The prob­lem is, we don’t know how to stop!

In or­der to pre­vent stress­re­lated health is­sues to­day, self care must be­come rad­i­cal. This means learn­ing to tune in, or lis­ten to your in­ner­most self, in or­der to un­der­stand what your unique, in­di­vid­ual brand of rad­i­cal self care means. This is an ever-e

Living Now - - Editorial - by Stephen Den­ham

In or­der to pre­vent stress-re­lated health is­sues to­day, self care must be­come rad­i­cal. This means learn­ing to tune in, or lis­ten to your in­ner­most self, in or­der to un­der­stand what your unique, in­di­vid­ual brand of rad­i­cal self care means. This is an ever-evolv­ing process; a jour­ney more than a des­ti­na­tion.

In a world where science and tech­nol­ogy have an un­prece­dented ca­pac­ity to pro­long hu­man life and well-be­ing, it may at first seem counter-in­tu­itive to think we are some­how more at risk. In the­ory, tech­no­log­i­cal au­to­ma­tion and stream­lin­ing has freed us up to de­vote more time and en­ergy to do the things that re­ally count. Many of the old, slow and clunky ways of do­ing things have been re­placed by faster, more ef­fi­cient pro­cesses, goods and ser­vices – but this hasn’t nec­es­sar­ily en­hanced our qual­ity of life. Rather, this new world has come with a whole new set of de­mands. We jug­gle un­man­age­able work­loads in the of­fice, and end­less to-do lists at home. We are busier than ever be­fore!

The world con­tin­ues to change at an ex­po­nen­tial rate. The tech­nol­ogy-driven ac­cel­er­a­tion of life in 2016 has rip­ple ef­fects for ev­ery­one, and man­ag­ing the stress­ful con­se­quences of rad­i­cal change in the way we com­mu­ni­cate, work and gen­er­ally go about our lives, re­quires spe­cial at­ten­tion. To­day, self care needs to be rad­i­cal! As Kate Alexan­dra, yoga teacher and au­thor of ‘Rad­i­cal Self Care Project: A Man­i­festo’, ex­plains; “when de­ple­tion, ex­haus­tion and over­whelm be­come the norm, self care be­comes rad­i­cal”.

Any­one work­ing in car­ing pro­fes­sions will al­ready, of ne­ces­sity, be aware of the need to mon­i­tor and main­tain their own well-be­ing; but maybe not so ob­vi­ous is the grow­ing need for self care for all of us, no mat­ter who we are or what we do. As Alexan­dra has ob­served, how­ever, this should not be con­fused with self­ind­ul­gence; sim­i­lar to how au­then­tic self­love has noth­ing to do with van­ity.

So what does ‘rad­i­cal’ ac­tu­ally mean in the con­text of self care? The word it­self gives us some clues. The dic­tionary tells us ‘rad­i­cal’ refers to the root cause of a prob­lem or what is needed to ad­dress that; it can also re­fer to a revolutionary ap­proach to some­thing, or just a ma­jor de­par­ture from the way we usu­ally do things. It can even be slang for ‘won­der­ful’ or ‘ex­cel­lent’.

But what might rad­i­cal self care mean in prac­tice? First, let’s un­der­stand more fully why we need it. In the­ory,

tech­nol­ogy should save us time. In prac­tice, how­ever, time poverty is the malaise of the age of in­for­ma­tion we live in. The prob­lem is, we don’t know how to stop. The un­prece­dented ease and speed with which we are able to ac­com­plish time-con­sum­ing tasks of the past has freed up time for us – yes – but we are not call­ing ‘ time out’! We have ef­fec­tively turned all this ex­tra time into un­man­age­able work­loads.

While our speed-driven, time­poor life­style can be linked to rapidly ad­vanc­ing tech­nol­ogy, let’s not lose sight of the fact that we are still re­spon­si­ble for our ac­tions. Tech­nol­ogy per se is not the prob­lem – it’s the way we use it. Tech­nol­ogy can give us in­creased recre­ational time if we call ‘ time out’, but if we fill up that ex­tra time with all man­ner of things to do we put our­selves at risk of stress and, in the long term, the dif­fer­ent ways stress makes it­self man­i­fest. Burnout, fa­tigue, ner­vous ten­sion, heart dis­ease, can­cer, panic at­tacks and so on, can all af­fect relationships, fam­ily and our qual­ity of life as a whole.

Kate Alexan­dra is right is when she says self care doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean re­treat­ing overseas “to the tropics for weeks at a time, hav­ing stiff drinks and daily spa treat­ments” (al­though of course there’s a place for that!). Rad­i­cal self care can mean de­vel­op­ing an in­ner alarm clock that re­minds you to sim­ply take a few con­scious breaths or what­ever it is that works for you; even when you’re in the thick of it.

Rad­i­cal self care draws from that deep well of know­ing that re­sides in your in­ner­most self. Know thy­self, urges the an­cient Greek maxim, but this is a jour­ney, not a des­ti­na­tion. There can be no end to the process of lis­ten­ing rad­i­cally and deeply to what our in­ner self is telling us it needs. As Kate ex­plains: “Get­ting clear about what your body, mind, emo­tional and spir­i­tual self needs to be sus­tain­able is a process; and one that will evolve and change over time”.

We can­not undo tech­no­log­i­cal evo­lu­tion. It is here to stay. So rather than re­treat­ing from life to some far away, nat­u­ral habi­tat, we can also learn to make tech­nol­ogy time sav­ing for us, in­stead of time con­sum­ing. We can learn to stop and turn this ex­tra time at our dis­posal into an op­por­tu­nity to cre­ate. Now the mean­ing of this mul­ti­fac­eted word ‘rad­i­cal’ fully re­veals it­self; telling us that both the prob­lem and the so­lu­tion lie in­side us.

So while rad­i­cal self care means dif­fer­ent things for dif­fer­ent peo­ple, let’s also look at com­mon de­nom­i­na­tors. In her book Beauty from the In­side Out, Dr Libby Weaver makes a case for ‘breath­ing well’ which makes it an es­sen­tial tool in our rad­i­cal self care kit: “Your breath leads. Your body fol­lows. Breath­ing dom­i­nates your au­to­nomic ner­vous sys­tem, and be­cause we breathe 5000 to 30,000 times per day – or 200 mil­lion to 500 mil­lion times in a life­time – it has the po­ten­tial to in­flu­ence us pos­i­tively, or neg­a­tively, in many ways”.

Breathe well and con­sciously, no mat­ter what else you do as part of your own rad­i­cal self care pro­gram. For my own self care, I be­lieve in Vi­ta­min J (that’s ‘J’ for joy!) and what I call my ‘soul food diet’; for this, med­i­ta­tion and com­ing to still­ness through breath aware­ness at dif­fer­ent times dur­ing the day are es­sen­tial. Swim­ming laps ev­ery week helps me to re­store bal­ance be­tween mind and body; and my part­ner Emma and I treasure our ‘bal­cony time’ at dusk dur­ing the work­ing week, when we de­brief about each day’s events. Mu­sic of all kinds – gen­tle, pow­er­ful, even chal­leng­ing – is also a spe­cial soul food for me, as is be­ing em­ployed in work that al­lows for mean­ing­ful en­gage­ment with peo­ple.

Lis­ten to what your in­ner­most self is telling you. Un­der­stand what rad­i­cal self care means for you, and use this as a spring­board to ful­fill­ing your life’s spe­cial des­tiny and pur­pose. ■

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