A hand gently strokes a puppy in a pen

Transformative Self-Care: What Caring for Animals Can Teach Us

Summary: Creating a space all your own is an important part of a transformative self-care practice. A personal sanctuary space reduces stress and provides a quiet, soothing place to decompress, recharge, and clarify your priorities. Read on to find ideas for creating a nurturing sanctuary space that can make you happier and more productive.

Transformative Self-Care: What Caring for Animals Can Teach Us

I love animals.

Because I have a particular soft spot for animals in need, my husband and I support many animal rescue organizations. We support places that have names such as “The Maryland Animal Sanctuary & Rescue” and “The Elephant Sanctuary”. 

Because of these affiliations, the word “sanctuary” has a strong association for me. Animal sanctuaries provide places where animals receive the care they need to recuperate from past trauma. They are also where animals can build trust, find happiness, and move towards a better future. Just thinking of the word sanctuary reduces my stress level and makes my soul relax.

Those who run animal sanctuaries take their mission to care for the animals in their care seriously. They learn the needs of their “clientele” and provide the nurturing conditions necessary to help animals recover and thrive. The provision of sanctuary enables these animals to blossom into their truest, happiest selves.

I ask you: How much happier and more productive would you be if you had a personal sanctuary where you could rest and regroup?

Creating a space all your own is an important part of your transformative self-care practice

In our overstimulating society, creating space for yourself is critical to helping you reconnect to who you are. Only then can you prioritize your time and energy effectively and thrive.

Consider creating a quiet space in your home just for you. It can be large and elaborately decorated, or simple and small. An effective sanctuary can be created in the most limited space and on the most frugal budget. (Check out this article for some great ideas for small sanctuary spaces.)

Creating a personal sanctuary allows you to be better at being you. Using it is an important part of transformative self-care. It will help you reduce stress and recharge when you’re feeling overwhelmed, which helps you be a better parent, spouse, and colleague. Just having this space will encourage you to find time to use it. To take fullest advantage of your space, consider these ideas: 

Low stimulation

Woman sips a cup of coffee

Establish your personal sanctuary in a quiet place where you can relax and hear your own thoughts. This can be somewhere outdoors with natural sounds that soothe, or in a quiet corner of your bedroom. If your household is on the noisy side, consider using headphones. Or use a speaker to create soothing sounds (like ocean waves or relaxing music) for your personal sanctuary time.

Above all, this space should give you an opportunity to hear “the silence between the notes” as a Zen master once said. It should allow what you really need and care about to bubble up between the “must dos” and “should haves” that are otherwise always top of mind. Spending time in this space can help you reconnect with your priorities in life so you don’t feel overwhelmed, a crucial part of a transformative self-care practice.

An atmosphere of acceptance

The author with our German Shepherd rescue, Greta

Your personal sanctuary space is not where you berate yourself for failing to lose 20 pounds or being behind at work. No matter what’s going on in your day-to-day life, your personal sanctuary should be a welcoming and accepting place. This space provides an opportunity for you to step outside of “real time” and its ongoing worries and responsibilities. There should be no expectations and no self-flagellation allowed in this place.

We once adopted a dog who was rescued from the streets with a long list of physical and emotional ailments. The sanctuary that rescued her expected nothing from her: they simply offered her love and care that allowed her to heal and blossom in her own time, which she did. This is exactly the transformative self-care atmosphere you want to provide for yourself in your own personal sanctuary space.

Comfort and joy

Animal sanctuaries provide not just love and care but physical things that give the animals comfort and inspire joy. Rescued dogs are given soft beds, cozy blankets, belly rubs, and toys. These things remind them of their true nature as canines so they can grow through whatever difficulties they’ve experienced into the most authentic and happiest version of themselves.

The author's other German Shepherd

My personal sanctuary has things that nurture and inspire me: a comfy chair where I can journal or read, scented candles, a cozy blanket, and fresh flowers from my garden. Your sanctuary should contain items that help you relax into your calmest, happiest self and remind you of what you value most.

As writer Elizabeth Gilbert says, “There’s a richer source within that will connect you with the universe.”  Your sanctuary can help you reconnect with this space inside and stay connected with it, no matter how frenetic daily life might become. 

Finally, this…

The most important relationship you have in life is with yourself. Above any other relationship, the relationship you have with yourself is ultimately the one that will either keep you stuck or help you thrive.

Creating a personal sanctuary space is a powerful first step to honoring your needs and giving yourself with transformative self-care. 

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