Self-Care 101: Independence Day

I have been thinking a lot about the idea of an independence day for mental health.  In other posts, I have talked about pain, and hard things in life.  Those posts were a direct reflection of my therapy work. Many of my patients are facing issues that they can’t walk away from, and that they didn’t cause.  That might be true for you as well.  There may be a whole stack of things going on in your life that you are stuck with.

From my perspective that makes it even more important to increase your awareness of what is actually under your control.  Because, if you are anything like me, there are probably things in your life that are stressful, but that are not mandatory.  If you have a serious illness, dealing with the daily challenges that come along with that is pretty mandatory.  But if you also tend to get stressed out because you procrastinate small tasks and then end up with an huge pile of work–that might be something you can change.  And finding those spaces where change is possible is one of the ways that we can increase our own freedom.

Where Can You Declare Independence?

So here’s your invitation (or challenge–whatever best describes it for you):  As you move through your day, try to stay in touch with yourself.  Notice the moments that you feel tired, anxious, frustrated, overwhelmed, distressed, angry, or sad.  If you can, try to keep a list of when those moments happen and what they are about.  Later–maybe this evening, maybe later in the week–sit down with your list.  As you review the list, apply these questions to each incident:

  • Were these feelings about something I can’t control (illness, a loss, etc)?  If so, give yourself some compassion for the feeling and set it to one side?
  • Were these feelings about something that I might be able to control?  This is trickier, because many of your long-term habits, like procrastination, or piling up clutter, or impulsive eating may feel so well established that they don’t seem under your control.  Another way to ask this question is: could an action on my part make a difference in this situation?  If the answer is yes, than the feelings were about something you can control.
  • Which thing that might be under my control feels the most approachable?  You are looking for moments where you can create small change.

Taking Action

As anyone who has ever worked for personal or political independence could tell you, gaining freedom from something painful isn’t accomplished just by awareness and intention.  Once you are more aware of things that can be under your control, then it is time to take an action.  If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that I am a big fan of taking that first step, of doing one small thing.  I think that, sometimes, big plans create more space for procrastination.  So, on this day when my American readers are celebrating national independence, I’d love to hear from you.  Where in your life can you give yourself some freedom?  What first step will you take to do that?


Image Credit: Photo by bayasaa via Flickr

14 thoughts on “Self-Care 101: Independence Day

  1. Great advice here, especially for a procrastinator such as myself. Small steps sometimes don’t seem like enough, but when you think about another alternative, doing nothing, they’re actually pretty huge aren’t they?

    1. Lynda,

      The one small step is one of my favorite activities. I get all excited and happy when I hear other people talking about that choice.


  2. I love this post because I think we can get wrapped up in habits and ways of doing things that start to feel like they are out of our control. But in reality they are not and we do have the power to make positive changes and starting with small steps is really one of the most powerful tools we all have.
    Thank you for this gentle reminder.

    1. Allison,

      I really like your phrase, “starting with small steps is really one of the most powerful tools we all have.” That’s a fantastic way of looking at our own power to change.


  3. Love this post. Taking time to be aware of our emotions is something we tend to forget is important. I have been returning to a regular meditation practice and find it helps keep me more in touch with my thoughts & body throughout the day.

    1. JoAnn,

      Meditation is such a great tool for connecting with yourself! That’s one of the reasons I include so many meditation resources on the blog.


  4. Hi Ann, I love your suggestion to notice one’s feelings during the day to begin to inform us about what might need some adjustment. It’s easy to go on “auto-pilot” and just plow through. Actually, it isn’t easy, it takes a toll. But self-examination takes discipline–discipline that can be freeing. Thanks for the nudge.

    1. Carolyn,

      I often find that our bodies, minds & hearts are giving us lots of feedback about what we really need. It’s just that we get out of the habit of listening–and sometimes, those messages are tough to hear!


  5. Hi Ann,

    Thoughtful post. I like that you write about things “as they are”–that there are things we can’t control (health problems, for instance) and we need to be kind and compassionate to ourselves. And then there ARE things we can control or better manage… At times when we our so overwhelmed, we think we can’t control anything,, but there is always something we can focus on controlling…



    1. Judith,

      Writing about things that are real–helping people cope with things “as they are,” that is what I love best. There can be pain in facing what is, but there can also be freedom. Thanks for your thoughts.


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