By sharing some of the ways I look after myself in this blog, my hope is it reminds you that self-care matters and if it gives you some ideas about what could work for you, that will be a brilliant bonus. What works best will vary from person to person and across time, so I’d advocate having a range of tools and techniques in your self-care kit.
The starting point for me is being conscious of the fact that how I care for myself will translate into how I am able to interact with others and go about daily life. The investment I put in to looking after my physical and mental health comes back as a return, in how I experience life.
KindnessThat brings me to something I see as a foundation for a self-care regime: kindness, which has been aptly chosen as the theme for Mental Health Awareness Week 2020 by the Mental Health Foundation.
For me, kindness means being kind to yourself and to others. I understand being kind to yourself as striking the balance between learning from experience and banishing overly critical thoughts that can be both debilitating and act as a block between you and contentment. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have goals or work towards them, but it’s about accepting that things don’t always turn out how you expect. It’s about forgiving yourself and it’s about doing things for yourself that improve your wellbeing.
Being kind to others can mean a number of things: it means recognising that we all think, communicate and act differently from one another and so making snap judgements or assumptions about what others mean or intend is unreliable, and that adopting an open and non-judgemental stance is better for everyone. It can also refer to acts of kindness, giving time or support to others, including as a volunteer or through donations to charity.
Positive thinkingWhen I notice I’m feeling stressed or dwelling on a negative train of thought, I switch focus to positive thoughts. Sometimes I think about aspects of my life that I am thankful for and at other times I call up happy memories. I find switching my attention away from thoughts that feel draining to more positive ones, enables me to come back to the present and focus on matters that require my attention there. This sort of positive thinking is something I’ve practised since childhood and, as with anything, the more you practise, the easier it becomes.
Energy through exerciseThough never one who has shone on the sports field, I have come to see the benefits of exercise and feel sure there’s an activity out there for everyone. For the last couple of years, I’ve had a regular swimming routine, which has brought me immeasurable benefits. Three times a week I head to my local pool before going to the office. Whilst doing my lengths, I find I’m only thinking about the stroke and how I’m moving through the water; my mind is focussed on what I am doing in that very moment and there is no opportunity to think about anything else. After a swimming session, I find I’m buzzing with energy. I feel fitter too, which makes me feel more positive about my health and, in turn, better in and about myself.
During lockdown, I’ve swapped swimming for cycling. Historically, I’ve not been much of a cyclist, but lockdown has meant fewer cars on the roads and presented me with the opportunity to build my confidence and ability on the bike. I’ve found that I spend my time scanning the road for hazards, thinking about changing gears and the strokes I am doing to power myself uphill. Normally, I’m so busy thinking about what I am doing on the bike, there’s no time to think about anything else although if there’s a straight, flat stretch of road, I do notice the sights and sounds around me. The sense of satisfaction at the end of a ride is high, and I hope that never changes.
HobbiesAs with exercise I feel sure there’s at least one hobby out there for everyone and I really believe they can add interest, perspective and meaning to people’s lives. Hobbies not only provide a focus that can take people’s minds away from negatives thoughts, but they’re also a way of developing new skills and experiences that are individual to you. That can be empowering.
When not in lockdown, I enjoy walking, which complements one of my husband’s hobbies: bird-spotting. Whilst I’m a comparative novice at identifying different species, I do find it satisfying to get a good photo of something we’ve seen. We’ve been developing a blog using the images and describing our trips, which is not only diverting at the time of creating the content, but also lovely to look back on and to share stories with friends and family who are interested in seeing where we’ve been and what we saw.
During lockdown I’ve listened out for birds on our cycle rides and felt joy when I can pick out a Chiffchaff or a Blackcap whilst going along. I’ve also found planning and preparing meals to be a useful way to manage anxiety about whether we’re going to have enough of the right things to eat and drink.
TalkingFinally, I find talking to other people to be really helpful. Sometimes it’s enough to feel you’ve shared the load, or the very action of saying something aloud causes you to realise something that wasn’t obvious before you articulated it. Other times, people can offer a perspective different to your own, which can help you to see things differently.
LawCare has a free, independent and confidential telephone helpline and webchat facility that members of the legal community, including their family members, can use to talk to someone ready to listen and who can offer emotional support. That is an invaluable resource that I hope any member of the legal community reading this blog now knows they can access if they need to.
Also in reading this blog, I hope you’ve been reminded that your self-care matters and, in the spirit of Mental Health Awareness Week 2020, please remember to treat yourself and others with kindness.Emma Walker is a regulatory and disciplinary solicitor at Leigh Day and a LawCare Champion.
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