What is Self-Care?
What comes to mind when you read that term - self-care?
I don’t have to guess that this means many different things to most people.
To keep it simple: self-care are activities we do to care and nurture our mental, emotional, physical and spiritual states.
Truth be told, if you would have asked me 2 years ago what self-care looked like, I would have given you a different answer than I will today.
No matter what you personally consider self-care to look like, there are a few truths that make up the foundation for true self-care.
No one will do it for you. Hear that again - no one will do it for you. Self-care has to be something that you believe you need to do for you.
On that note, self-care is NOT selfish. Yes, there is laundry to be done. Yes, everyone always needs something from you. No, your kids will not fall apart if they do not get their bedtime story or snuggles tonight, and your partner/parents/nanny/babysitter is absolutely capable of taking care of things while you step away for a few hours - or even a few days. Case in point: I am writing this from an AirBnB tucked away in a corner of John’s Island, SC. I am sitting at a cute bistro table overlooking the beautiful lowcountry marsh. I just checked in and will be here for the next 3 days. Why? Because I need it and I deserve it. No further explanation needed.
To that point, you deserve to take care of yourself. What happens if you don’t? All of the people depending on you certainly won’t be served by you falling apart.
Self-care requires a willingness to be honest with yourself about what you need. I know that I am in a place where I need a few days of silence - silence for myself and silence around me. This will clear the noise in my head - a reset, if you will. I am a better me when I allow myself the space to take these breaks.
Self-care also requires communication with those around us about our needs. The more we have on our plate, the more this is a requirement.
Self-care can actually start when we identify and honor what we don’t need to do. If no one will do it for us, and we don’t feel like there is time and space to make it a priority, then we can start by taking stock of how we utilize our time. I do not answer phone calls after a certain time, and have specific times when I check and respond to emails. Not long ago I started realizing I was losing a lot of time to social media, so I started carving out time to do something different during some of those high traffic social media times - including reading, taking time to sit in silence, making extra space for expanded prayer, and so on. Even one hour replaced with these things started creating amazing benefits for my mental, emotional and spiritual health.
Build in accountability. I told a few close people about this commitment to replacing social media time with other productive activities, and they check in to see how I am holding up with it. This keeps me on track and also gives me space to reflect on the benefits of doing this during my day.
Self-care should be for YOU. When I read about the concept of “fake resting” in Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist, I felt like I had been punched in the gut. My “resting” time was often actually spent picking up, folding clothes, going to the store, planning meals, etc. I was telling myself it was beneficial because it took something off of my plate, I felt better because it was done, and so one, but the truth was I was getting more and more tired. Until I was way beyond tired, I was exhausted. Then I was way beyond exhausted, into full on burnout. I didn’t do things for myself to benefit me - they were for my husband, my kids, my job, the people I am committed to in my recovery world, and a whole laundry list of people, places and things outside of me. And I lost me. So please hear me when I say that self-care should be about you. It should be something that honestly feeds positive mental, emotional, physical and/or spiritual energy for you.
Really busy? Then start small. I work with clients on trying to do something for 15 minutes 1-2 times per week.
Guess what I have learned through this. Starting small will challenge those of us who are perfectionists to reckon with the role that perfectionistic tendencies play in our lack of self-care (pro tip - much of the exhaustion starts and ends with the rules and expectations in our own head).
Not sure where to start? Keep it simple.
What is simple:
3 item gratitude list
10 minute walk
5 minutes of silence (even in the shower or sitting in your closet)
Listening to music
Writing out your prayers
Listening to a podcast
Doing 20 squats when you get out of bed
Laughing at yourself
Sit in the sun for 10 minutes
Monitor your breath - slowly breathe in and out
Look for formations in the clouds
Cook a healthy meal
Try a family recipe
Write in a journal
Observe your thoughts
Do a craft
Color in a coloring book
Weed in the yard
Snuggle with a pet
Read a book
Start a meditation
Ask someone a curious question about themselves
Take a nap
Call a friend
Make a bucket list
Allow yourself to cry when the desire comes up
Research local activities and try one (adult sports teams, book clubs, cooking groups, running club, etc)
Take a bike ride
Focus on one task at a time
Get a manicure/pedicure
Have a cup of coffee/tea
Get a massage
Clean out the junk drawer
Shoot baskets/Kick ball/Chip shots
Minimize time on social media
Get a haircut/color
Celebrate your birthday
Snuggle under a good blanket
Put fresh flowers in the house
Go to a museum
Play board games
Getting dressed up
Listen to rain
And so, so much more
It may feel awkward at first. Take time to reflect on the benefits, and share any struggles with a safe supporter.
Finally, just do it! Thinking about it, planning for it, talking about it, etc., all just make you more tired. Just do it. Pick one thing from the list above, or something you think of, and just get started.