When I talk about self-care some people are hesitant, having seen self-care reduced to simplistic, and often expensive, ideas about how we can treat ourselves. The four quadrants model was developed by Dr. Jennifer Middleton–this variation asks that we consider how we can care for ourselves in an ongoing and day to day way, but also before, during, and after stressful situations. This model challenges us to think about the things that are readily accessible to us and to get creative, which is why I often refer to it when clients are seeking better ways to support themselves–it can be a helpful tool to encourage brainstorming about what it is that really helps us thrive. Here are some of the things that might help you in thinking about your own self-care plan, and the different dimensions it may include:
Ongoing self-care looks like those things we do on a regular basis, maybe in a preventative way. For some people that includes regularly socializing, a scheduled weekly phone call with a loved one, exercise, food that nourishes us, indulging in treats, prayer, a favorite hobby or sport, the daily crossword, game nights, listening to or playing music… The possibilities are broad, but the theme here is identifying the things that bring your life meaning, joy, pleasure, and stability. These can also act as red flags–for instance, if you love cooking dinner a few nights a week but find that it’s not happening, that may be a sign that it’s time to check in with yourself.
Self-care for after a tough situation may have a lot in common with ongoing–after a tough day at work a phone call with a friend, or a long walk, or a bath may offer you the chance to decompress and relax. Maybe this is where some self compassion (see some specifics about what this can look like in this great post!) comes into play, and you know to treat yourself gently. Do you need to plan time for yourself to worry about something that came up in the day, or feel some of the anger that showed up in that awful meeting? Does taking a few minutes before you head inside at the end of the day to wrap up any business related stuff help you disconnect from your day? Or maybe you need to drive a little longer, blast some music, and scream-sing super loud to let out that energy! This is also a place where sharing what you need with your friends and family members might help, whether you need some extra space, or to vent, or for it to not be your turn to put the kids to bed. Letting our loved ones know about our self-care plan can be a big benefit–for them and for us!
Self-care before a tough situation is also a great place to practice some self compassion–maybe we give ourselves a pep talk, remind ourselves of our successes, or even reach out to a friend who can offer us that when we can’t. It could look like wearing something that makes you feel your absolute best, or waking up extra early so you aren’t rushing. This area may require a little extra creativity, when we need to know what to do when something stressful gets dumped in our lap with little time to prepare. So maybe it’s something simple and accessible, like taking 10 deep breaths, or asking a friend to text cute animal photos to distract you for a second.
And finally, where I think the most creativity is required, is how to care for ourselves during a tough situation. Advice I often give to young people who tell me they would really benefit from a fidget during a test or tricky assignment is to look for things that offer us the same support–does twirling a ring on your finger or having a pen that twists help? When you are in a tense moment and feel flooded or overwhelmed, what helps you ground yourself? This could be simple like counting to 10, checking in with your senses (more details about that and other techniques here), taking a drink of water, anything that helps you feel a bit more connected to your physical space and the present moment.
Maybe it’s taking a minute to put a name to it–when I put my shoulders back and remind myself how great I am, this is a form of self-care, just like it’s self-care to have a cup of tea during my lunch break–or maybe it’s time to ask others what works for them, or to experiment and try some new ideas to see what new ideas might work. Everyone’s best tools for self-care differ, but I invite you to take a minute to recognize yours, and to consider sharing those ways you support yourself with your circle.