During my first month in graduate school, I discovered my love for admiring flowers. And with it– a sense of peace and self-compassion.
My graduate school (Smith College School for Social Work) is located in Massachusetts. I am from California. I moved to the opposite coastline of the United States to pursue my MSW. One thing I noticed immediately different about Massachusetts was the environment: the trees, flowers, plants (even the alarmingly large bugs–but I won’t get into that). When I was walking to class, around campus, or just around the college’s town, I noticed a new flower almost every time that would make me stop in my tracks to appreciate it.
It became a daily routine. Every day I would find some time to go for a walk outside to admire the flowers. I even purchased a “flower finder” field guide so I could try identifying the flowers I was seeing (I was almost never right, but that’s okay; it was fun trying!).
I then began making it a habit to pull out my phone to take pictures of the flowers I found.
I made the time to do this because it made me feel at ease and thankful for my new journey. Our capitalist world values productivity and profit.It is not uncommon for us to feel shame when we take time to care for ourselves. Our world labels this self-care as a selfish act. It is not a selfish act to take care of yourself.
I am paying for graduate school (with increasing debt!); often my mind would turn to “I should be studying” or “I should be writing this paper” or “I should….” “I should….” “I should….”It was when I began replacing the “I should…” with self-compassion did I find myself living each day with less anxiety and more gratitude.
“I should be doing my paper” was turned to…. “I’m taking a break right now.”
“I should be studying” was turned to… “I’ve done what I can, I need a break.”
I developed my own personal routine to accommodate my nature walks/flower appreciation time. I even avoided places to study that only seemed to amplify my anxiety and stress levels, such as the school library. (Everyone was always at the library stressing out about some aspect of school. I couldn’t work in that environment without stressing out even more!) I even discovered that switching up my work environment made me more productive: I would work for an hour or two before taking a walk outside. Then I would head to the next spot to continue my studies. Repeat as needed.
I noticed when I was taking my walks between study spots that all the “I should….” self-talk went away. Gone. Disappeared. Poof. Instead of telling myself “I should be…”, I gave myself the self-care time to appreciate the flowers and be in the present moment. “I should…” statements are self-critical, anxiety-inducing, shame-inducing. Being mindful of my present moment is practicing self-compassion.
I remember my classmates asking me why I didn’t seem as stressed out. I thought this was kind of hilarious because I am sort of a massive ball of anxiety most of the time, but this made me reflect about my self-care time. I don’t recall how I responded to this, but I think at one point I asked myself, “Is this what having healthy coping skills feels like?”
This past weekend, I had the opportunity to visit this amazing tulip farm in Washington. Seeing all of the tulips brought me back to my time in Massachusetts, a time where I would stop and smell the flowers. I’ve been in Washington for seven months for my field internship requirement of my MSW program. While I have been trying other ways to practice self-care, I no longer stopped and smelled the flowers. Being at the tulip farm reminded me of a self-care strategy I practiced over the summer. Part of me began negative self-talk, the inner critic began to speak, demanding why I stopped smelling the flowers in the first place. It took a while to replace this self-criticism. That’s okay. I had an amazing time at the tulip farm. I took tons of pictures of the tulips.
It made me so happy.
I felt peaceful, at ease.
Combatting the inner critic isn’t something we perfect in a day. I believe it is a lifelong process of training our brain to replace the self-criticism talk with self-compassion practice.
The inner critic demanded many things of me about a variety of topics, beginning to bring a sense of shame trickling into my psyche.
Then, a tulip would look me in the eyes.
Stopping to smell the flowers might not mean to literally “stop and smell the flowers.” To me, it means living in the present moment and allowing ourselves to practice self-compassion (and by extension, self-care).
For you, stopping to smell the flowers might mean…
- Reading a book for fun
- Practicing yoga, meditation
- Creating art
- Playing a sport you enjoy
- Taking a bath
- Preparing your favorite meal
- Drinking tea
- Etc. etc. etc….
Self-care isn’t something to do when you’ve reached burnout. Self-care is something you do on a regular basis because you are important.
I am important.
I try to stop and smell the flowers. Will you try, too?