Let's talk about the truth about self-care.
Is self-care really just taking care of yourself? Yes, that’s really all it is.
Self care has become very trendy in recent years, and while I’m certainly not complaining about that, I do wonder sometimes if we’re missing the mark a bit with the messages about self care. I want to state, for the record, that I fully support manicures, spa days (at a spa or at home), and long trips to Target with a coffee. And, I absolutely think that making time for those things (if you enjoy them) can be a lovely and important part of taking care of yourself. Those types of behaviors can certainly help get you through a hard week. It can give you a break, some time for yourself, something to look forward to and that might be exactly what you need.
Here’s the truth though: that’s not enough and it’s probably not what is most important.
There is no face mask that can cure sleep deprivation. No trip to Target that will fix chronic issues at work or home. No manicure that can help with negative and critical self-talk.
Self-care needs to start at a much more basic, yet deeper level than that. It first needs to start with your mindset about yourself (and the way you talk to yourself) and that you deserve to prioritize your health (mental and physical). Next, the basics of taking care of your body need to be in check. Finally, we need to figure out how to get the most bang for your buck, on a routine basis.
Let’s talk mindset: Self-care needs to be important to you. If you feel guilty about taking care of yourself, acknowledge that feeling and then remind yourself that this is important, taking care of yourself is an investment, and will help you to be a better parent, friend, partner, boss, sibling and any other role you take on. Plus, you’re setting a great example for your children: Be a model, not a martyr.
Back to basics. A few things to consider: hydration, sleep, nutrition, exercise, and awareness of substances (e.g., drugs and alcohol). This self-care step is the foundation of wellness and other important things - like emotion regulation. You can’t expect to be at your best when you’re dehydrated or sleep deprived. If you’re in a phase of life where you’re doing the best you can, but you’re struggling here, be kind to yourself - give yourself some slack and try to make up for it in other areas.
Beyond the mindset and the basics, self-care may be setting boundaries (with others and with yourself), getting really good at deep breathing, identifying sources of chronic stress, learning how to talk to yourself in a kind way, asking for help, or seeking out a therapist.
It also might be learning how you can get the most out of free minutes. Since we want this to be the way you approach your life, it needs to be realistic and something you can do on a regular basis. You have five minutes - what’s the most effective way to sneak in some self-care? That’s up to you, and is different for everyone, but it’s worth taking some time to figure out. Is it five minutes of social media? Or, stepping outside and taking a deep breath?
It might be being able to appreciate little things, like drinking your coffee while it’s hot, or out of your favorite mug. Or, paying attention to the first thing you do in the morning and the last thing you do before bed.
Maybe the next few times you have a couple minutes like that you try each of those activities and compare how you feel afterwards. What makes you feel best?
One final thought: Any step you take is a step. You may not have time for a workout class, but still go on a ten minute walk - yay you! You give yourself some grace when you make a mistake - yay you! You drink one extra glass of water - yay you! Basically, yay you!
Take care of yourself. It's important and you deserve it.