Discoveries in Self Care 2020
Dec 30 2020
I began 2020 gently easing my way out of burnout. 2019 had been an amazing whirlwind of opportunities, but it left me spent and hollow, so I gave myself the whole of January to rest and replenish. Little did I know that my recovery time was cunningly equipping me with self-care practices which would support me through the most unpredictable year of my life!
January 2020 began with a hefty dose of nature immersion with me and my fella and his good friends, gorging on the exquisite beauty of the Pembrokeshire coast (pictured above). We spent the evenings filling up our joy wells, playing daft board games, eating ridiculous banquets and hanging out in the local karaoke bar, belting out the classics with hilarious drunken Welsh singers (Ahhh, do you remember when we used to be able to sing with strangers?).
When I got back home to Bristol, I checked myself into a weekly exploratory movement space, guided by Jamus and Lee of Embodied Presence. I love the way they hold space, gently imbuing it with permission to explore at whatever emotional depth serves you best. I moved, I cried, I laughed, I released tension, I cleared space.
At the end of January, I took myself to a burnout retreat at Sharpham House, in the lush rolling hills of Devon, where I spent 5 days meditating regularly, sleeping deeply, moving slowly, roaming freely, eating healthily, reading voraciously and writing prolifically. You can read more about my burnout retreat here.
Throughout this rare month of extreme self-care, I experienced several waves of feeling selfish and indulgent, thinking “I should be doing something more important.” In retrospect, I'm so glad I took the time to recover properly and to have spent the first month of the year filling my joy well, moving my body, resting deeply, immersing myself in nature and reaching out for connection. These simple self-care practices became my keys to Burnout Prevention throughout 2020, helping me to continuously boost my resilience and enabling me to stay grounded enough to keep offering all I could offer to others (if you'd like to get a sense of my humongous 2020 output, check out this blog).
I'd like to offer some of my 2020 self-care practices to anyone who's considering upping their own self-care regime, anyone who's fallen off the self-care wagon, anyone who needs a little validation for their own self-care discoveries, oh, and of course to me in the future when I've forgotten all this. Self-care is a practice, which can take time to master. I have fallen off the self-care wagon so many times, I started wearing a padded suit! There are always going to be a million other things you could be doing. Sometimes it can be an act of self-care to just get on with what needs to be done, other times it can be highly beneficial to press pause and focus on your own needs. Our culture values productivity above all else and seen through a western capitalist lens, self-care can seem like a namby-pamby waste of time. But in my experience, self-care strengthens my foundations, builds my resources and enables me to give more to others.
Part way through the year, I began a self-care log where each week, I wrote the following self-care categories on a page with space between them (this is what works for me, you may have different categories):
- replenish your joy well
- move your body
- rest deeply
- immerse yourself in nature
- reach out for connection
Throughout the week, I jotted down a note of what I'd done for each category (some things fell into more than one category, so were listed multiple times – my log, my rules!). This log helped me build up an evidence base, which I used to convince my cynical side that self-care works. Through this process, I've developed a series of healthy habits that punctuate my days.
Before we go any further, it must be said that I am incredibly privileged to have swathes of time afforded by the absence of dependants (not by choice, I've written a little about my fertility journey here if you're interested), I'm also lucky to have robust health, a flexible spirit that thrives on challenge and joyful and meaningful ways to earn money. I count my blessings Every Single Day and I know from having listened to hundreds of people throughout this year, reality is incredibly different for different people. If you're a struggling parent, or a frontline key-worker, or someone who's caring for others, or someone who's been ill, or someone who's lost your job, or someone who's been thwarted by the government's furlough scheme, or someone who's lost someone, or someone who's circumstances have drastically changed as a result of coronavirus, I take my hat off and I bow deeply to you for your endurance and adaptability this year.
There's a statement that's been doing the rounds on facebook; “We are not all in the same boat, but we are all on the same sea.” This blog is an offer from my boat to yours, full of hints and tips and links to what's worked for me. It's far from my intention to make self-care into a stick for you to bash yourself over the head with! Take whatever is useful to you and throw the rest in the sea.
