Often patients in my NYC anxiety therapy practice want a direct solution to care for their anxiety. They want to feel better in the moment when they feel overwhelming anxiety. Part of that solution is radical self-care. When you practice radical self-care, anxiety can change since, in a sense, radical self-care puts you in charge.
What Is Radical Self-care?
By radical self-care, I mean creating and participating in an active relationship with yourself. It means being so active in this relationship that you hear what you’re experiencing. You participate in this relationship just like you would a political debate or discussion. You actively yell for your own need for justice, like, “I need a nap right now and that’s okay. I have the right to this.”
Radical self-care isn’t a listicle of phone app meditations and yoga tips that you find around the Internet. While these could help you feel less anxious in the short-run, they are hard to implement long-term and often feel lackluster and not self-led. You might be able to sustain a yoga class for a few weeks, but unless it fulfills what you need to feel more at ease and cared for, you won’t keep going. For some, this might actually make people feel more anxious.
Instead, radical self-care, as I see it, is asking yourself what you need in a certain moment. What are you feeling and what do you need to feel more at ease with the situation at hand that is making you anxious? It’s not a generic list, but a conscious relationship-building activity with yourself and it counters the relationship with your anxiety.
Radical Self-care In Action
In my anxiety therapy practice, I like to refer to this empowered form of self-care as radical self-care. This defines it separately from the warm and fuzzy forms of self-care you might see on Buzzfeed. Radical self-care means staying constantly active in your life in order to take on daily anxiety. With radical self-care, you give yourself a lot of attention–not so you deny others care, but so you can better care for your life, as well as the people and things you feel passionate about. Giving yourself what you need in a moment of anxiety without abandoning yourself is powerful, because it give you power over your anxiety.
Anxiety Makes You Feel Powerless
Anxiety can be felt physically. It can also appear as thoughts going nonstop, whether ruminating on a topic or jumping from thing to thing. Anxiety can feel like uncertainty or as if everything has to be decided at once. No matter what your anxiety feels like, ultimately, it can make you feel powerless.
This feeling of powerlessness makes you uneasy and unsure like you don’t know where or how to move or if it will get better. At times, when powerlessness is ignited, you can feel unsafe in your surroundings and your relationships.
Anxiety and its resulting feeling of powerlessness can be triggered by your daily life and is felt in real time. Is there naturally occurring anxiety in our brains? Of course, but anxiety is also triggered by daily events–moving, your finances, the political climate, your relationships, your commute, taking your kid to a new school, a new job or ending a semester. This anxiety in daily life is felt and real, but often it gets little attention. This is why radical self-care is so important. You maintain a constant conversation with yourself about what you need, or what boundary to set, instead of ingesting your anxiety or allowing the anxiety to lead over your needs.
Radical Self-care Puts You In Charge
Radical self-care puts you in charge of what you need to feel calmer, decompress and feel more empowered. How does it do this? Well, by giving yourself a moment to ask, “What do I need?”, you can feel a sense of direction among the chaos of anxiety.
If you build this relationship with yourself in self-care and do this constantly, then you are in charge even when you are anxious, this is radical. This could look like moving slowly or stopping what you’re doing to process what is happening or what happened. Or you call a friend, partner or therapist to talk about what just went down so you are not alone in the experience. Or it could be setting a boundary with someone or something so you are not taking on their anxiety. If you prioritize what makes you give the feeling attention when you feel anxiety, then the anxiety doesn’t make you feel directionless or powerless.
Practicing Radical Self-care
With radical self-care, you note you need self-care every day in both big ways and small ways like, for example, sleeping well. If you do not sleep, your mind will take on more anxiety and stress. Setting priorities is radical whether getting more sleep, turning off the news, taking time for important relationship building, maintaining consistent nutrition or seeking therapy.
And in terms of relationships, radical self-care means not doing all the work in the relationship. This helps mitigate anxiety because often you want to see people, but if you are the only organizer of events, you can often feel overwhelmed. Or if you are always “well,” ”happy,” “carefree,” or “together,” you will not allow the anxiety to live in community. You can change or shift this dynamic and feel empowered by framing what you need to see your friends, hang out with your partner or even, while your parenting.
Therapy Is A Form Of Radical Self-Care
Making therapy a priority can be an essential and radical part of self-care. By setting aside time (like leaving work) for therapy, you are protecting your therapy time and, in many ways, yourself. Naming when you feel powerless in the therapy office so that you’re not isolated in your anxiety or anxious thoughts is an empowering form of self-care. Therapy is where you can talk about what triggered your anxiety this week, unpacking it with your therapist, who will let you process and be messy. You and your therapist will figure out together what is going on and how you might want to lead.