Self-care. It’s quite the buzz word. Who else sees “self-care” and internally rolls their eyes with a, “Yeah yeah, I know..” response? It’s easy to know it’s good for us, but somehow really difficult for a lot of us to act on.
So first, let’s pull it out of the jacket of shame of “shoulds”. Let’s dress it up with a little pizzazz that might make it a bit more appealing.
Maybe “self-care” works for you, you don’t have the response I describe. Cool! Keep using self-care if that’s the case. But let’s be clear on what we’re talking about here. Self-care can often conjure up images of massages, meditation music, essential oils and baths. Those images aren’t wrong, but they are not ALL of what it’s about!
Sometimes we need the very basics of self-care. Remembering to shower, eat something. On some days, maybe it’s the mere commitment to get out of bed. Other days, maybe getting to bed on time and getting enough sleep.
What ELSE can it mean? Self-care, Care for self. How do you like to be cared for? Maybe massages are totally your jam! Maybe you find meditation BORING. Care for self means paying attention to what you like, want, and need. It’s not just a common therapy homework assignment. Self-care goes along with respect, listening, and love. So take a moment and ask your self what you want, what would help you feel loved and respected. Maybe you want excitement and adventure! Maybe you want to challenge yourself. With others, we might show we care by writing a nice note, or planning a fun date. So do this for yourself, too!
Self-care is tinged for me, and I prefer other terms. Brainstorm or pull out the thesaurus, and see what resonates with you. Some terms I use include Nourishment Recipe, Personal Enrichment Activities, Fun, and Recreation. Does it change anything for you to consider FUN as your therapy ‘assignment’? Does it give you more permission to dance in the kitchen or sing in the bathroom if that’s part of your nourishment recipe? Are you more likely to finally sign up for those art classes, seeing it validated as a healthy thing to do? What choice of words for defining self-care make it look sparkly and enticing for you?
Word choice is one reason we might dismiss self-care. Lack of time is probably the most common excuse. In reality, the underlying issue here is usually dedication. We dismiss the value of showing care for ourselves, put it off until ‘later’ that may never come. If you wait until you have time, you might be too exhausted and burned out to actually enjoy it. Self-care doesn’t have to take extreme amounts of time. It means checking in, maybe using the time we spend scrolling social media to instead engage in something with a much more rewarding payoff. How often do we spend a lot more time than we ever planned? Maybe that language lesson is 10 minutes long, you could have gotten through 3 instead of glazing over a hundred posts! Which feels more fulfilling?
Sometimes we skip personal enrichment because of decision paralysis. Working more can be an easy go-to because we often know what needs to be done. This is where I highly encourage writing out your Health Recipe. Maybe even take this as a step in itself, to make a collage of the things you enjoy, or decorate the list you make to pin on the wall as an easy reminder for yourself! Having reminders can help bridge the barrier to entry when we struggle with initiating something new. And if you’re stalled here, take more time. Maybe you build a list over a series of weeks, just paying attention to what you enjoy, what rejuvenates you and makes you happy. Maybe you’ve felt so pressured that the idea of dreaming up fun activities is something you’ve prevented yourself from doing to avoid the pain of Missing Out. So start the kindness now, and start to listen to the inner child who wants to play.
Maybe you already know exactly what belongs on your list, maybe language isn’t much of a problem. Oftentimes, if self-care is an issue for us, it’s because of a deeper, more painful truth: We don’t believe we deserve it. We haven’t “worked hard enough” or “earned it”, we’re still too busy proving our value (to a boss, a parent, a child, ourselves?). Maybe you have high values of “being responsible” and “hard working”. Learning that down-time may help make you more productive still doesn’t help.
Self-worth issues are quite prevalent. Going to self-care when we don’t feel we deserve it just makes us put it off, and maybe add feeling bad about putting it off on top of everything! Don’t “should” it. Take it as information to be curious about. Ask yourself, “Why do I procrastinate enjoyment?” Yes, the answer may be painful. But listen to it, and care for it. Feel the sadness of the part of you that’s been ignored all this time you’ve been striving to earn the right to enjoy.
Pressure to succeed
Avoidance of self-care because we dismiss it as unlikely to help is a common rationalization. If this resonates with you, please know this: you don’t have to feel immediate gratification from self-care. Self-care is not just an action we take. It’s a relationship with ourself. When we deny ourselves recreation, it reinforces the message that we don’t deserve it. It’s a form of self-abandonment. It’s ok to pick something off of your recipe with 100% cynicism that you’ll feel any different and that it wasn’t a waste of time. If you do that, you’re still giving your inner child the message that you care enough to try. And that matters. It’s one step to building a rich, satisfying relationship with yourself, and joy will come out of it if you keep up the dedication.