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Self-care is more than bubble baths (when you have chronic pain as an entrepreneur).



Introduction

Seven years ago, I already had a string of diagnoses including Fibromyalgia, Migraine, IBS, Asthma, Crohn’s Disease, TMJD, and Tinnitus. All of which were making life difficult in their various ways. But I then started experiencing vomiting at random times.



The most embarrassing was whilst I was in a therapy session with a patient who had PTSD. About 10 minutes in, I started feeling nauseous. Followed almost immediately by the familiar signs that I WAS going to be sick. Before I could even say anything to the patient, I turned and vomited into the sink in the doctor’s room I was using. The patient was great, and really understanding, we rearranged the appointment, and I cleaned up the room.



I had lots of tests, yet no cause was found. I knew it was up to me to work out how to deal with it.



I started with what I knew. I was already meditating daily, exercising when I could, and eating reasonably healthily. But I knew I had to up my game. I realized though, that I didn’t really know what self-care was or how it looked for me.



Much of what is recommended as self-care did not feel safe to me. A warm bath never felt calming and comforting to me as it bought up some disturbing memories. A cup of tea didn’t change anything. I couldn’t go for a walk because it would cause more pain and I often didn’t have the time for it so it would feel like a threat to me.



So, I started exploring other means to look after my wellbeing. Ways that could help me to feel safe in my body, in my mind, in my life generally.



I ended up devising an individualised plan that not only aided my day-to-day wellbeing, but it also helped me to understand the various symptoms I was experiencing. And it helped to calm them (and in many cases, stop them re-occurring). In essence it helped me to feel safe.



This plan I call the PETAL Plan. I see it as the reason I was able to move on from fear of throwing up to thriving in my business.



I’d like to share with you the steps I took to create my personalized PETAL Plan and what it entails. First though, let's consider who may need the PETAL Plan.



Who needs a self-care plan?

It’s hard to concentrate on growing a successful business or career when there are so many things pulling at your attention.



There’s even more need to take care of yourself during times uncertain times. Seven years ago, I was starting some more post-graduate training. The course was renowned for being really tough. If I failed the course, I would lose my job. I was a single parent with a mortgage. This created pressure, on top of the fear of failing.



I had extremely high expectations of myself and was eager to impress. Common traits in entrepreneurs and professionals. But also, in people with chronic pain. We tend to be high achievers, that don’t like asking for help, and take on responsibility for everything. So, uncertainty and pressure were difficult for me.



Over the last few years there has been a lot of uncertain and stressful events. In the UK, there was Brexit, Covid, the war in Ukraine, and as the consequences of these continue to affect us as business owner and individuals, there is yet more insecurity and change upon us. The cost-of-living crisis, a possible recession, the Queen's death). This is on top of our everyday chronic pain/stress illness/TMS symptoms.



One way to counteract all this insecurity and anxiety is to take control of what we can.



It is possible to have ultimate control of our thoughts, actions, emotions, and physical symptoms. It isn’t always obvious how. And can feel overwhelming if we try to do it all at once. But with the right plan it is less scary, and more achievable.



Before I explain how, I’d like to explain what self-care is and what it isn’t. And then discuss why it is difficult for some of us to do this naturally.



What is self-care?

Selfcare is not just caring for yourself– it’s about creating safety in your body and mind.



An article in the International Journal of Nursing Sciences (Volume 8, Issue 4, 10 October 2021, Pages 418-425) called Self-care: A concept analysis by Nicole Martínez Cynthia D. Connelly Alexa Pérez and Patricia Calero, concluded that self-care is:



“…the ability to care for oneself through awareness, self-control, and self-reliance in order to achieve, maintain, or promote optimal health and well-being.


Which is self-explanatory, however, I believe that to achieve, maintain, and promote optimal health and wellbeing we must first feel safe.



It’s about finding ways to move your physical and emotional state into a place of safety.



Take a break before you break.



Why do we need to feel safe?

The importance of self-care “…includes improved well-being and lower morbidity, mortality, and healthcare costs”, state an article “Self-care research: Where are we now? Where are we going?” (Int J Nurs Stud. 2021 Apr;116:103402.doi:10.1016/j.ijnurstu. 2019.103402. Epub 2019 Aug 23.)



Quite simply without self-care we risk burnout, physical illness and earlier death.



Most people who suffer chronic pain and other stress illnesses are those that are perfectionistic, people pleasing, and worriers. This is true of entrepreneurs and professionals too.



Giving and striving to please others leaves you depleted. Because we can't, by nature, please all the people all the time, we're set up to fail. This causes our threat system to kick in and the cortisol causes all manner of ailments.



Without self-care we risk future symptoms, or flare ups of old symptoms; exhaustion, pain, stress, anxiety, depression, constant brain fog, repeat infections, and autoimmune difficulties are all more likely if we don’t learn to take care of ourselves.



Feeling threatened leads to anxiety and further pain,

not to mention the inability to function cognitively.



Self-care helps us to return to a place of calm clarity, so we can face life and all its challenges with a higher chance of success. Self-care isn’t a once and done affair. We need an oasis in the hot sun of stress to stop off and drink, replenish, and get support often because life is inherently uncertain, and if we are running a business, or building a career, then there are going to be lots of additional pressure to deal with.



The first step to self-care is learning what it is for you. Understanding what helps YOU to feel grounded, focused and safe. Understanding your needs, and prioritising them, so you can function at your best.



For many this is tough. We might feel resistance to considering our own needs, prioritizing them above others, or finding the time to implement a self-care plan. Let’s look at why this is.



