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The Act of Self-Care

Updated: Apr 10, 2022

Now that I am a mom, Disney animations feel a bit different. The storylines I used to gloss over as a child now prompt deep reflection around topics of family dynamics, gender roles, cultural conditioning, and even one’s existential purpose. So when I watched Disney’s newest film, Encanto, with my boys, beyond the colorful sceneries and catchy melodies, I couldn’t help but notice the underlying theme of “surface pressure” expected out of the female cast – from upholding one’s family name and lineage, to looking and behaving a certain way, to giving up one’s potential and dreams for marital expectations; all while holding it in and pretending everything is okay. Spoiler alert: these women are not okay. Even as cartoon characters.


(Photo from Disney)


Despite the early 1960s women’s rights movement, this concept of girls needing rescue continues to play out every day – in the media, in job discrepancies, woven into the very fabric of classic fairytales passed down to our sons and daughters before bedtime. It is then no surprise when girls, women, and mothers are thus convinced that their biologically weaker physique means a natural surrendering of their innate knowing and feminine power to a patriarchal system that seems to know what’s best for them.

But, as we’ve seen in COVID times, many of the old-world systems no longer withstand. Globally, the pandemic brought exponential stress to women and mothers everywhere, from increased domestic responsibilities to reduced work hours, high-risk jobs, unemployment, deteriorating health, and in some horrible cases, intimate partner violence. A 2020 study conducted by CARE, an international aid organization, showed that out of 10,200 participants from 38 countries, women were almost three times more likely than men to report mental health challenges (2). Anxiety, loss of appetite, inability to sleep, and difficulty completing everyday tasks were among the symptoms noted. With or without a pandemic, women-centric stress and mental health struggles have long existed. The pandemic merely shed light on a continued global inequity that now calls for increased public awareness, education, and solutions that are actually women-centric.


(photo from Unsplash)


So, when the March topic of “Women’s Actions Create Change” was presented to me by Sue, the editor of Centered on Taipei, my natural response was: What more do women need to do? As a mother, maternal wellbeing advocate, and meditation coach myself, the action I strongly recommend (that is also backed by research and personal experience) is none other than self-care.” Self-care is defined as “a multidimensional, multifaceted process of purposeful engagement in strategies that promote healthy functioning and enhance well-being.” While this term may have been over-popularized over the past years, the truth is that self-care works! Not only does self-care offer attainable breaks from everyday stress, ironically it also improves cognitive functions such as memory and focus that attribute to higher productivity.

By truly taking care of ourselves in ways that best serves us, our kids, our family, our environment, our world can thus be impacted, for the better. For women are the backbone of our society.


Self-Care Act #1: Rest

When was the last time you rested? The rest I am referring to is not your pre-COVID vacation days or your everyday sleep. What I am referring to is true, authentic rest. It’s okay to take a moment to think about this one. If the answer does not come easily, you’re one of the millions of people in this world who are constantly running nonstop on low fuel and high stress. According to Gallup’s latest Global Emotions Report that surveyed 160,000 people in 116 countries, 2020 was perceived as a sadder, angrier, more worried, and more stressed-out place than it has ever been in the past fifteen years. The Global Organization for Stress further indicated that people who tend to experience particularly high rates of stress were mostly women, single parents, ethnic minorities, and those who are responsible for their family’s health care decisions.

While obtaining rest is not always easy, rest doesn’t necessarily only equate to sleep. It could simply mean finding restful moments where you intentionally take some time for yourself – to put your phone down, to not think or do, to be still with yourself in a quiet inner space as your mind, body, and spirit recharge. Rest could simply mean turning off your phone during certain hours of the day, logging off social media accounts, going on quality solo day trips, or taking a few months off from unnecessary social functions. At the end of the day, only you know how tired you truly are. Quality rest not only fosters optimal health and soothes preemptive depression, anxiety, diabetes, and obesity, but it also favorably impacts one’s lifespan!


(Photo: Unsplash)


Self-Care Act #2: Listen


For those who don’t know even where to begin taking care of themselves, I recommend just slowing down for five minutes a day. In these few minutes, find a nice, quiet spot where you can close your eyes. Sit or lie down. Stand if you must. In these five minutes, with your eyes closed, relax your whole body from your head to your toes. For these five minutes, just listen and pay attention to one of your senses. Focus on your own breathing, or focus on the sounds around you, without thinking about how you are doing or preparing for the next step. Just notice and be present. Listen to what your body is telling you. Where are you feeling easy? Where are you feeling stuck? Truly listen to how you are doing. When you feel good and ready, slowly come back to the present moment, and open your eyes. Notice if there are any changes. Notice how you feel. Now, imagine if you applied this simple restoration to your life every single day for just five minutes at a time. Imagine the change that could take place with this simple act.

Welcome to the world of meditation. It’s easier than you think and the benefits are endless, from decreased stress levels to enhanced emotion regulation. Meditation is the intentional act of being mindful, of being present, by engaging in the mental exercise of focusing on the now, whether through one’s breath, senses, reciting a mantra, or visualizing imagery. The ultimate goal? Increased self-awareness. When you start becoming more aware, you start realizing and aligning to what makes you truly happy. As women and mothers, we’ve been taught so often to place our own needs last because there are far more important matters at hand. Our own hopes and dreams often get pushed aside. What if I told you that you also deserve to get what you want? That your needs should not be placed last, but be at the forefront like everybody else’s. When you listen and make way towards what is good and true for you, you are then able to become the best version of yourself, for others, for this world.



Self-Care Act #3: Learn


Change starts with us. Shifts naturally take place when we become aware of what matters to us and decide to do something about it. So often, this desire to change takes place when we’re inspired, when we learn, when we are educated on a topic that rings true to our hearts. At the age of 34 with two young children, I decided to go back to graduate school across the globe because I found something I truly cared about: Spiritual Psychology. Nothing could stop me from going for it, not the long-distance traveling, the 3 am class scheduling, or the exponential work on top of my pre-existing responsibilities as a mother and wife. Not even mom guilt. It was in educating myself that I was able to implement true changes within and around me. With this decision, I became a more aligned mother, daughter, wife, friend, and teacher for others. In educating myself, I learned about the choices available to me as a woman. I learned about choices that benefited my health and wellbeing, my parenting skills, my kids’ educational path, the types of relationships I deserve, and the life I want to live.

Research from the United Nations Women has shown that every additional year of primary school can increase girls’ eventual wages by 10-20% while also encouraging them to marry later and have fewer children, which may leave them less vulnerable to violence. At any age, learning is always available if we open our eyes and hearts to our own true desires. The education of your dreams could be right in front of you. If there’s something your heart desires to learn, what’s stopping you but you?



In resting your soul, listening to your heart, entertaining your curiosity, going for your passion, you live a life from the inside out, rather than automated by the conditioned world around you. When you live a life that’s truly from your heart, it’s only natural that your light will ultimately change the world, one step at a time.


 

References


1. Bateman, N., & Ross, M. (2020, October 14). Why has COVID-19 been especially harmful for working women? Brookings. https://www.brookings.edu/essay/why-has-covid-19-been- especially-harmful-for-working-women/


2. Kent, R. (2021, June 16). Financial insecurity, hunger, mental health are top concerns for women worldwide. Care. https://www.care.org/news-and-stories/press-releases/financial- insecurity-hunger-mental-health-are-top-concerns-for-women-worldwide/


3. Dorociak KE, Rupert PA, Bryant FB, Zahniser E. Development of a self-care assessment for psychologists. Journal of Counseling Psychology. 2017;64(3):325-334.

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