Not to downplay pampering, but self-care is more than taking bubble baths and drinking hot tea. At their core, self-care habits both reflect and enhance our sense of self-worth. We often take a narrow view of self-care, seeing it as spoiling oneself or indulgence, perhaps even in ways that are counter to long term health. Culturally, self-care is linked to products and consumption, available to those with a lot of time and money.
Self-Care as an Attitude
Taken more broadly, self-care is a collection of behaviors that reflect someone’s sense of worthiness. Making time to care for yourself is evidence of a desire to develop, strengthen, support, discover, and cherish your truest self. Knowing how to take care of yourself in each moment, and through time, depends on an awareness and acceptance of yourself as you have been, are, and could be.
Self-care requires taking accountability for your own well-being. In many ways, our culture celebrates self-sacrifice. Putting others’ needs above your own is a disservice, not only to yourself, but also to those you are giving to at your own expense.
Caring for yourself first is an act of generosity to those you care about.
Self-Care as a Priority
It is easy, in our fast-paced world, to stretch oneself too thin. We can end up dry, depleted, exhausted. At times we have nothing left to give to ourselves, much less others.
We feel pulled in all directions: family, work, and school commitments; friends; and romantic or sexual partners. The list goes on.
Technology allows us to stay constantly connected. We are checking texts, reading e-mails, updating our social media status, and reading (just the headlines) of what sounds like good articles. Culturally, we have learned to maintain relationships in, as Sherry Turkle has pointed out, sips rather than gulps.
Most of us rarely disconnect. When we do, it is often because we were explicitly asked to during a meeting, or before a movie starts at the theater (does that even count as disconnection…).
Although we spend time alone, we don’t really ever have to just be with ourselves.
“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”
Brené Brown, PhD, LMSW
Caring and kindness toward oneself can take many forms. Because we are unique, self-care is understood and implemented vastly differently from person to person.
Self-care involves finding your inner child and your inner critic, identifying and being willing to feel all of your emotions. It invites you to forgive yourself for making mistakes, failing to achieve goals, and being a beautifully imperfect human being.
It is a branching out, a stretching of oneself, but it also involves letting go. We may need to rid ourselves of outdated habits, ideas of who we are, who we should be, and our limiting beliefs.
Self-Care Habits in Practice
“Sometimes self-care involves forgiving ourselves for past mistakes, setting boundaries in relationships, making that medical or dental appointment you’ve been putting off, saying no to a fun night out because you’re sleep deprived, or choosing to walk away from a job or relationship you have outgrown.”
Robyn L. Gobin, PhD
In practice, self-care involves:
- Cultivating skills and abilities
- Forming or breaking habits
- Engaging in, or disengaging from, activities
Skills & Abilities
Cultivated skills and abilities may include:
- emotional regulation
“When loving-kindness bumps into suffering and stays loving,
it becomes compassion. Both are expressions of goodwill.”
Kristen Neff, PhD and Christopher Germer, PhD
Self-care habits formed may include:
- asserting boundaries
- calling loved ones regularly
- going to bed early
- healthy eating
- making your bed
- meditating each evening
- only checking work emails during work hours
- setting aside “me” time
- Spending time outside
- taking bubble baths (and drinking hot tea!)
- getting up to walk every hour (or so)
“Touch your inner space, which is nothingness, as silent and empty as the sky; it is your inner sky.
Once you settle down in your inner sky, you have come home, and a great maturity arises in your actions, in your behavior.
Then whatever you do has grace in it. Then whatever you do is a poetry in itself.
You live poetry; your walking becomes dancing, your silence becomes music.”
Habits that hinder you may include:
- escaping through (insert vice here)
- nail biting
- sleep deprivation
- substance use
“We’ve all learned how to go online Sunday night to [read] email and work from home.
But very few of us have learned how to go to the movies on Monday afternoon.”
Ricardo Semler, CEO of Semco Partners
Rediscovering or engaging in new activities:
Disengaging from activities which:
- are interfering with health or happiness
- are too time consuming
- have become more obligation than enjoyment
“The best way to predict the future is to create it.”
Abraham Lincoln, former U.S. President
On a personal note…
For much of my life, I allowed self-care to ebb and flow. I focused on it when I was in pain, if my body gave out, if I became completely overwhelmed, when I was hitting a new low in some area, or when I was just too sick to ignore my needs.
When I started to manage and seek relief from my symptoms associated with IBS, I realized self-care was no longer optional. In some ways, IBS was a blessing in the form of a wakeup call. There was a time when I could do well in some areas, while neglecting others. Today, if I want to feel good (and I do) I have to maintain a fairly high level of self-awareness and actively engage in self-care.
I wish I had put more effort into self-care sooner. I’ve had to take a tough look at some parts of myself and my personality, accepting that they do more harm than good. I wouldn’t hold myself up as a self-care guru (maybe some days I would), but I have intentionally practiced it enough to appreciate the process. Because I now understand how much time and effort change requires, I celebrate even the smallest successes.
Investing in caring for myself has had a profound impact on my life. I intend to continue introducing self-care habits until it becomes as natural as breathing!