Why it feels difficult to care for ourselves

Being told to care for yourself can feel like something else we are getting wrong. If we've not been nurtured to understand who we are, what makes us happy, sad, angry. How to feel those emotions and how to manifest them for yourself, then being told to “do some self-care” is as pointless as expecting a teenage lad to “do some cleaning”.


If you've been taught to always think of others and what they need... "just think of the starving kids in Africa" "Imagine how little Sam felt when you took their toy" "Shhh...be quiet, you’ll wake the neighbours" You will find it hard to recognise and prioritise your needs, and desires. And you'll feel restricted stating what they are when you do know.



If we have been bought up in a family that assumes your needs. Or has ascribed certain characteristics to you, that you may have assumed were true and fixed. Then it is difficult to know your true desires. It is hard to recognise when your needs aren’t being met.



I was always told I was shy, academic, and the ‘good girl’. Looking back, I can see why I was labelled as such. Yet, I don’t see myself as any of those things anymore. My ‘shyness’ was in fact anxiety, the academic was a way I stood apart from my siblings, and I gained my parents positive attention for being ‘the good girl’. I never felt known. By them or I.



If we are unknown, we struggle to know what our needs are. So, it is very much about exploring these. Getting to know ourselves better, before we can even commit to self-care.



And isn't just doing something once because you're told too. Or because someone else finds it helpful, calming, or enjoyable. Everyone has different association with things. They have learned to dislike somethings, and like others. Some may hold bad memories.


For example, running is something I hate. I have memories of cross country at school, the hot burning feeling in my chest, the exhaustion, the humiliation of coming nearly last. I have explored this again in recent years, but found, even without the pressure I dislike it. So, I don’t do it.



So, remember, activities are only self-care if they feel caring to you. If you hate exercise, going for a run is not caring for you.



Finding what works for you can be fun however. I’ve included a few suggestions of activities you might like to try.



Suggestions of self-care activities

Eat and drink healthier

Enjoy a comedy show

Socialise

Hug a partner, child, or friend

Get a massage

Meditate

Movement - yoga, tai chi, qigong

Exercise

Gardening

Read

Create something

Journal

Learn to be assertive

Practice self-compassion (talk to yourself as you would a friend)

Control your worry habit

Learn how to resolve chronic pain



Having a plan to implement these will help you to maintain those that work longer term. I created the PETAL Plan to help myself and my clients to do this.



Using the PETAL Plan to implement self-care


Learning how to prioritise self-care means

learning to treat yourself as you treat others.



Starting a self-care practice is like creating a beautiful flower garden. What you plant now can give you joy for years to come. But it doesn’t stop there. All gardens require maintenance. So the work is ongoing, but the benefits far outweigh the costs.



There are 5 steps to creating your own PETAL Plan:


P – Physical – Prepare for Planting

E – Emotional – Watch the Weather

T – Thoughts – Sow the Seeds

A – Action – Weed out Worry

L – Loss and Love – Prune the Past



Prepare for Planting

  • Assess where you are now. On the wellbeing scale of 0 – 10 (ten being the best you’ve ever felt) rate your wellbeing in this moment.

  • Set your intention. What would we like to feel, think, or do at the end of the exercise? Where would you like to score on the wellbeing scale?

  • Commit to trying an activity that may help meet your intention.

  • Find out how, and what you need, to carry-out the activity. Do you need more knowledge, equipment, times of classes etc.

  • Give it a go. View it as an experiment. Scientists never know if something is going to work or not. They work on disproving hypotheses. If you think “this won’t work”, try it out to see if you can disprove that statement.



Watch the Weather

  • Recognise how the different activities make you feel, physically and emotionally. Be curious.

  • If your body is tense, or pain flares up, then it may not be the right form of self-care for you.

  • If you find it impossible to relax or get any joy from the experience, then it might not be the right form self-care for you.

  • But, in either case, don’t give up too soon. Watch the weather for a little bit and see if it passes.

  • Then choose the activity for the way you’d like to feel.



Sow the Seeds

  • If you have thoughts of “this is ridiculous” or “I can’t do this” IGNORE them. They are just thoughts. They are not facts.

  • You reap what you sow, so choose your thoughts carefully.

  • Only act on fact!



Weed out Worry

  • Worries are weeds – they are noxious, insidious, and undesirable.

  • They cause anxiety and serve no purpose.

  • Learn techniques to weed out worries to stop them from spoiling your garden.



Prune the Past

  • Many of the jobs in the garden are routine. Establishing this early can be beneficial to time management and to avoid neglecting or forgetting care needs.

  • You can't add something into a packed life! Something must go to make room. We must prune the past. What are you doing that is not moving you towards your desired outcome? Let go of this first.

  • When designing the ongoing plan create time for work, rest, and play. The garden can provide for all these, but we must attempt to keep them balanced. It’s pointless spending ages creating a beautiful garden if you don’t get time to relax or play in it too.



Conclusion

In conclusion, self-care is not just caring for yourself! It’s about finding ways to move your physical and emotional state into a place of safety. But this can be really difficult if you haven’t experienced safety, or do not know what feels good for you.



It is possible to discover what helps you through a series of experiments. This enables us to chose what you want and need to do and can give you the confidence to create a self-care plan.



Using the PETAL Plan is one way to create a sustainable, individualised self-care plan that is flexible enough to allow for the uncertainties of life.



If you are interested to learn more about various methods of self-care, both traditional, and novel, then I invite you to join us at a free, online, Self-Care Summit for Entrepreneurs and Professionals who suffer Chronic Pain.



It’s being held 26th – 30th September, 2022 online in the Beyond the Label Facebook community. The group is open now. Just request to join, set notifications to all, and you will be notified of each of the talks, demonstrations, and interviews in advance.





With Hope and Healing

Tina x


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