Self care. It’s a word that gets used a lot nowadays, especially among my generation. But what does it mean, especially when you are living in a country that is not your own, doing a job that is new and you are under qualified for, being paid a very small stipend to cover your basic necessities? Self care is an important practice, especially in a line of work in which you are exposed to a lot of stress, trauma, and cultural differences.
Self care was important for me in college, and I had a system down. I enjoyed schoolwork, and spent a lot of time studying, reading, and writing papers. But it was necessary for me to take breaks and invest in time that I would recuperate my energy, give my brain and nerves a break, and center myself. It helped me prevent burnout, and to tune into my own thoughts and emotions, a sort of check in with myself. There are many different methods for practicing self care and they are often unique to you. There are many good common ones: breathing exercises, getting a good nights’ sleep, working out, yoga, hot showers, etc. Some of my favorite methods of self care included long walks, prayer, a movie, a good pastry with a strong tea, working out, reading for pleasure, lighting a scented candle, sitting in nature quietly, and spending time with friends.
As I have transitioned to Belize, something that I have struggled with is how to adapt my routine of self care so that it makes sense in this place and time. In a new environment, meeting so many new people, encountering many new and different cultural practices, I am worn out and socially drained more quickly than I was in the United States. I need to have some quality alone time in order to feel energized enough to go and engage with my work and my community. Even community, which is an essential and fulfilling element of my time in Belize, can sometimes leave me feeling frayed on the edges, when many of the realities of living with people who have different habits sets in. It is all the more important that I practice self care, as my job is highly person-centered. And if I cannot even sense my own emotions and needs, it is unlikely that I can respond to the person in front of me, and recognize their emotions and needs.
There is a definite transition in routine when you move from college to the “adult world.” The pressures of work, social life, and relaxation are very different. While in college you have a lot of extracurriculars and are surrounded by your peers in an atmosphere that encourages spending time with one another, the world does not itself actually work like that. Many of our friends here in Belize are not our age, tending towards the older side. And since we work mostly in the villages, I have spent more time investing in relationships with kids and people in the village than in town, which means sometimes it feels as if I have more friends in places like San Antonio or San Jose than in PG. There is no programming, especially in a tiny Belizean town, that caters to your own interests and helps you to get involved in your community. That is something you have to navigate yourself. In college you generally have a more flexible schedule, usually giving you a little more freedom to get the things you want done and to meet up with people you’d like it. When I am working 8:30 to 5:00 in the office, it limits the time I have to run errands, unwind, socialize. So I am not only transitioning from the U.S. to Belize, but also from college, to the life of employment.
Sunset and star gazing night on the pier – sun sets over PG.
Towards the end of October, things hit me pretty hard. I had a pretty normal week work-wise, but I could sense that I was socially drained, a little overwhelmed, and emotionally needed some time to center myself. But my own modes of self care that I usually turned to weren’t as available to me. Due to lack of wifi at my house, there are only a few movies that I have access to at home, and none of them seemed to interest me at the time. I couldn’t focus on reading for pleasure, and I couldn’t just go on walks. Often by the time I get home at night it is getting dark, and I know I should be careful going on walks by myself at night here. Pastries are difficult to find here, and not as satisfying. So the question remains – how do I practice self care in an environment where I am living on a scanty budget when I am used to having access to a wider range of activities and commodities and some extra spending money? I am still figuring out the answer.
Reading by the ocean has become a good way for me to de-stress.
In October, when I was feeling restless and drained, my community mate, Monica, was feeling similarly. After a long day of work, Monica decided to go swim in the ocean. I tagged along with a book. The hour that I spent reading on a dry rock while the waves crashed around me cleansed me. Book or no, there is something about surrounding yourself with reminders of the immensity of existence. Monica swam far from me and I was veritably alone, with only the sound of the waves to keep me company. In those moments, my mind becomes blissfully free and I am able to let go of stress and worries that follow me through the day. When we left the pier, I was windswept and lighter than I had felt in weeks.
In reality, self care is work. It is something that I have to motivate myself to do. Spending time with myself must be intentionally geared to restoring myself, or else I lose those moments. I have a lot of time that I can spend alone, but I generally do not recognize or utilize it to my ability. Often after a long and emotional day at work, the last thing that I want to do is journal about it, but it is also the best way to process my experience. Self care is hard. I have changed a lot of my self care in my first six months in Belize. I have dowloaded some yoga videos so that I have some on my computer should the need arise. I have become better at communicating with my community mates, and we have banned work talk at home, which helps me avoid brining work home, and allows my home to be a restorative place. Some of my favorite methods of self care that have come to fruition in Belize are stargazing and time by the sea, which thankfully don’t require too much planning to work into my schedule.
The night sky is nothing like the one I am used to in the US. In Cleveland, barely any stars were visible. In Montana, the stars were stunning, but there were different constellations. Here, I will often take some music to the roof of our house and just spend some time in the dark to watch the stars. Sometimes others will join me, other times I am alone. Though it is never truly quiet here, there is a sense of stillness when I contemplate the night sky that truly restores me. I like to think of how long we as humans have been looking up at the night sky, thinking of our joys and our struggles. Even in the villages, kids often mention watching the stars. It is impossible to stand underneath the night sky and not look upwards.
Watching the sunset from our roof.
The most important thing I have learned in the last few months is how important it is to intentionally carve out time for yourself. Those times when you are least motivated to do some self care is probably when you most need it. The key is finding things that work for you and recognizing that they will change over time and by situation and location. But most importantly, self care is about growth and coming to know yourself. It has helped me to recognize my own emotions and needs, and in adapting it to a low budget and the work life in Belize, I have come to become more forgiving of myself and other.
If you are interested in self care or would like some resources, or in more ideas for self care, here are a few websites.
- Tiny Self Care Ideas for the Mind, Body, and Soul
- Introduction to mindfulness
- How to hold space for yourself first
- A TED talk on the importance of self care
- Developing a self-care plan
- A blog of cute positivity doodles featuring good reminders and animals.
“Taking care of yourself doesn’t mean me first, it means me too.”
~ L.R. Knost