A friend of mine is having a bit of a rough time right now and I sent her a note to check in.

How’s it going, how are you feeling?

One of the ways we exist for each other is to confirm and mirror experience. When we notice a friend or a colleague struggling, we can say empathetically, “this looks hard.”

Sometimes kindness comes in the noticing.

Sometimes just acknowledging where you are can be enough to let yourself say, “Wait, yes, this is exhausting.”

But what happens when you’re weary, sad, or pushing through something insanely difficult and you need to take care of yourself throughout the process?

What if it feels like you can’t lean on everyone else and you need to muster up energy to support yourself?

My friend wrote back:

What small self-care steps would you recommend for feeling: frazzled, overwhelmed, frustrated with family, anxious about getting work done, sad, tired, homesick, confused and turned around?

Sometimes a few self-care motions can make all the difference in the midst of the yuck.

And as hard as it can be to do, as impossible as it can seem, we need to love ourselves.

Love yourself tenderly in the hard moments, like you would a child.

Now is not always the time to beat yourself up, or scold yourself to work harder or just “suck it up.” Sometimes you are already doing all of that — and we need, instead, to extend ourselves compassion.

We have a responsibility to love ourselves, no matter how much we might long to outsource this responsibility. In fact, if we look a bit deeper, we might find and sense that we are made up of love in our atoms and or cells — although in times of pain that can seem faraway, inaccessible.

So what we do is we care for ourselves, tenderly.

For me, as an INFJ, I need plenty of alone time, time away from stimulation, and time to decompress. Time and space to hear my own thoughts.

Travel is noisy and busy and full of other people’s energies. I am a fairly energetically open and receiving person (INFJ will do that to you) and that makes me exhausted being around other people.

My coping and compensation mechanisms are to find really quiet, really still things. I often have to activate them; it’s not enough to just “go be quiet in a room.”

I have to create environments that calm the buzz and the chatter. Dark, white-noise bars do it. Water and saunas and warm baths do it for me. Swimming helps.

These are a few things that help:

  • Alone time. Even if it’s in a bar, around other people. I take myself out to nice meals by myself and read a book. It’s something that feels really ME. For some reason Sushi and Sake at a small corner table do it for me (although not while I’m pregnant right now!).
  • Get someone to touch you. Hugs are needed, and our consumer culture can facilitate this through…
  • Getting your nails done. Particularly a pedicure. It’s a relief to have someone touch your feet. Soak them in warm water. You might want to cry. There’s a thing about Jesus washing people’s feet and I love that story (regardless of religion) because it’s so humbling and kind. Be kind to yourself.
  • Get a $20-$30 Thai massage. There are usually lots of places where you can pop in and get a massage. Get it. It helps with your body and rhythm and restoration.
  • Yoga class or 5 minutes of yoga. Pay attention to how much you may think you don’t want to go and understand that this might be a form of resistance to letting go, giving in.
  • Take a “dark nap.” I like doing “dark naps” in the middle of the day — shutter the curtains, hide in a closet, put earplugs in and an eye mask and do a sensory deprivation. It’s good for the soul, lets you close down to the sounds and noise around you.
  • Wrap yourself into a ball and give yourself a hug. 
  • Massage your temples, scratch your head.
  • Journal it out.
  • Listen to soothing music. 

And for sadness:

  • Sometimes reading really sad things or watching movies that will make me cry (Shawshank Redemption!) actually helps. It’s like you have to move through and with the sadness, not hold it at bay.
  • Crying is therapeutic. It helps clean out our immune systems and re-set our cells (it’s not just a passing idea that it’s useful, it really does do good things for our bodies).

What do you do to take care of yourself?

What practices help you restore, rejuvenate, and work through darker days, sadness, or frustration?