How to approach self-care...

These are really tough times — so it’s totally OK to take it easy. ABI JACKSON asks wellness experts how they’re getting through
How to approach self-care...

Peta Coote, Self-Kindness Coach. Picture: PA

HOW are you finding 2021 so far? Not too bad? Utterly brutal?

There’s no right or wrong answer. Just as there’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to how you approach a new year — whether it’s a long list of self-improvement goals and a calendar chocka with classes/workouts/new hobbies, more of a gentle one-day-at-a-time affair, or something somewhere in-between.

Do what feels right for you, and if you’re not sure what that is, or it changes week by week (hour by hour?), that’s OK. It really is OK. One thing we can probably all agree on is that this pandemic is tough, and now more than ever is a good time to go easy on ourselves and each other.

We asked some of our favourite folk in the wellness fields to share their thoughts on how they’re approaching 2021 and what self-care priorities and intentions they’re setting. Just reading their answers is a tonic...

It's OK just to relax and not have grand plans. Picture: PA
It's OK just to relax and not have grand plans. Picture: PA

A time for healing and restoring

Suzy Reading, psychologist, counsellor and author of Self-Care For Tough Times (

“Now is not the time for striving, or grand, elaborate plans — it’s time for healing and restoring. I’m prioritising soothing my nervous system from the effects of an extended period of worry, pressure and uncertainty.

“Lots of rest, early nights, calming touch, gentle stretching, walks in nature’s beauty while I call a friend so we can journey together, and I’ll continue to choose a visual and auditory diet that is life-giving.

“These daily rituals give me time and space to process my feelings, bearing witness to my grief over lost opportunities to connect and make memories in person during 2020,” says Reading, who’s written a series of books for adults and children on self-care and navigating challenging times.

“The past year has taught me the need to honour my boundaries and pace myself - I’ll be managing my diary carefully and keeping my energy bank topped up so I am best placed to cope with future curveballs, especially in the midst of more uncertainty. This is a New Year like never before, where we need less pressure, not more.”

What do I need today?

Gina Friel, coach (, pictured inset.

“My motto for 2021 is ‘honour where you’re at’. My most powerful act of self-care is to ask myself one question every morning: what do I need to set myself up for the day? It’s such a simple question, but it takes me from autopilot to intentional action,” says Friel, who carved a path coaching ‘wholehearted’ women following her own journey with the chronic health condition, PMDD.

Gina Friel, Wholehearted Coach.
Gina Friel, Wholehearted Coach.

“What started as a morning check-in works for any situation - ‘What do I need to set myself up for this meeting/doctor’s appointment/my period?’ - it gives me the chance to check-in with where I’m at right now, so I can support myself in the best way possible and know that I’m honouring my ever-changing needs.”

Whatever we can manage is enough

AJ O’Neill, dance and fitness instructor, coach and choreographer (

“I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions because I’m not great with the massive pressure that accompanies them, but there are some lessons from 2020 I’ll be taking with me into 2021.

“I wanted to see if I could cut down on alcohol and, taking it day by day, I now haven’t drunk in 150 days, which has had a huge effect on my clarity of thought and emotion,” says O’Neill, who runs super-inclusive body positive, LGBTQ+ and disability-friendly dance and fitness sessions (check out his website for new online offerings).

Get off the phone and just 'be', suggests AJ O'Neill.
Get off the phone and just 'be', suggests AJ O'Neill.

“Other things that have helped me and I’m continuing include limiting app access on my phone, so I don’t have any social media before noon — it helps me get real-life things done and stops the news from ruining my headspace and mood. I also spend as much time as I can with my cats and try and make sure I get out of the house for a walk every day. It makes all the difference!

“Finally, I remind myself and my clients that in these difficult times, whatever we manage to do is enough. Do your best, that’s all you can ask of yourself. Forgive yourself and those around you with equal compassion. It’s the least we can do for ourselves and each other.”

Kindness is key

Peta Coote, self-kindness coach (

“Kindness, as always, is key for me. Being kind to those around me, with those I work with, and being kind to myself. Getting outdoors every day for fresh air, drinking plenty of tea, and being gentle with myself will be the pillars of wellbeing for me in 2021,” says Coote, who specialises in helping people seeking to ‘heal their relationship with food and their body’.

“I find writing down any worries in my journal incredibly therapeutic, and moving my body in ways that feel good will keep my mind feeling good too.”

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