Improvements in self-care often involve clear suggestions. For instance, if someone wants to lose weight, the individuals can define specific goals and tangible steps to take towards those goals. They can exercise, eat a proper diet, talk to a doctor, etc. Even for the “less concrete” self-care domains such as emotional and mental well-being, there are still straightforward techniques that can help (i.e. seeking social support, going to therapy, expressing their emotions). This presents an issue however when we come to the domain of spirituality.
Even the basic definition of spirituality encompasses multiple facets. It most often refers to bringing awareness to and developing the relationship an individual has with a higher power, nature, or themselves (McClain, 2011; Mental Health America, 2018). What makes spirituality particularly difficult to address is its abstract nature. We can readily other aspects of our well-being with relative ease. It only requires a basic level of awareness to do so. This is because we are normally in tune with these other domains at the present moment. If we fight with a loved one, we can talk it out until it is resolved. If we are sick, we take medications. If we think irrationally, we reframe the thought. If we feel negative feelings, we express it or engage in an activity that brings about positive emotions. The point is that these domains can be expressed and resolved through more tangible means. If we cannot use our five sense or even our inner dialogue to interact with our spirituality, how do we know how- or what- to nurture through self-care?
When I have this conversation with others, I normally frame it from this perspective. If you were stripped of everything in your life, and literally everything, and thrown into a padded room somewhere, what would you have left? Normally, I am met with looks of bewilderment at first. Then, with prompting, it usually clicks. You are left with rather abstract concepts such as core beliefs, faith, your higher power, your memories, and everything that relates to the spirituality domain of self-care.
Now, how you generally define spirituality will determine how you decide to nurture it. Most of the materials I conjured up on spiritual self-care broke it down into three primary areas: organized religion, relationship with a higher power, and relationship with self (McClain, 2011; Mental Health America, 2018; Spiritual Self-Care).
Join a religious institution. Regardless if you join a church, synagogue, mosque, or temple, all religious organizations share commonalities. All individuals belonging to a given religious institution all share a common goal in strengthening their relationship with their respective god. Also, there is often a strong social aspect (Mental Health America, 2018). It can feel like a family away from home and provide strong emotional support. Most religious institutions carry out activities in the community or possess smaller factions that address specific issues too (i.e. youth group).
Prayer. It allows direct communication with a higher power. Prayer provides individuals with an opportunity to express gratitude, seek guidance, or asking for help. Sometimes starting the day with a prayer prepares you for the day ahead, or praying at night discharges negative energy at the end of the day (Spiritual Self-Care).
Reading religious text. Most religions possess a book that summarizes the core foundations that the religion is built around. By reading the text, it gives the individuals a chance to reflect on their own beliefs (Mental Health America, 2018). There are also inspirational quotes, lessons, and morals to be found in these religious texts to be used as a source of motivation.
Talking to religious leaders. I was raised Roman Catholic, so when I have clients that were raised Jewish or Islamic for example, I often have trouble relating to their belief system. I will sometimes defer to community religious leaders to either assist me in understanding where the client is coming from or to meet with my client separately. Religious leaders can help guide the individual towards appropriate ways of strengthening their faith or offer a different perspective on a situation.
Relationship with Higher Power
Enjoying Nature. Sometimes we just need to take a break from life’s everyday chaos and go outside. It breaks up the mundane routine and gets us unstuck from between four walls. Nature has so much to offer that we often do not take time to appreciate. I have one little exercise that I enjoy when I am sitting at a bench or walking through a park. I tap into my five senses to see what each of them picks up on. I look around and identify what I see in detail. I perk my ears up to see what sounds I can tune into, and so on. The exercise takes approximately two minutes, but its effects can get me through the rest of the day.
Deep Breathing. I will not take up too much time on this one. If you want my take on deep breathing, feel free to check out a previous entry on its benefits and the technique I found easiest to use here: https://caringcounselor.blog/2017/06/19/the-right-way-to-breath/
Mindfulness. I could write an entire post on mindfulness techniques (sounds like an idea actually). One article I found summarized it beautifully though with the “three S’s” (Parachin, 2010).
- Silence- Find somewhere you can be left uninterrupted and with minimal distraction.
- Stillness- Take a break from the rushed world we live in, and be still.
- Simplicity- Keep it short, sweet, and to the point. This time is meant to be calming and not overly stimulating.
For now though, I will provide you with a link to some of my favorite quick mindfulness techniques: https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/docs/default-source/psychological-toolkit/7-mindfulnessineverydaylife-(with-gp-notes).pdf?sfvrsn=6
Relationship With Self
Positive Affirmations. A short, memorable mantra can provide enough of a boost to keep us moving. It gives us an instant reminder and has an immediate impact within seconds even on a physiological level. They bring peace of mind.
Embracing Compassion. Accepting yourself for who you are goes a long way. This goes as much for your flaws as it does your strengths. Rather than judging, remind yourself as well as with others, “It is what it is.”
Embracing Joy. For what it is worth, life comes with its ups and downs. Do not put too much energy into the negatives. Otherwise, you want have any energy left to enjoy the positives life has to offer. You will find greater peace keeping in mind the joy, happiness, and humor.
Keeping Track. Taking note of your innermost feelings and thoughts opens up the window to the soul. I always encourage my clients to do this through expressive means, journaling, or talking about it aloud. Deep down, these thoughts and feelings are what make you tick.
Focus on Goals, Beliefs, and Values. Honing in on these items puts life in perspective. It helps us realize what brings us joy and happiness. These items define what we are passionate about. Ultimately, we look for purpose and meaning in life through them.
Although it seems like a daunting undertaking, an individual can gradually bring awareness to their spirituality just like any other domain. It is an ongoing, lifelong process of give and take. Over time though, this seemingly abstract concept will feel very real.
-The Caring Counselor
McClain, G. (2011, April 9). Spiritual Self-Care: How’s it going for you? Retrieved January 21, 2018, from Just Got Diagnosed: http://justgotdiagnosed.com/resources/spiritual-self-care-hows-it-going-you/
Mental Health America. (2018). Take Care of Your Spirit. Retrieved January 21, 2018, from http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/take-care-your-spirit
Parachin, R. (2010, July 22). Preventing Burnout Through Spiritual Self-Care. Retrieved January 21, 2018, from Our Sunday Visitor: https://www.osv.com/OSVNewsweekly/Story/TabId/2672/ArtMID/13567/ArticleID/8011/Preventing-Burnout-Through-Spiritual-SelfCare.aspx
Spiritual Self-Care. (n.d.). Retrieved January 21, 2018, from Spiritual Experience: https://spiritualexperience.eu/spiritual-self-care/