What Self-Care Really Is
A long soak in a nice, hot bath. A glass of wine. Going to the local salon for a mani-pedi. A girls night out. Reading a good book. Chatting with a friend. Scrolling through Instagram. Raiding your chocolate stash and telling your kids, “It’s spicy.”
All of these are thought of as examples of self-care when they are really only an escape. Some of them are wonderfully delicious escapes. For years, I thought these escapes defined self-care. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Granted, we all need an escape now and then. Even if it’s just five minutes alone to pee. Each escape can provide us with the break we need to re-center ourselves and show a kinder, calmer face to our family. However, escape doesn’t even begin to cover what healthy self-care really means.
Self-care is giving yourself what you need.
It is making sure that your spiritual, physical, emotional, relational, and mental needs are adequately met.
That’s my definition. I didn’t even google it.
It grew inside of me through experience, reading, and counseling. It came to full blossom during the past year or so, and this is the first time I have condensed it into words. This definition grew out of a burgeoning realization that, while a mani-pedi is scrumptious, I still have to come home to everything I left. None of my load is lifted by having sparkly pink toenails. No matter how much they make me smile when I look down.
Am I saying that we shouldn’t bother with mani-pedis or chocolate? Not at all! What I am saying is that we should see those things as only a drop in the bucket of what we really need.
Some things to think about:
What we really need is to evaluate our lives, and see where the gaps are that leave us weary, discouraged, or empty. But who has time to evaluate their whole life? Certainly not me. But I can evaluate my week. Sometimes, it has to just boil down to this very day, or even the very next hour.
I can ask myself, “What do I need, right now?” For me, the answer is usually food. Literal, actual, nourishing food, because I’ve skipped breakfast. Again. Once I have met that need in a minute of self-care, I can re-evaluate and decide what I need next, because my blood sugar isn’t tanking, and I am no longer hangry.
Don’t wait until you can afford a Fitbit to go for a walk. If you are anything like me, you will give up if you cannot do everything all at once. So, pick just one area of self-care that you believe will be the easiest to implement today. Yes, today. Do not lie to yourself and tell yourself you can’t fill need X until you line up Y, Z, A2, and Q11 just right before you can start.
And remember, something is better than nothing. Make this your mantra. Say it over and over. Tape it to your bathroom mirror. So you forgot about the cauliflower crust you intended to use for your own homemade pizza on pizza night last night, but you remembered to make a salad to go with the normal pizza. Something is better than nothing, and you managed some veggies today. Breathe. It’s okay. No throwing babies out with the bathwater.
Here are 20 things that actually might count as self-care
They each meet a spiritual, physical, emotional, relational, or mental need. Some cover multiple areas of need:
- Attending religious services
- Taking appropriate medications for whatever reason – medical or mental health
- Going to the doctor
- Joining a 12-Step group
- Going for a short walk, especially in nature, or at least outside
- Taking 3 deep, abdominal breaths with eyes closed
- Going to a counselor, even once in a while
- Trading help with a neighbor or friend – combine your laundry and do it together, for example
- Combining your taco shells and fish sticks with your friend’s veggies and ramen, and doing dinner together for an end-of-the-month-we-have-no-food extravaganza
- Getting a massage, chiropractic adjustment, or other bodywork
- Signing up for a Zumba class
- Abstaining from processed sugar
- Pleasure reading at the end of the day to unwind instead of Netflix
- Having a good cry, alone or with an empathic friend
- Drink water
- Buy clothes that fit well, no matter your size
- Buy that Fitbit and post your steps every day
- Educate yourself about shame, and learn shame resilience (thanks, Brené Brown)
- Listen to podcasts that educate or uplift you
- Let the kids sit in front of a screen and get something done that has been bothering you
I could keep going. But I am pretty sure this is quite long enough.
Self-care. Do it. Start today. Go fill up a glass of water and drink it. Then, pee alone. Because you’re going to have to in about five minutes. Sometimes, it can be nearly imossible. But those “sometimes” are not “all times.” Just do what you can with what you’ve been given today. It may not be enough always, but something is better than nothing.