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Self-care through the words of Greer Bell

(photo credit - Chenay Collett from Ti Tree Photography)

As a Mama, musician and mentor with an extensive range of interests, passions and people I deeply care about, I am so grateful that there has been such an outpouring of education/awareness in recent years around the concept of ‘self-care’ and the holistic health benefits that can be ascribed to the practice of treating oneself with kindness. While I do recognize the overkill happening given the immense earning potential for those within the wellness industry, and while I don’t believe it is the answer to everything that ails the human race right now, I have experienced first-hand the benefits of developing a simple, affordable and flexible self-care routine.

If you’re still unclear as to what is meant by ‘self-care’ or ‘self-compassion’, it’s really very simple: ‘Self-care’ is care or compassion that is directed inward.

It involves being aware of one’s own struggles and holding them with tenderness and patience. It also refers to the conscious and ongoing choices you make to honour and maintain your own health and wellness. It includes making mindful changes in patterns of thoughts and behaviours that do not contribute to your wellbeing. For instance, knowing when to take a break, avoiding harmful coping mechanisms or setting healthy boundaries, saying no without feeling guilty.

In her book, Rising Strong, Brené Brown shares a profound insight. She states, “very early on in my work I had discovered that the most compassionate people I interviewed also have the most well-defined and well-respected boundaries. It surprised me at the time, but now I get it. They assume that other people are doing the best they can, but they also ask for what they need and they don’t put up with a lot of crap. Compassionate people ask for what they need. They say no when they need to, and when they say yes, they mean it. They’re compassionate because their boundaries keep them out of resentment.”

Self-care is not a disregard for others’ needs but rather about extending the same concern and empathy for your needs that you would your child or a dear friend. This ultimately enhances productivity and the ability to contribute to and care for those around you in a sustainable way. When you make time for yourself and get sufficient rest & exercise, you feel more energetic and will be able to do more in the long run.

Making room for regular self-care in your life has a number of benefits. The practice of inwardly directed compassion deactivates the fight or flight response of the sympathetic nervous system, while triggering the rest and digest function in the parasympathetic nervous system. It has also been found to significantly lower cortisol levels and improve heart rate variability. In a nutshell it helps to build resilience, prevent burnout, promote healthier relationships and make you more productive.

Drawing from my own story, I grew up in a very tumultuous environment and had to learn very quickly how to survive, particularly in the emotional sense. Along with comfort eating, one of the most ‘effective’ strategies I discovered was reading the room before deciding how to show up in it in a way that would keep me ‘safe’. This led to a fairly fragmented identity and difficulties with intimacy, which only served to emphasize a sense of isolation and loneliness.

I experienced my first ‘burnout’ and descent into anxiety and depression in my early 20s after 2 years of solo international travel. At the vulnerable age of 18, I was met with a wide range of extraordinary experiences and encounters at a rapid rate without any anchor or time spent processing with people I trusted in between. It really was a recipe for a lot of distress and my body and mind paid dearly.

With the help of various mentors along the way, I slowly began to understand how severely disconnected I was from myself and how dire my need was to take better care. It’s been a very ‘Lord of the Rings’ type journey back to my own heart and a deeply rooted sense of self, which has very much been supported by the introduction of various self -care practices.

‘The earth without art is just eh…’ (unknown)

The anchor for everything in this journey was a return to my childhood faith in 2005. My most powerful self-care practice is prayer – spoken, sung or danced out. Spending time focusing on the promise that everything is worked together for my good is incredibly calming and encouraging.

Another significant key for me was accepting the portion of my identity that is an artist, the part that feels deeply and suffers deeply without an outlet for expression. In my case, music and lyrics are the tools I have been given. These tools help me not only to process but to fulfil a deep seated desire to provide a sense of encouragement, connection and comfort to those who need it. For any artist, the need to draw from a God-given inner well of seemingly random gathered details, impressions and emotional loose ends is strong, as is the need to give expression to them in a way that serves.

Having said that, artist or not, self-expression is critical to self-care. Being listened to without judgement and receiving encouraging as well as ‘corrective’ feedback from a few people who champion your heart is a powerful and streamlining thing.

Art in all of its’ forms really is a gift to us all, whether we are on the creating or receiving end of it. It is a massively therapeutic tool that bypasses the intellect and goes straight for the bullseye of the heart.

Anything from dancing to doodling can be a powerful form of self-care, which also points towards fun...another fundamental ;)

I don’t think much explanation is needed here but I came across a good article on the benefits of laughter:

To illustrate the art/fun connection in my own life, here is a video taken from a 30 day songwriting challenge I entered into during a particularly challenging season shortly before we left South Africa:

I also regularly declutter. Minimalism is a form of self-care for me as it helps with mental clutter. Letting go of things I no longer need is highly therapeutic, even more so when the person I pass those things on to is excited to receive them.

The only place I’m perhaps not so minimalistic is in the area of healthy food and books. But we’ll just say food and books are self-care too 

A few other things included in my personal self-care routine are:

· A daily gratitude practice

· Regular exercise, preferably outdoors

· Time spent with animals

· Giving generously and without expectation

· Deep breathing & stretching

· Drinking plenty of water

While there really is no exact formula around this, the most important thing is unapologetically getting back in touch with who you really are. Courage is required in that you need to dig in and get super honest with yourself about who that is, what invigorates and uplifts you, what causes you to feel drained and where your limits lie. It’s not about opting out of reality and insisting on only doing the things that give you the warm and fuzzies…but you already knew that…

Start small, keep it simple and sustainable, don’t overspend (there really is no need) and just be kind to yourself! ‘Speak kindly to yourself. You’re always listening’ (unknown)

Love wins.

x Greer

(Greer with her family)

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