Self-care Practice #1 Replenish Your Joy Well
Last summer during an online meditation retreat (more about this later), my teacher Chris Cullen said, “People often talk of “compassion fatigue,” but nobody mentions “joy deficiency.”” This statement really struck a chord with me and has become my mantra throughout the pandemic. What I took from it was rather than shutting down to protect ourselves from fatigue or burn out, opening ourselves up to experience more joy will naturally readdress our internal balance.
What if we were to treat joy as a practice? What brings you joy? Can you commit to doing one joyful activity a day? Here's a few things I've been enjoying this year:
1.) I find joy in play, as does my colleague and co-founder of The Online Clown Academy, Robyn Hambrook. To keep ourselves and other people playing during lockdown, we created and curated 42 Clown Workouts – mini video tutorials that anyone can do anywhere, anytime. I diligently participated every day for 6 weeks and felt great for it. If this sounds like your cup of joy, you can find the Clown Workouts in our facebook group or on youtube.
2.) I find joy in singing. During lockdown, I sang my way up and down the cycle path most days. Looking for some singing inspiration, I signed up for an online course with Briony Greenhill, who I would have been co-facilitating a week long course with in the summer. I heartily recommend Briony's training if you want to release your natural voice and tap into your innate creativity. My bike songs have got weirder and wilder as a result.
3.) I find joy in learning. This year, as well as the mountain of on-the-job learning I needed to do to move all my work online (Yippee! So much learning!), I attended The Embodiment Conference, Good Grief Festival, Clowns In Elderly Care Festival, Peta Lily's Alchemy of the Archetypes course and as many panel discussions as my brain could digest. I began driving lessons (I haven't crashed yet!), watched a lot of documentaries and read a huge stack of books - I went back and finished loads of books that I'd put down over the last few years, which felt doubly satisfying.
I wrote a whole blog about how to welcome in joy here.
Self-care Practice #2 Move Your Body
During lockdown, my body told me it needed to move. Often. Movement helps me process the big feelings, especially fear and grief. I've never needed an exercise practice, because I had such an active job, my body's not used to spending so much time sitting in a house, normally it's cycling up and down the hills of Bristol with a huge bag of red noses, funny hats and squeaky rubber chickens bungeed onto the bike, or striding around on rehearsal room, or bouncing around with hoards of clowns and fools to this (Oh how I miss this!).
When I'm flooded with fear or grief, which I have been on and off throughout the year, I don't want to get out of bed. This year I've been coaxing my body out of stasis with simple fun fitness videos. Sometimes it feels easier to follow steps than to have to think of what to do. Sometimes I just need good music and I'm away. It seems like pleasure is the key. Once my body's had a bit of motion, it's easier to stay connected with it for the rest of the day.
How does your body like to move? When you step out of all the “shoulds” and “ought to's” what brings you pleasure? Here's what's been working for me:
1.) Yoga with Adrienne. This is a great way into yoga if you've never done it or are getting back into it. Adrienne is a quirky, kind teacher who can't stop singing. There are hundreds of free videos of various lengths on her youtube channel.
2.) Kukuwa African Dance fitness. If you want to be led through simple, joyful African dance moves, these three infectiously energetic women have got everything you need!
3.) 5 Rhythms Dance. If you fancy dancing with other people on Zoom, I recommend Sue Rickard's classes. There are no steps to learn in 5 rhythms, just music to move your body to and gentle invitations to help you place your awareness inside your experience.
Self-care Practice #3 Rest Deeply
This year, I came across the 7 types of rest, according to Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith, which are: physical, emotional, spiritual, mental, social, sensory and creative.
How do you rest? Which of the 7 types of rest are you most familiar with? Which of the 7 types of rest might you be needing right now?
For the last 16 years, my meditation practice (Vipassana / Insight) has been a place where I go to explore healthy resting (as opposed to burn out / collapse / addiction / distraction, which is how I used to “rest”). Through my practice, I get to experience all 7 categories of rest. I know meditation isn't everyone's cup of tea, there are many roads to mindfulness! My fella is a carpenter who has never meditated in his life, yet when I watch him work, it's clear he's in the same place I go to when I'm on my meditation cushion.
