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Creative Self-Care Tips for When You Can’t Do the Things You Want to Do

Like many of you, I know self-care matters. I also know that… self-care during winter in a pandemic is a tricky business. As a therapist, many of my go-to suggestions are not as do-able during these times. When our access to people, places, and environments that often fill us up is limited… it can be very challenging to do the things we want to do to take care of ourselves.

Self-care is about knowing your needs and wants and working to meet them. Self-care is part of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. It is the practice of noticing what is going on in our mind/body/soul and trying to prioritize action with those needs and wants in mind. It can be as simple as putting on lotion or going for a walk and it can also be doing something uncomfortable and important like having a difficult conversation or moving your body.

The best way to start a self-care practice is to begin regularly practicing stopping and checking in with yourself. You can do this by sitting and breathing and noticing body sensations. You can make space to journal. You may use time in the car or in the shower to get out of your head and check-in on yourself like you would for someone you love.

Once you pay attention… see what comes up when you ask yourself questions like: “How am I doing today?” “What am I feeling like I need?” “How is my body feeling?” “What am I craving?”

This is the tricky part… because these are some of the answers that I’ve heard from clients over the past months:

“I feel so lonely I just need a hug”

“I struggle in this winter weather I’m craving sun and time outdoors”

“I feel stagnant and stuck and want something fun or some adventure”

“I would love a night with my significant other or friends”

“I just want to feel some peace but so much is uncertain”

Many of the things that we as humans crave and want look different right now. Here's some of my tips for what to do when you can’t do the things you want to do.

Look for the desire beneath the desire.

What do you feel like you need or want right now? Often we can notice a surface desire and also a deeper desire. If your surface desire is “I want to go to a concert.” The deeper desire is possibly connection or fun or feeling connected to emotions. Maybe you could watch a concert virtually, play music, write a song, read something inspirational, or enjoy turning up the music loud at home. If you have the urge to rock climb, what is it about that you are craving? Is it time alone, time in nature, a sense of adventure? Sometimes we want broader things like to escape, feel feelings, take a break, joy, and pleasure. How could you notice your deeper needs and come up with some small and satisfying ways to meet them? Maybe you escape by turning your phone off for the night and getting lost in a creative activity. Maybe you let yourself go somewhere private and let out a yell or cry. When you’re trying to get creative about your self-care… try looking deeper. Is it possible to meet a need in a different way?

Something is not just better than nothing, it's something.

If I would love a night with loved ones in an Italian restaurant but I’m not going out to restaurants right now… getting creative is an option. Make Italian food, light some candles, and play a Spotify “Italian dinner party” playlist. If you seek a beach vacation… you may try playing “ocean sounds” on YouTube, closing your eyes, and imagining yourself enjoying time by the water. If you yearn for physical contact, your body will still appreciate and benefit from self-touch. If you want some peace and calm, make a list of things you could engage in that may invite those feelings in. You may feel peace when you take a break from social media, have an at home spa hour, or buy yourself some flowers. Engaging in “sort of” versions of the things we want to do can actually be very satisfying at times. In this case, doing something is really something.

Be a witness.

If you truly can’t do something you crave and you can't get creative enough to make it happen even to some degree… just witness that. It can be a powerful thing to say to yourself “I know you really miss xyz (person/place/thing/activity)” or “I know you really crave certainty and are doing the best you can to get through this time.” It can be meaningful to acknowledge that it is ok to feel how we are feeling. When we witness our own pain/frustration/anger and make space for it, that can be a very deep form of self-care. This self-care, like mentioned above, may also be the kind that feels uncomfortable and important.

But, it’s still not good enough.

It’s still ok if creative self-care still feels incomplete. It feels incomplete because it is. I can’t count how many times during the pandemic I have said the words “not feeling normal right now is normal” and “this is not how it's supposed to be.” This is important to me to share because I want to be always reminding myself and others that feeling off or even “not ok” during these times… just means you are human. Surviving (instead of pressure to be thriving), reaching out for help when you need it, slowing down when you can, and holding on to the reminder that this is temporary… matters.

Self-care is all about the little moments of meeting ourselves where we are and saying “I see you.”


Blog post written by Bridget Caragher, LCSW, CDWF and Co-Founder of Green Door Therapy.

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