Self-Care is defined simply as care for oneself. Most people think of this in the strictest sense of the word—an ability to take care of yourself (meaning eat, plan, brush your teeth by yourself, etc.). But in more recent years we have started using the phrase self-care to mean paying attention to and giving your mind, body and spirit what it needs. I believe that this newer idea of self-care has come about largely because of our always-on-the-go, keep up with the Joneses mentality.
We have over-emphasized productivity, and have forgotten that a large part of what it means to be human is to do things like rest, play and eat. We have sped up our lives so much that we feel guilty when we take time to sleep more than 5 or 6 hours a night, and we have been sold the idea the fast, convenient foods are better—so much so that we feel guilty when we take time to cook, or become defensive when it’s suggested that we do so.
Our movie and social media culture has idolized people who can survive on little sleep, idealized fast food and protein bars, and often made the workaholic out to be the misunderstood hero. I believe this cultural soup we swim in has influenced us greatly… likely more than we actually realized.
Why do I think this?
Because I have also felt the influence!
In fact, self-care is a fairly new concept to me. Early into my health journey I was learning about relational needs, and how we have them. The book I was reading stated that just like we have physical needs like eating, drinking, breathing and sleep, we also have basic human relational needs. There was one problem for me… I realized when I read this line that I believed that needing to eat and sleep were weaknesses that I despised myself for needing. I tried to operate on as little sleep as possible, and felt insecure about my newly discovered food intolerances. A major boost in my health journey was coming to an acceptance that as a human, there are things I needed to do to take care of myself—basic human requirements. This includes physical, emotional, mental and relational care.
We were created with bodies that need. Like it or not, this is true. We can cheat our bodies for a time (some people longer than others), but eventually our needs will win out and at these times our body actually forces us to rest: maybe a headache or migraine, major or minor illness, sleeping half the day and missing work, or whatever happens in a mid-life crisis.
For me, it was often a weekly migraine that would slow me down and force me to sleep more than the 5 or 6 hours of sleep that I usually got. Does this resonate with you? Maybe, maybe not. I have known some people who are great at giving their bodies what they need regularly. This they usually learn from their families. But I know many more people who feel guilty at the thought of taking enough time to be well-rested, well-nourished, and “wasting” productive time on themselves.
Self-care techniques can be learned. But first you have to believe that they are important, otherwise you will just exhaust yourself fighting your own guilt about taking a little time to care for yourself. So before you start implementing self-care techniques like the few I am listing below, I want you to take some time and work through your reaction to the thought of taking care of yourself.
Ask yourself what it would feel like to be _______________ (well rested, well fed, filled up relationally or emotionally), then ask yourself why you aren’t __________________ (well rested, etc.).
Be honest! Sometimes our schedules are too busy and full to allow for ________________, but often times we make them that way because we believe in the virtue of being productive and busy. Discuss this with your spouse or partner, especially if you have children. Likely they will be willing and eager to help plan time for self-care to happen. It is important for everyone, including the primary caregiver to take some time to care for themselves, because then they will better be able to care for others!
Once you have checked in with your views on self-care, then try out these four ways to begin practicing emotional self-care regularly.
We can get so drained from living our day-to-day life. Planning (or not) a day or even just an afternoon to do something fun or relaxing or exciting, preferably in nature, is a great way to get filled back up again. Not only do we need rest, we also need to play and have fun!
Take two-minute breaks.
We often feel we need big moments of rest, but frequent little moments are just as good. Try spending two minutes with your eyes closed listening to your breathing, taking a short walk outside, or enjoying a guilt-free treat. Be present in the moment and recognize these times as important moments of self-care.
Add self-care into your routine.
Start seeing taking care of yourself as something that you need to do. Things we need to do get scheduled and completed. Start adding things into your daily routine that you know fill you back up. Then keep your daily self-care appointments.
Find a balance.
It can be easy to become imbalanced, being too self-centered or too self-sacrificing. In the beginning it may be helpful to have a friend or partner who cares for you be an outside voice as you find this balance.
Although self-care is a popular movement, I assert that choosing a balanced life of self-care and loving others will continue to feel countercultural for a long time. And it will probably take a lot of practice for you settle into a good, non-guilty balance in your own life. But keep reaching for it! Because ultimately, taking care of yourself (and teaching self-care to your children) will lead to a longer, healthier and (dare I say it), more productive life. And in all of this keep in mind love and grace for yourself. As we journey,