If you're interested in exploring / cultivating / strengthening a meditation practice, here's some tips that came out of my experience this year:
1.) Get support At the start of the pandemic, caught in the turbulence of having all my work cancelled, I fell off the meditation wagon in a big way. I didn't care for a few weeks, I was flying high on having loads of time and no responsibility (maybe for the first time in my life!), but as the initial high started to ware off, I sought out support from various online teachers to help me find my way back to earth. This is the beauty of practice, it doesn't matter how far you get away from it, you can always start again. There's so many free online resources available, start anywhere and see how you go. I recommend Tara Brach for her clarity, you can find loads of shortish meditations on her website. If you're looking for something longer / deeper, I recommend the Sangha Live website, which has a massive archive of videos from Insight Meditation teachers all over the world. These take the form of a 30 minute guided meditation, a 30 minute talk and a 30 minute Q&A. You can attend live on Sundays or find the recordings here.
2.) Don't be afraid to change it up As the months ticked on and as my online empire grew, I spent more time sitting down and looking at Zoom, which stopped me wanting to start my days with formal sitting practice, so I replaced my morning sitting meditation with a mindful walk or mindful movement, dancing around my living room, sometimes with a blindfold on, noticing changing body sensations, emotions and thoughts and letting them all move through me. If you fancy trying this, tie a jumper round your eyes and let your body move. If you want to go all the way, try this shamanic trance dance music.
3.) When you experience the jewels of the practice, you automatically want to do more of it In the summer, I took time off Zoom, social media and emails to rekindle my formal practice with an online retreat, courtesy of the meditation centre I've been going to for years, Gaia House. For five days, I sat, I walked, I ate, I wrote and I slept. Thanks to the simple schedule and gentle guidance and without the usual internet distractions, my nervous system had a chance to calm down. Through experiencing the jewels of the practice in a held environment, I found my way back to my regular sitting practice. I was unsure whether I would really benefit from doing a retreat at home, away from the beautiful peaceful surroundings of Gaia House, but my practice now feels more integrated into everyday life than ever. I now choose between formal sitting, mindful walking or mindful movement to start my day and seem to be thriving from the variety. Gaia House are offering a programme of online retreats and one-off guided sitting practices, check out their website here.
Self-care Practice #4 Immerse Yourself In Nature
Nature has always been important to me, but 2020 introduced me to new depths of nature immersion! Being amongst the processes in nature inspires me and gives me perspective, reminding me that I am nature too. Watching the cycles of life and death and rebirth shows me that change is inevitable. Trees don't howl as their leaves drop off, sheep don't freak out when they give birth to their lambs, nature just gets on with it.
What do you get out of spending time in nature? Would you like more of it? Here's some ways I've been bringing more nature into my life this year:
1.) 2020, the year of the plant. Like a lot of people, I discovered the wonder of gardening. I grew my first ever tomatoes (they all got blight, but still, I grew tomatoes!) and I started cultivating an indoor jungle. My first response to lockdown was to repot all my houseplants, I've never done this, I've always been someone who is able to kills plants just by looking at them. But in the quiet of lockdown, my plants spoke to me, “We need room to grow our roots deep and strong.” Well, I had nothing else to do, so I bought a big sack of soil and have been a friend to the plants ever since. It's a pretty simple relationship, I give them water and sunlight and they give me joy.
2.) 2020, the year of the local walks / cycles rides. I've loved setting out with a flask of tea and a packed lunch to explore the green spaces of Bristol. I'm really lucky to be situated right next to the cycle path, a 15 mile tree-lined strip linking Bristol to Bath, with many different green spaces along the way. My current favourite spots are the bench overlooking the field of cows near Bitton, the positively prehistoric Eastville park river path and the big wide view from up on Troopers hill. You've got to eat your lunch anyway, might as well eat it outside.
3.) 2020, the year of getting IN nature! I'm not a driver, so on the rare occasions I've found myself at the seaside, or in a forest, or on top of a hill this year, I have wasted no time in finding my way COMPLETELY INSIDE nature! I've swum in seas and rivers, hugged trees, lay on mossy grass and opened my arms to wind, sun and rain. Nature is not just theoretical, friends, GET IN IT!
