Self-care. Honestly, I roll my eyes a bit when I hear (and say) these words.
Of course, I still say them, because talking about self-care and self-kindness is literally my MO, but there’s something about them that grinds my gears a little.
That ‘something’ is the reality that self-care is really just about looking after ourselves, and it makes me sad that it’s perceived as another thing to do and an industry to be built, as though self-care is one more thing to consume.
And yet, I get it. Truth be told, engaging in self-care is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done (and continues to be challenging on the regular).
Why has it been so hard? Because, on a cultural level, it's been deemed selfish and lazy to tend to our own needs. It’s messaged relentlessly and early that in order to be a contributing member of a family or society, we must work hard and THEN rest. We must contribute before we can take. We must put others’ needs first or we’re just a bit of a bad human.
We internalise these messages and store them both on the surface and in the deep recesses of our mind. We’re good little humans and we play them out day after day. And then, one day, we get kinda tired. We feel a little … used up. So we’re told “it is SO important to look after yourself. So make sure you take that nap, do that yoga and take that time away from the kids!” The problem is, we’ve never been shown this or supported to do this.
Is it any wonder why we’ve ended up confused, pulled in multiple directions and immersed in a society of people who are burnt out, resentful and exhausted?
I recall being stuck in a relentless loop when my kids were really little. I tried to do it all, felt like a terrible person and terrible mother when I couldn’t do it all, which then led me to believe I definitely hadn’t earned the right to rest or tend to my needs, so I’d try even harder to be perfect and not fail … and it went on and on and on until I hit a metaphorical brick wall and fell to the ground in a puddle of self-hatred.
I tried self-care and it didn’t work. It didn’t work because I didn’t feel I deserved it. So what is one to do?
This is why knowing WHAT constitutes self-care is just ONE piece of a bigger puzzle.
Given the need, anyone could rattle off a bunch of things that amount to self care: the bath, the massage, the quiet time, the date night, the meditation, the yoga class etc. Truly, there is no shortage of messaging around the WHAT of self-care.
But it's not enough to know WHAT you can do to care for yourself. If you find yourself thinking “I know what I should be doing but I just never seem to do it” then read on, my friend. You are not alone.
You can have a whole list of *whats* that you NEVER engage with because you don't feel like you can, or you don't have the resources to engage in them, or you don't have the thoughts that support the restorative potential of these practices.
So yeah, it's not so easy, this self-care thing.
But if you're ready to prioritise your wellbeing, and not in just a 'let's tick things off a list' kind of way, these questions might feel supportive as you take steps in that direction:
1. What feelings and thoughts come up when I think about engaging in self-care actions?
Write them down and notice - what beliefs are under there? Are they true to YOU? Or are they cultural truths you’ve never questioned?
2. What conditions am I putting around self-care?
This might look like what you have to do to ‘earn’ the opportunity to care for yourself or what you deem ‘enough’ to count as self care. Are you limiting your definition of self-care to particular activities or actions? Do you have to meet a particular set of criteria for it to ‘count’?
3. What is something small that I can do with the resources - time, money, bandwidth - I currently have?
This might invite you to do less than you think is enough - 10 minutes of yoga instead of an hour, for instance. The self-care you CAN do is worth a heck of a lot more than the unicorn version that never gets air time because it doesn’t fit right now. Give yourself permission to do it ‘imperfectly’ and you might find it’s actually pretty perfect.
Self-care that actually works has one thing at the heart of it: a genuine desire to treat ourselves well. In my experience this comes about by DOING the self-care things while simultaneously working on that other stuff - understanding the beliefs, forming new ones and questioning the conditions we’ve placed on things.
Self-care is a long game. It’s literally a for-life game. So there’s no rush to perfection, friend. Do it imperfectly. Do it because you’re a friend to yourself (or because you want to be).