has non-stop pain. At the near anniversary of this pandemic, it's becoming clearer that we need to take this idea of gentleness more seriously.
So, what does gentleness look like for us?
First, it's a change in what self-compassion looks like. A massage and day at the spa aren't possible nor does it speak to the underlying needs we have at the moment. Our emotions are all over the place.
Indulgence isn't really an indulgence, it's coping
Getting that pint of Ben and Jerry's ice cream is a coping mechanism. And that's okay. My therapist reminds me frequently that we're all going through trauma right now. Each of us have our ways of coping, and as long as habits like these happen in moderation, it's okay. (So, to that voice in my head telling me I'll gain weight if I eat too much ice cream. Chill out. Ha.)
Learning to forgive ourselves
Having a newborn and toddler is already a challenge. And I'm learning more now to be forgiving with my own parenting. I think Keegan is, too. Toddlers are testy and we have to be able to say, "Oops, this didn't work! That's alright." Sometimes this is even just something I need to tell myself when I'm learning to cook a new dish. Or when I put my daughter's shirt on backward. Keegan and I are perfectionists, and it's tough to let go of an ideal home with folded clothes and clean dishes, and organized toys.
Treat yourself like you'd treat your best friend
A question my therapist will ask me when I'm being a bit mean with myself is, "Would you treat your best friend that way?" If the answer is no, then I know I'm not being gentle with myself. Whether it's the critic in my head ("You should have stayed up later to do more laundry") or how I talk to Keegan out of exhaustion, it's a great test for determining whether I'm being gentle.
Surround yourself with things that make you feel calm
I won't say things that make you happy because sometimes there are too many things that make me happy and energized. I'm talking happy and calm, like lavender, a warm blanket, some delicious tea. Whatever it is, find those things. Fill your day with them. Take care of yourself the way you'd want your mom to take care of you.
Gentleness is hard these days when we all are already beyond maxed out, and the world looks to us to do more and more.
What are ways you're gentle with yourself? Anything Keegan and I should try?
Does reading AxSpA patient stories help you in your journey?