Self-care Practice #5 Reach Out For Connection
Connection has been pretty tricky this year, huh? Especially for those extroverts amongst us who previously refuelled ourselves on connection. I know some people who have actively relished having so much time alone. I've flipped-flopped between both camps, grieving the loss and celebrating the space in equal measures.
My work is all about creating the conditions for deep connection to naturally occur (both self-connection and interpersonal connection). I deeply miss being able to create those beautiful authentic communities. It's not quite the same on Zoom; the absence of the tea urn, the toilet queue and the smoking area make it harder for people to really get to know each other. (Yet despite this, there is a group of international clowns who have been through all three of our Zoom clown courses this year and have formed their own play group! Idiocy will find a way!)
One of the unexpected advantages of lockdown was having time to discover and practice different ways of getting my connection needs met. I realised early on, from the aching loneliness, that my previous main source of connection had been my workshop participants. The weekend and week-long courses I used to teach were my absolute joy, but they would take so much out of me, I would often crawl home so exhausted, that I had little to offer to my partner, friends or family. 9 months off from intensive teaching has given me time, space and energy to explore other ways of connecting with people. It feels healthy and nourishing to separate my own connection needs out from my facilitation and super lovely to be able to invest more into my relationship and friendships.
I have really enjoyed finding a groove with my caring, kind and hilarious boyfriend. We've done several hours of kitchen dancing, drunk several gallons of tea, walked through every kind of terrain, chatted about everything until we've run out of words, come up with a thousand new catchphrases (my current favourite – if you don't know how to respond, just say “those are some words”) supported each other through yet another miscarriage and massive changes at work (he co-founded a design / build company don't you know!), embarked on creative projects together (including all the photos in this blog) and performed several cartoon-violence shows for the house plants.
How have you been getting your connection needs met? Have you found yourself searching for connection in new ways? Have you made new friends? Have your existing friendships changed? Here's some of my connection discoveries:
1.) Get creative At the start of lockdown, I was getting a hot ear from lengthy phone calls and square eyes from too much Zoom time, so I bought me some really good headphones with a built in mic, meaning I could head out for long walks whilst chatting to friends and fam; killing several self-care birds with one stone (hmm, I think this is what they call a mixed metaphor).
2.) Embrace what's available When restrictions were relaxed, I took the walk-and-talk plan one step further and invited actual real life friends to actually walk on their actual feet with actual me. Genius! I love how nature supports conversation. Sometimes I'll introduce my fellow walker and talker to the “I AM ALL THIS” game. Here's how it goes: (A) notices something (say a particular tree or bird or clump of moss) and describes 3 qualities it possesses (i.e the moss is spongy, thirsty and bright green). (B) says “how are you like that?” and (A) muses on whether or not they are spongy, thirsty or bright green. Then they swap over. It's a great way of figuring out how you are feeling (yes, I am thirsty (and spongy and bright green)).
3.) Open to new opportunities Back in the early days of the pandemic, when everyone had nothing to do except sit at their computers, I found my way into several international clowning and fooling communities. Franki Anderson, my fooling teacher of 20 years, invited me into a group for European Fooling facilitators. We regularly meet and talk and play and learn together. We've been exploring the Compassionate Inquiry work of Gabor Maté and exploring how it fuses with fooling. Dave Spathaky of Clown Power invited me to play panel discussions with a host of international clowns, it felt lovely to be part of a world-wide clown community. The fools of Beyond The Ridiculous spent a good three months this year exploring online improvised performance, it was great to have regular contact with this group of deep divers. Connecting with Robyn Hambrook to form Clown Workouts (which later became The Online Clown Academy) enabled us both to take huge leaps into the unknown, providing online play spaces for clowns all over the world. More about these collaborations on this blog.
I'm really grateful for this extraordinary year. Amongst the grief and loss and fear and worry, I found some really valuable treasure which will hopefully change the way I construct my time for evermore. Prioritising self-care, rather than trying to fit it in around everything else, has changed the way I relate to the world. I feel softer, kinder and even more compassionate. The choices I make from this place tend to lead me towards generating more softness, kindness and compassion.
What was your 2020 treasure? If you'd like some structure to help you reflect on your past year, check out this Winter Solstice Ritual I created.