A Little More Green Space: Making Room for Self-Care

field of grass and forest

In honour of International Self-Care Day, I want to talk about carving out a little more “green space” in our lives. The pandemic has highlighted the critical importance of our well-being, as highlighted in our recent community survey.

What does it mean to take care of our well-being? It can be anything from necessary preventive measures, like proper hand hygiene and physical distancing, to safeguarding our mental health in the face of the unprecedented epidemic of loneliness in our communities .

International Self-Care Day was launched by the International Self-Care Foundation in 2011 and July 24 was chosen to symbolize the critical importance of self-care 24/7 . In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) instituted Self-Care Month, running from June 24 to July 24 annually.

The WHO defines self-care as “the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote their own health, prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a health worker”. Self-care rests on seven pillars as seen in the infographic below:

seven pillars of self-care

Photo: Seven Pillars of Self-Care courtesy of The International Self-Care Foundation.

Unfortunately, when we get busy and stressed, self-care is often what gets sacrificed first... Well, if we were even practicing it regularly in the first place.


In Search of a Metaphor

So what does “green space” have to do with any of this? I’ve been developing a workshop on this topic and was trying to find a metaphor to capture the critical importance of self-care in our lives.

I came across this great blog that compared self-care to caring for a flower, and it really spoke to me. I started thinking about green thumbs (I am a black thumb, totally; I used to joke that I killed even the plastic plants!) and then the colour green which, according to colour theory, stands for harmony and balance, growth, hope, and nature).

That led me to considering the importance of green space in our communities. I think of the park in the middle of my new neighbourhood: In the midst of all these houses, construction and busyness, there is a peaceful place to walk, bike, and enjoy the wildlife. It’s the perfect change of pace.

I think self-care is like that: It’s critically important, but if we don’t prioritize it and deliberately plan for it, we end up sucked into the busyness with no time for ourselves. We need that green space.

I want to pose two questions:

First, what is it that feeds your soul? You know, those things that when you have the opportunity to do them leave you feeling relaxed and restored or filled up?

For me, it’s reading a great novel, sitting and drinking a tea or glass of wine with my partner, and practicing yoga. For you it could be going for a run or shooting hoops with friends, or maybe even playing an instrument.

Once you’ve got an answer to this question....Are you currently prioritizing those activities in your life? I know that it can feel impossible to “find” the time. There’s only so much of it and there are so many demands on you. But here’s the thing: if you aren’t taking care of yourself, eventually you won’t be able to take care of anyone else.

It’s like Becca’s flower metaphor. Flowers need sunlight and water; if you don’t give it to them, they wilt and eventually die. Like people, flowers are also unique; some need more sunlight, some less.

Some need more water, some less. In the same way, there is no one-size-fits-all recommendations for self-care. Try something out, see how you feel, and adjust along the way. But, the important thing is to intentionally carve out the proverbial green space in your own life – otherwise you’ll end up a city with no parks at all.

Eventually I hope that you’ll find something that really works for you in your specific circumstances, that gives you the boost you need to be at your best for all the important people and things in your life.


From a Wish to a Plan

Here's a simple framework to try. It comes from Gabriele Oettingen and is called WOOP, which stands for Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, and Plan. The WOOP framework is simple.

First, decide what your wish or goal is. For example, I Wish to practice yoga at 7:00am on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays each week. Once you have your wish, you productivity guru James Clear stresses the importance to tie it to a time and place; doing so makes it more likely that you will follow through on your intention.

Next, envision the desired Outcome you’ll achieve once you’ve accomplished your wish. Going back to my example, if I practice yoga three times a week, it will lead to a stronger body, greater mental fitness, and better relaxation. This in turn will make me feel better and I will have more energy and patience for parenting.

The third step is identifying the Obstacle that is most likely to stand in your way. For me, it is getting out of bed right away (which is why my wish isn’t to do yoga at 6am!) and getting right to exercising.

Finally, the last step is creating your Plan to handle the obstacle. Again, Clear has some great tips, including using an “if-then” statement. For example, “If I’m tempted to stay in bed, then I will make sure that I put my alarm clock across the room and next to my yoga clothes”.

The easier we can make a habit by breaking it down into simple steps, the more likely we are to follow through on it.

This means, if I pull out my yoga clothes the night before I have one less step I need to take in the morning when I’m tired. If I put my yoga clothes on as soon as I wake up, then I am more likely to actually go downstairs to my gym space and start to practice. And, if I start my practice, even for a few minutes, I am more likely to just continue. After all, I’m already there.

I want to leave you with a challenge on this International Self-Care Day: Identify one thing you could do to improve your self-care, use the WOOP framework to set an intention, and make it happen at least once this week.

The thing is, you don’t need to change your life all at once. Clear reminds us that small, positive changes performed consistently add up to big differences over time.

And the goal is progress, not perfection.

You might miss a day/time in your plan but if you promise yourself that you’ll never miss two, you’ll be on your way to taking better care of yourself – and everyone else in your life.

Happy International Self-Care Day, all!

Sending you health and happiness,

Posted by

Kate Toth

Dr. Kate Toth, CHRL is YMCA WorkWell’s Director of Learning and Development. She loves to blog almost as much as she loves to develop and deliver training to help organizations enhance their culture and foster employee well-being. Her passion is to inspire others to think deeply and learn continuously. Kate has a PhD in Health Psychology and a MS in Industrial/Organizational Psychology. With a weakness for red wine and chocolate, Kate’s active lifestyle is a non-negotiable in her quest for balance.

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