Updated: Jun 23
During this strange time of uncertainty and fear, which has lasted for longer than we could have imagined, we need to look after ourselves if we are going to continue to sustain ourselves through the months ahead.
Since we have seen how our lives have changed since this time last year, and how things that we took for granted are no longer certainties, I believe that we are going to have to adopt new strategies to help us adjust to the new normal.
We are facing a lot of potential disappointments in our lives as we can no longer do those things which we used to take for granted, even relatively simple things such as travel outside our immediate area or see loved ones who live a distance from us. There is the sadness of not being able to share our celebrations with loved ones, and many families are missing loved ones whom they have not seen for some time. Sadly, too, there are empty places at so many family tables, my own included, which have been left by those who have passed away during the year.
Given that there is so much which is outside of our control it is more important than ever that we take control of the things we can control, one of these being our own self-care.
A question often asked when speaking about self care is, are you filling your cup? The question resonates with me and, particularly in these unprecedented times, I have begun to seriously focus on self care and healthy living.
After having had my own health related concerns in recent years I decided to take a look at my lifestyle and realised that I was not taking enough exercise, I was eating the wrong foods at the wrong times, and I was allowing work to consume my life to a degree that was not conducive to a healthy work/life balance both physically and mentally. I had to make changes, but I knew that tackling everything at once was not going to be sustainable in the long term, so I started with small steps.
Here are five ingredients with which to fill your cup that I believe are essential to maintaining physical and mental health.
My first commitment to myself was to walk for 30 minutes at least 5 times a week. I knew this would be the easiest place to start as I enjoy walking but just didn’t do it enough. That commitment paid off and I felt so good with my new-found regime that I joined a group training for the women’s mini marathon, which I completed for the first time three years ago. It was a great achievement which has spurred me on to walking at least 45 minutes a day, and often, with camera in hand, I will do more. I feel it has helped me, not just physically but mentally also, as it offers the perfect opportunity to take time to myself and clear my head of any negative thoughts that are running around in there! And as I walk along, I keep a photographer’s eye open for photographic opportunities that might present themselves. Today, my photo walks are an essential part of my daily self-care regime.
My go-to places for walking are two local parks and I also enjoy walking by the sea or along a lakeshore
Exercise is an important ingredient in filling my cup, but it is not the only ingredient. I like to feel that I can make a meaningful contribution in life, but I won’t have anything to offer if I don’t keep myself mentally alert and nourished.
I find that the practice of morning meditation allows me to ground myself for the day ahead and gives me some essential tools with which to respond to the ups and downs of daily life. Sometimes I listen to a guided meditation from one of the many available online, sometimes I just concentrate on breathing more deeply and becoming more relaxed.
Practising mindfulness during the day as I go about my regular activities means that I slow down, pay more attention to each task and avoid getting caught up in the busyness of life. I also try to carve out some ‘me time’ during the day when I listen to music, talk to a friend, read for pleasure, enjoy a cup of coffee – anything that is relaxing and enjoyable and stops me frantically ‘doing’.
Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder. E.B. White
#3. Practising gratitude
"Is your glass half empty or half full?" asked the mole.
"I think I'm grateful to have a glass," said the boy.
From The boy, the mole, the fox and the horse.
Nothing ensures feeling grateful for our health as much as having a brush with serious illness. It helps us get things into perspective and realise that some things are just not worth worrying about. Above all for me is the joy of awakening every day knowing that today I am healthy, and I feel a lot of gratitude for that. It is scientifically proven that gratitude changes our outlook on life; that feeling grateful for what we have really does have a positive effect on our mental health. Many of those battling mental health issues or addiction are asked to write a daily gratitude list as part of their recovery programme as gratitude is known to change pessimism to optimism. It’s not always easy of course to feel grateful when things seem to be falling in on top of us but if we are in the habit of practising gratitude on a daily basis we will be able to find something to be grateful for even in the darkest of situations. If we are in the habit of pursuing things that we currently don’t have and use a lot of time and energy doing so, gratitude can change our priorities and help us appreciate the people and things we do have. Saying in the morning ‘today I am grateful for x' has helped keep my cup at least half full at times.
Gratitude turns what we have into enough - Anonymous
Our creativity is our endless source of energy.
It opens our mind’s eye and fuels our adventures.
It travels with us and lifts our spirits.
It constantly duels with our better judgement.
Give your creative side a chance to thrive.
Encourage it every time it sparks.
A very nourishing ingredient in my life is creativity. I previously wrote a blog on creativity in which I stated my belief that creativity is good for body, mind and spirit.
Creating content, through blogging, is a way to express myself, explore my thoughts, share my views with others. Even if my writing is simply for myself it is giving me an outlet for expression which is mentally beneficial. When we write from an authentic place within ourselves it helps us grow as human beings.
Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self – Cyril Connolly
All creative activities are an expression of the inner voice of the creator. In photography, through the images we make and share, we find a way of showing how we view the world, of expressing what is important to us. Photography is about being a visual communicator, it is a creative process, a process which is really about the inner journey of the photographer; about paying attention to what is special in life and finding ways to present this experience to the world. It is important not to miss the experience because we are aiming to capture the ‘perfect’ photograph. When we are in a particularly beautiful location, having experienced fabulous light and managed to capture some good images, it is worth spending some time experiencing the place in all its beauty.
In all creative pursuits people are investing part of themselves, their own vision, in creations which enrich them as human beings as well as enriching the culture in which they work. It is easy to see therefore how creativity nourishes us, fuels our curiosity and is an important ingredient in filling our cup.
The following is a link to an article which was published in The Irish Times last year, which I think is still very relevant:
#5. Experiencing fully what is around us
I think it is important to do the things we like to do but it’s also vital to be with people we like to be with and in places we like to be. As I remarked above, I find that every time I go to a beautiful place to take some photographs, I also spend some time taking in the experience of the place, the beautiful sight before me, the sounds and the smells. Photographers can be accused of just focussing on getting that perfect shot and not seeing what is in front of them, but as an amateur in the photography field I don’t want to fall into that trap and miss the beauty of nature that fills my soul and lifts my spirits. Photographs are often taken and forgotten, but experiences, once fully absorbed, can stay with us and sustain us for a lot longer.
Particularly at the present time, my experience of wandering through the streets around Lake Garda two years ago is especially memorable
For many of us, the demands of daily life - work, family, meeting deadlines, juggling demands, all contribute to depleting our energy and leave us feeling that our cup has been drained. Perhaps this is a time when we can address that situation, realise how powerless we are over many things, and take control of one of the things over which we do still have some control – our own self-care. This might be exactly the right time to unplug for a few minutes in order to recharge and refill our cup.
Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you. Anne Lamott.
Emmons R (2007). Thanks: How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier. Boston MA, Houghton Mifflin.
Smith JA et al. (2020). The Gratitude Project. Oakland, New Harbinger.
Carr A. (2020) Positive Psychology and You. Oxford, Routledge.
Updated March 2021