© The Trauma Initiative


The term “self-care” has been thrown around a lot lately since it’s become en vogue to discuss the pleasant things you do for yourself in the name of being your own best nurturer.

Self-care often includes:

  • Engaging in retail therapy.
  • Taking a luxury holiday.
  • Visiting a day spa.
  • Having coffee or lunch with a friend.
  • Buying flowers or a treat for yourself.
  • Making love.

However, most of these activities are classified as “pleasure-seeking.” They are momentary bursts of positive emotion; much like putting an “emoji” in your day.

True self-care is not frivolous or fleeting. Rather, it is a daily practice: one that is deliberate and intentional. A process of tending to the mind, body and spirit.

Author of The 5am Club, Robin Sharma, tells us that tending to inner health is perhaps the most neglected aspect of modern living. And – for most caregivers – this is true. It feels like it just one more thing we need to do, and one more area in our lives that we are falling short.

In her book, I am Enough, therapist Marisa Peer tells us why caregivers are so terrible at self-care. Perhaps the biggest hurdle, she says, is that it is unfamiliar. The mind loves the familiar; which for some of us involves placing our needs last, working to the point of exhaustion, and (certainly not!) loving ourselves. These traits may be biological (part of our attachment adaptation) or environmental. Regardless, it’s time to make the unfamiliar, familiar! But how can we do this?

Sharma tells us we need to:

  • Change the mindset – put ourselves first (not last).
  • Change the heartset – turn from being fearful to fearless.
  • Create new rituals – that help our intellectual, emotional and spiritual life.

According to the University of London, it takes 66-days to change a habit.  Sharma suggests caregivers aim for 90-days. Sharma has spent 20-years perfecting his formula for inner health, which involves rising at least an hour earlier than you would normally.

Here’s how it works:

  • 20 minutes > Exercise: This can be walking, jogging, yoga, sit-ups, pushups, whatever suits you! Science has proven that exercising early in the day has phenomenal benefits: enhancing metabolism, releasing endorphins (“feel good” hormone), increasing serotonin (“happy” hormone), lowering cortisol (“fear” hormone). In addition, you get to see more wildlife and nature. There’s a reason birdwatchers and fishermen get out early.
  • 20 minutes > Journaling and Gratitude: By intentionally focusing on the positive we are hard-wiring our brains to take in the good. This is great news considering our minds are designed to default to the negative (which served us well in primitive days when we constantly needed to assess and respond to threat but is less relevant in modern society).
  • 20 minutes > Learn: This can be a book or podcast about anything that feeds your passion. Sharma recommends anything that helps personal mastery and professional capability.

Sharma states the optimal time to rise is 5.00am as this is when the energy of the world is at the lowest. While the rest of the world is sleeping, you are preparing your mind, your physical world, and your spiritual life! But it goes further than that. Ancient Ayurveda says you can sleep less and get more benefits if you wake at a time that’s in tune with the universal laws of nature (that means, with the rising of the sun). So anytime between 5.00am and 6.30am will work for most countries.

Sound good? Of course, it does, in an ideal world. But what about caregivers who are raising children impacted by early trauma? Is this even possible?

Yes! investing in yourself is even more critical. Many adoptive and foster caregivers live with toxic stress in its various forms 24-hours/7-days a week. We need to embrace healthy habits to keep us alive.

Personal testimony: As a parent to a child impacted by early trauma, I have been feeding my soul before my child going on 40 days. If nothing else I have learned I can wake up early and still function like normal human being. But mostly I have learned that the first ritual that you do during the day is the highest leveraged ritual, by far, because it has the effect of setting your mind, and setting the context, for the rest of your day. Focusing on building self-discipline, self-confidence and self-affirmation has been long overdue.

Helpful tips:

  • Tailor your “power hour.” The 20/20/20 structure can be modified. You can spend more or less time in each segment. Or, if pressed for time, incorporate all activities into a half hour block. Whether you exercise, study, plan or meditate doesn’t really matter. What matters is you dedicate this time to spend on self-development.
  • Don’t underestimate the importance of light in waking up. We’re hard-wired to wake up when it’s light and get sleepy when it’s dark. Figure out when sunrise occurs and set your alarm for at least 10 minutes before. Sit by a window or outside so you feel the benefits of the rising sun. In the winter months, try to sit by a window even if you have to use artificial light.
  • Never do work, check your email or social media or do anything for anyone else during this time. This is your time to do with whatever you like for yourself.
  • Don’t deprive yourself of sleep. Go to bed earlier. Most people require between six and eight hours sleep each night, so to have success at the front-end of the day, you need to compensate at the back-end.
  • When choosing reading material, opt for self-help books. There’s nothing better than starting the day with a guru in your pocket. Stories of overcoming adversity are also beneficial, if only to add perspective to our day!

(c) Felicia Stewart, 2019

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