It makes your skin crawl. The very thought makes your heart drop. Your stomach creeps into your throat at the slightest mention. Your face turns as white as a ghost when it’s near. You’d rather crawl through a spider web then do this…
Of course, the thing I’m talking about is self care. No, not the bubble baths, shopping sprees, sleeping in, or overpriced lattes.
I’m talking about
Spooooky Self Care
Cue the lightning and scream effects!
This is self care that’s not instagrammable, glamorous, joyful, or even slightly fun. These are the things we do to take care of ourselves long term, though it causes distress in the moment.
As I’m writing this, I’m sitting in the waiting room to get an ultrasound to check out a lump. I can list about 100 things off the top of my head that I’d rather be doing right now. Crawling through a spider web sounds delightful compared to the web of thoughts in my brain. (For my anxious readers, I’m fine and it turned out to be nothing.)
Is it cancerous? Will I have to stop working to get treatment? Will the doctors judge me for making a big deal out of nothing? But what if it isn’t nothing?
I imagine this is a lot like my clients’ thoughts before their first appointment with me. Will she think I’m a terrible mom for letting my kid eat this way? Will she tell me to go to treatment? What if I’m overreacting? But what if I’m underreacting?!
As our hearts pound waiting for the therapist to pick up the phone, the dietitian to evaluate nutrition status, our hand to lift a bite of food to our mouth, it’s hard to recognize this as self care.
Spooky self care is essential self care.
Spooky self care means that we are challenging ourselves. It’s a sign that we love ourselves enough to hold ourselves accountable. We can achieve our long term goals in sacrificing our short term comfort.
This concept of delayed gratification can be shown in the famous “Marshmallow Test”, where children are given a marshmallow and told they can eat the one now, or wait and have two later.
Obviously, this is a terrible example of disordered eating and not something I recommend trying. However, this experiment shows how we can be resolute to withstand in the moment, and gradually lose momentum as the children lick the marshmallow, take tiny bites, and finally just eat it all. Their discomfort grows and grows until they can’t cope anymore.
We can relate this to our spooky self care. Just hang up the phone, she’ll never know I called. Just walk out of the room, I don’t want to hear it. Just skip one more meal, it won’t make a difference anyways.
But we know it will never be a small consequence. You could avoid therapy, but you know you will have anxiety the rest of your life. You could cancel your nutrition appointment, but you know you will never repair your relationship with food. You could skip just one more meal, but you know it’s never just one.
“Choose courage over comfort”
Taken from Brené Brown, this was the mantra from one of my first clients. It was her constant reminder that recovery means lots of challenging the discomfort and pushing through.
Distress tolerance is one of the foundations of DBT. It teaches us skills for working through the ickiness of change. When we learn to tolerate the discomfort, we allow our brain to process the difficult emotions, instead of ignoring them. Here are some of my favorites:
1. 5 senses: Look around the room and find 5 things you can see, 4 things you can feel, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste.
2. TIPP: this stands for Temperature, Increase heart rate, Paced breathing, and Progressive Muscles relaxation
3. Radical Acceptance: simply put, it’s telling yourself “This sucks. The reality is that it sucks. It won’t suck forever, but it does right now.” instead of fighting it and ignoring the feelings.
4. STOP: this stands for Stop, Take control, Observe, Proceed
5. Splash/submerge your face with cold water: this triggers the brain into slowing down your heart rate by tricking it into thinking you’re diving underwater and you need to conserve energy.
Here’s a link to some more: https://www.skylandtrail.org/survive-a-crisis-situation-with-dbt-distress-tolerance-skills/
Progress means sitting in the discomfort, and comfort means staying stuck. Stay spooky, stay successful.