Yesterday, I indulged myself in one of my all-time favourite counsellor’s self-care activities: an afternoon matinee, by myself, watching How to Train Your Dragon II (yes, I was also answering the call of my inner child).

It had been an exhausting day prior, and a late night of working. Over a large breakfast at IHOP, I mentally went over my massive To-Do (should) list, and with each item remembered, I felt a temper tantrum growing. I wanted to play! More than that, I wanted to switch my mind off. I wanted to hang out with the dragons!

What is this strange notion called “self-care”?

In our training as therapists, we all learn that self-care isn’t just a nice indulgence, it’s mandatory in order to prevent burnout and avoid becoming a real grump. But it’s not just those who work in a helping role that need time out to unwind – everyone does!

I know, I know, in this North American culture we’re taught that working non-stop is admirable. Taking time out for self-indulgent “me” time is viewed as selfish. Look at our vacation time compared to Europeans: we get only 2 weeks on average. They get 4 to 6 weeks!

Taking time out for ourselves can be hard, not just because of ingrained societal expectations, but also the reality that a lot of adults just simply have a lot on our plates: work, relationships, children, and countless obligations. But if we don’t do it, our tension builds, burnout looms, and the next thing out of our mouths might be “Don’t make me angry…you wouldn’t like me when I get angry.”… Yikes!  You get the idea. Next week I’m going to give you some great, simple and creative ideas to unwind, guilt free. In the meantime…

Back to the dragons

Yesterday, I knew that in order to avoid turning green and walking around wearing ripped clothes, I’d better heed the call of the dragons. I hastened to the movie theatre, bought my popcorn, filled my snack bags with peanut M&Ms and fruit gummies from the automatic candy dispenser (trying not to think of the potential incubus of E. coli) and settled into my chair.

Sitting there in that all-encompassing womb-like blanket of dark, with my feet up on the chair in front of me, I took several deep, contented sighs. As I settled in deeper, the incredible feeling of joy and gratitude overwhelmed me so much it almost made me cry. I thanked myself. It was exactly what I needed. Getting lost in the story before me, teary-eyed over the parts where Toothless gets captured, angry at the ugly baddie, thrilled at the dragon flying scenes (and thinking I wish I had my own Dragon and that I should really buy the soundtrack for this movie), the contents of my relentless To-Do list evaporated.

Coming back to reality, reluctantly

Yes, I admit, it was difficult dragging myself away from that safe fantasy cocoon in the dark. I stayed until the very last credit; till I felt the boring eyes of the two theatre staff, who just wanted me to leave so they could clean up the carnage of popcorn and get back to their texting. Emerging mole-like into the piercing sun, I finally made my way home.

So why am I telling you all this? To illustrate that one simple act of heeding the call within me to take a few hours off made me as deeply relaxed as if I’d had a long afternoon nap. The next day, there was no more sluggishness or foot dragging. I was completely rejuvenated and ready to get back to work. That little time-out gave me energy that lasted the whole next day. I was ready to re-connect with people, I was more productive, and gone was the risk of turning green and flexing my biceps.

How many of you give in to that calling?

Do you hear that call and pay heed, or do you stuff it away until you reach burn-out?  I’m recommending you listen to these cries for “me” time. Every day, even if it’s 20 minutes, do something, anything, to unwind. Next week, I’m going to give you a bunch of self-care ideas that are guaranteed to make you feel better, and others enjoy your company even more!

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