When Self Care Feels Too Heavy, Laugh It Up
Self care can be serious business. Finding supportive practitioners, eating well, exercising, and getting quality sleep yield fabulous results, but these practices can also feel heavy when you’re working too hard to do them right.
But as multiple memes and Twitter threads attest, laughing at the sometimes silly lengths we go to in the pursuit of wellness is, in itself, a form of self care. Take yourself too seriously, Steven M. Sultanoff, professor of psychology at Pepperdine University, says in an interview, and “you are not using self care about your self care.”
With Self Care, Ask, Don’t Tell
Self care can feel lighter when we ask for healthful changes rather than demanding them of ourselves.
“People who think in language that is requesting — I want, I wish, I would like, I hope —have less emotional distress,” says Sultanoff, who specializes in the psychological impact of humor.
By contrast, demanding self care through “I should” statements like, “I should take a hot bath,” or “I should exercise more,” is neither nurturing nor sustainable. Stuck in this kind of demanding thought pattern, says Sultanoff, “people are doing self care behaviors, but cognitively they are counteracting their self care with negative thinking.”
Smile Yourself to Sleep
Laughing out loud has physical benefits, including a release of muscle tension, because it involves taking deep breaths while expanding and contracting our muscles.
But laughter is an energizing stimulus, Sultanoff says, which means LOLing isn’t a great way to prepare to fall asleep.
Instead, he recommends a “humor visualization,” where you visualize a past event, from that day or long ago, that makes you smile.
“As I get in bed and am going to sleep, I think about a moment that was really delightful,” says Sultanoff. “The humorous visualization, just like any visualization, will slow down the thought process, may be enough to cause me to fall asleep.”
Tease Yourself — Gently
If you skipped your workout because you were too busy Googling kale smoothie recipes, it might be time to gently laugh at yourself.
“People are able to gain perspective and see that the situation they put themselves in may be excessive or absurd,” says Sultanoff. Cultivating this skill is productive because it releases the pressure of being perfectly self-cared-for at all times. This can go too far if you slip from light self-deprecation to a heavier feeling, like self-loathing.
“You can be playful with yourself, make fun of yourself, but not in a way that is putting yourself down,” Sultanoff saiys. “It’s productive when you’re laughing at the situation you’re in and saying, look how silly or ridiculous this is.”
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