Lessons from F.Y.R.E.: How to prioritize a self-care routine by understanding your needs and emotions

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The F.Y.R.E. Initiative team at YW Boston often reminds each other of one truth: your work, your accomplishments, and your relationships would not exist if there were no *you*. Ensuring you are able to show up for yourself and others requires self-care. The many things we do in a day for ourselves, from cooking to sleeping, are part of self-care. But in order to truly tend to ourselves, we need to take time to assess our desires, needs, and emotions. 

We sat down with F.Y.R.E. Initiative Program Coordinator, Caiana Luse, to learn more about how to cultivate a practice of self-care. Self-care is a crucial part of their F.Y.R.E. sessions with Boston-area middle school girls, also known as Igniters. The F.Y.R.E. Initiative incorporates social justice education, positive identity development, and civic engagement in their weekly sessions. In F.Y.R.E., self-care is not a one-off lesson; it is integrated throughout every week of the program. 

Caiana emphasized the fact that self-care is a cycle that an individual continually evolves to meet their needs. Now is a particularly important time to develop your practice, with the stress that comes with COVID-19, such as adjusting to virtual work or school. If you have a pre-teen or teen in your life, encourage them to start practicing self-care now and begin to build healthy habits. And whether you have never practiced self-care or you haven’t prioritized it lately, discover how to learn about yourself and develop your routine below. 

Expand your understanding of self-care 

Recently, the topic of self-care has had a boom. You may be hearing about the importance of self-care from all directions, but what does the term really mean? As Caiana explains, the F.Y.R.E. Initiative “defines self-care as the importance of practicing self-love and taking agency over taking care of your mind, body, and spirit.” A crucial part of self-care is recognizing how spending this time on yourself helps you to learn more about yourself and what you value. Taking this time for self-knowledge informs your future self-care, creating a cycle where you are continually deepening and expanding your self-care practices. 

Self-care looks different for everyone. Because an individual’s practices are defined by their own desires and needs, there is no prescription for going about self-care. A helpful way to begin recognizing what constitutes self-care is the F.Y.R.E. Initiative’s eight parts of self-care: 

  • Social: Creating time to spend with others or by yourself 
  • Emotional: Being in touch with your how you are feeling 
  • Physical: Taking care of your body 
  • Mental: Reducing your stress and creating peace of mind 
  • Spiritual: Connecting to something larger than yourself, whatever that means to you 
  • Financial: Spending and saving in a way to suit your current and future needs 
  • Occupational: Ensuring you are creating specific times to work or study 
  • Environmental: Cultivating a space that helps you feel your best 

Finding a way to care for each of these eight parts of your life requires time and courage. There can be many benefits to exercising or having a spa-day, but if you are only doing those activities based on others’ ideas of what self-care is, you aren’t getting in touch with what you actually need. As Caiana pointed out, self-care is held up by three important principles: self-love, self-trust, and self-exploration, a philosophy informed by Shaianna Ali, PhD’s The Self-Love Workbook. By creating love for yourself, you can trust the process of exploration it requires to develop self-care routine based on your needs and emotions. 

So, how do you determine what you need? 

It isn’t always easy to determine your emotions, desires, and needs. But spending a little time every day getting in touch with yourself will go a long way. It can be as simple as recognizing your highs and lows. Every F.Y.R.E. Initiative session begins with asking the Igniters about something they felt proud of from their week and something they feel they could have done better. It is more than a share out – it is an opportunity for the girls to make a note of what makes them happy and how, when they are having lows, they may take better care of themselves. For instance, if someone’s highlight was going on a bike ride, they can learn that they enjoy outdoor physical activity. If they didn’t get much sleep because they were studying, they can recognize the need to schedule their time more diligently in the future. You may find that journaling, checking in with a friend, or simply taking time to think about your day will help you identify these moments and learn from them. 

Mood Scale: How Are You Feeling? There is a scale of 1-10 with faces to represent the moods of 'sad, depressed, down,' 'in the middle, not happy or sad,' and 'happy, high, awesome.'
At the beginning of a session and at the end, Caiana and TiElla Grimes, the F.Y.R.E. Initiative Program Manager, also asks Igniters to rate how they are feeling on a scale of 1-10. Caiana has never seen anyone’s number go down after a session, which shows the power that these lessons have on the Igniters’ days. 

If you have time, you can also take part in a body awareness activity that the F.Y.R.E. Initiative practices, either alone or with others. Set aside a few minutes to either lie with your back on the floor or sit down with your feet on the floor. For three seconds, squeeze each part of your body, and then completely let go. Repeat this a few times, as a way to release any built-up tension or energy. After this, take a look at the feelings wheel below and choose a feeling you see. (It doesn’t have to be what you are feeling in the moment.) Take some time to identify the physical indicators that let you know you are experiencing that feeling. This will help you recognize the next time you are feeling that way, and determine how to care for yourself based on your corresponding needs. 

The feelings wheel with dozens of feelings to choose from. The most center feelings, or the most basic ones, are: Bad, Surprised, Happy, Sad, Disgusted, Angry, Fearful
The Feelings Wheel

These activities are ways to take time to get to know yourself and your needs better. Your self-care practice will evolve and become more useful as you expand your self-knowledge. 

Create a routine to ensure you make time for self-care 

Here are a few tips from Caiana about how to create or deepen your self-care practices: 

  • Make time to ask questions of yourself. This includes lessons from the activities above and recognizing what you’ve learned. “What did I like about today? What was difficult about today?” It also includes asking yourself, “Why not?” Caiana gave the example of simply getting up from the couch to grab a glass of water. If you haven’t moved in a while, that can seem like a daunting task. However, simply questioning yourself, “Why not?” or “What benefits am I missing out on?” can help you determine what to value in similar moments. 
  • Go outside! While it is just one self-care activity, Caiana stressed the importance of going outside, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. It can be easy, during remote work or school, to stay stagnant and not make time to move. Even a short solo walk to the end of the block and back can benefit your mind, body, and spirit. 
  • Make time on your calendar. If you are someone who regularly uses a schedule, or who needs a schedule in order to organize, write in reminders such as: stretch, drink water, call a friend, or review my budget. 
  • Do it when you need it. Some self-care activities are more urgent. If you find yourself in need of a meditation break, for instance, or you haven’t eaten lunch yet – do it now! Don’t wait and potentially miss out on the benefits the self-care can bring. 
  • Recognize that cultivating a self-care practice is a trial and error process. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t develop a perfect routine immediately. 
  • Remember: Your work and your relationships would not be possible without you. If you find you are not taking time for self-care, root yourself in self-love, self-trust, and self-exploration in order to get back on track. 
  • Follow the F.Y.R.E. Initiative (@yw_fyre) on Instagram to catch their self-care lessons! Beginning in October, they will be hosting Instagram Live sessions for followers to learn more about self-care. 

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About YW Boston’s F.Y.R.E. Initiative

With the F.Y.R.E. Initiative, launched in the Fall of 2019, YW Boston facilitators conduct a 12-15-week leadership development series for girls grades 6th through 9th. The series brings together social justice education, positive identity development, and civic engagement, culminating in small group civics projects. This model takes place in schools or Out of School Time programs, and it is developed to operate in a “girls group” structure rather than a traditional classroom structure. Core to the program is an effort to provide experiential learning opportunities and dialogue to build understanding and increase social-emotional learning.

Are you F.Y.R.E.’d up? If you wish to participate in YW Boston’s F.Y.R.E. Initiative or want to learn more about bringing the program to your school or community, please contact TiElla Grimes, F.Y.R.E. Initiative Program Manager, at tgrimes@ywboston.org.