Self care: When what you want is not what you need

You’re feeling tired but wired, and all you can think about is sleeping, mindlessly watching TV, scrolling through your social media feeds, or stocking up on chocolate, caffeine, or a nice glass or two of wine. Sound familiar? It does to me.

Our minds are tricky things. We’re so good at persuading ourselves that these are the things we need to feel better, telling ourselves we deserve a treat, and that these things will serve that purpose. When deep down we know in the long term (or even in the moment) they often make us feel worse.

But here’s the thing – you are not your thoughts. And I don’t want to sound patronising, but you shouldn’t necessarily believe what you think. Read on for a few ideas about how to figure out what you need rather than what you think you want.

True story:

A few months ago I was feeling wired, on edge, and full to the brim of anxiety, but not about anything in particular. In my head a battle was raging – the part of my mind that fiercely wanted me to lounge on the sofa in an angst-ridden state and the part that truthfully wanted me to get on my yoga mat were fighting with everything they had, and it was playing out in my body through shallow breath, a tight chest, and an inability to articulate any of it.

All I could do was to yell at my ever-patient husband about being mad at myself for not doing some yoga that day. He calmly asked me ‘why don’t you do some now?’ I reeled off a million things I ‘had to do’. And he reminded me they could all wait. Grasping at straws now, I sullenly retorted with ‘but my yoga mat is downstairs.’ And he stifled a smile and went to get it for me. I shut myself in our spare room and sat and breathed angrily for a good 10 minutes. And eventually rolled out my mat, and started to move.

I’m a yoga teacher and I sometimes struggle with anxiety, low mood, fatigue and stress (and sometimes this comes out in toddler-like tantrums like the one above!).  I work hard to keep myself well. I tell you this to remind you that behind all the serenity and positivity that us yoga teachers tend to communicate, there is a lot of self-discipline, a lot of work to get to know ourselves better and meet the difficult stuff head-on, and a lot of times when we mess up. There are times when it’s easy but, for me at least, more often it’s a challenge. But it’s a challenge that’s worth it, and that’s why I teach yoga – to support you to move through the challenging bits and reap the benefits to your body and mind.

So here are a few ideas about how to tell the difference between what you think you want and what you know you need.

What is your body telling you?

Stop what you’re doing. Take three slow deep breaths. Make a deal with yourself to be truthful and honest. Ask yourself how you want to feel. Ask yourself what you need to do to get there. Listen to what comes up. Challenge the voice that takes you away from that answer. Maybe you need to move, meditate, get outside, eat a nourishing meal, talk to a close friend. I’m not saying you should never order pizza and chill out with a movie, but if you’re feeling anxious, low, on edge, or exhausted there’s usually something else that your body, mind and soul are looking for.

Be kind to your future self

If you’re craving take-away and sofa-time, ask yourself how your future self will feel. There will be times when it’s the right thing to do, and you’ll end the evening feeling relaxed and having enjoyed a treat. But there will also be times when you’ll end the evening feeling frustrated with yourself and regretful, wishing you had made a different choice. What can you do to be kind to your future self?

Just do one thing

As my story above shows, it’s not always easy to do what you need, even if you know what that is. So just do the smallest thing you can think of. In my case it was to shut myself in a room with my yoga mat. What small thing could you do? If you know you need nourishment, maybe just eat an apple and see how you feel. If you know you need fresh air, maybe just open a window. Or put your shoes on. With no pressure to achieve anything further. Do the smallest thing you can think of. Notice how it feels. And see what comes next.

Start where you are

If you’re feeling tired and wiped-out start slow, quiet, and small. When I feel this way, I roll out my yoga mat and lie on my back or in child pose and breathe. Then I introduce small gentle movements, not aiming to get anywhere in particular. Sometimes my whole practice is mat-based, but the movement takes me to a more balanced state.

If you’re feeling wired and on edge, start vigorously, working all that energy out. When I’m feeling this way I start moving straight away, maybe with a few rounds of sun salutations to work the energy through my body until I find a more smooth easeful flow and the ability to be still. Start where you are but gradually move to a place of balance.

Accept what comes

Whatever feelings come up, notice them, feel them, but see if you can detach from them. If you’re feeling angry, say to yourself, ‘I feel angry. But angry is not who I am’. Notice how those emotions feel in your body and breath. As your feelings change (or not) as you do what you need to, notice that happening with a sense of curiosity. There’s no right or wrong, nothing to achieve, only what is.

When all else fails, give in to what you want

It’s all very well to list these things but it’s another to take them on board in the moment. Stay conscious of them, and over time they will come more easily. But if you decide to give in, detach or indulge, then allow yourself that. Notice how you feel afterwards. Let it go. And decide whether you want to make a different choice next time. Be both honest to your present self and kind to your future self when you reflect on this. And see what happens next time.

I hope you have found some helpful nuggets here. Do let me know if you’ve found other ways around this issue, I’d love to hear them.

With love,

Beth x

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One thought on “Self care: When what you want is not what you need

  1. Glynis Florence says:

    In response to your ‘true story’, Stephen’s question was “I wonder where she gets it from?” It sounds all too familiar to me! Beautifully written and courageously self revealing. Thank you for your wisdom, Beth.

    Liked by 1 person

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