Internal Self Care
by Cyndi Williams, MSW, LCSW
This month we are focusing on self care, and we started off with a challenge to add just one new habit to your routine for the month of September. If you’re like me, you’ve probably missed a day or two. I am focusing on drinking more water and I cannot understand why this is such a challenge, but it is!
If you have taken on the challenge, I am so proud of you! Often we focus more on the outer or body-focused self care, such as getting our nails done, making time for a massage, or getting some exercise, and that is wonderful — but I want to invite you to also focus on some heart, gut, and mind self care for our inner self.
This is often a challenge for grievers. For inner self care, quiet time, time alone, and being still with our thoughts and feelings is the goal in order to re-center, to become more grounded, and to gain insights from processing. (Ouch…and I thought drinking water more regularly was difficult!) Widows find themselves alone and in a quiet home so often, we may avoid it in order to avoid that feeling of loneliness, isolation, and seclusion which may feel is an unavoidable part of our new reality.
In order for any activity to be a self care activity, it requires mindfulness, or making a conscious and deliberate choice to focus on yourself. To spend some quality time with our thoughts can turn a dreaded reality of loss into personal empowerment as you choose to gift yourself the attention you need to heal.
If you find that being alone at home can cause anxiety or depression symptoms, change your physical environment. Find a museum, cathedral, trail, or other scenic place. If quiet and solitude trigger the intense grief feelings, modify your inner self care and go someplace that’s not quiet where you’ll find other people, like a coffee shop, mall, or park. Then find a comfortable place to sit and focus on yourself.
Start by becoming comfortable with this practice by taking baby steps. Take a book or journal to turn to if your thoughts seem to be too chaotic to nail down, or just mindfully observe your environment without judgment. This may sound strange if you are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness is simply time noticing your own thoughts and presence without judgment. It can be a difficult practice to begin, as we are not typically taught as children to focus on ourselves, or taught to enjoy quiet introspection.
The benefits of prayer, mindfulness, yoga, journaling, or other practices which can help us rediscover ourselves and hear our own inner voices more clearly, also come with the benefit of giving us confidence, because when we know what we really feel and need, we are better advocates for those things in our relationships. For me, prayer is the practice I choose most often for my self care.
A friend in my local MWC community shared with me that she has found herself praying, but not feeling as though she is hearing her higher power or gaining the comfort she once did with her faith practices. She recognized she had been going through the motions, even engaging in group faith studies a couple of times per week, but had been rushing through the materials. This was impacting her ability to gain the benefits of the peace she felt in the past in growing deeper in her faith through intentional time spent alone in prayer and reflection. I was incredibly inspired when she shared that she had booked a trip for several days alone out of town in a beautiful destination so she could focus solely on her internal self care.
I encourage you to find someone who can hold you accountable to this internal work, and to whom you also have an opportunity to become the encourager. BONUS: Both giving and receiving encouragement are another form of internal self care!
Widowed in 2013, Cyndi Williams, LCSW is a mental health advisor and contributor for Modern Widows Club. She has more than a decade of experience supporting families navigating grief and loss. She currently works as a mental health therapist at Family Life Counseling in St. Louis, Missouri. Follow her on Facebook at @CyndiWilliamsLCSW.