What is Self-Care?
The Mysteries of Discovering What That Means for You.
Self-care has become a “trendy” word in the last decade or so. We spout that everybody needs self-care. Meanwhile, many of us struggle with anything and everything related to self-care. Often, we don’t even know what self-care might look like for ourselves. Not only that, but we also don’t know how to create time for it.
Before we look at what self-care might be for you, we need to look at why you’re not creating the time for it. Society teaches us that taking time for ourselves is selfish. Just like most things, society has gotten that so wrong. Loads of time is spent doing for others. Society taught us that’s what we should do. Very few of us are actually taught the value of taking time for ourselves.
Think about the adults in your life who were always doing things for everybody else. Typically, this was a mother figure, but could be others also. Were you taught to admire those who were “selfless?” Were you taught that giving to others is the most important thing to do in life?
If so, what you were taught was wrong. Are you struggling to believe that’s wrong? Many do struggle with that because of our cultural conditioning. What happens when you are always running yourself in the ground to always be available for the needs of others? Many times, you get physically sick and then shame yourself for not taking better care of yourself. Shame kicks in due to the societal conditioning I keep mentioning.
Taking Care of Yourself First
When we are unable to be available to others, we often feel as though we are worthless. Please remember that NOBODY is ever worthless. Understand that I am not telling you that you should not do for others. What I am telling you is that, first, you must be available for yourself. If you are unable to do that, you will never be as available as you could be for others.
Fortunately for me, I began to learn this in my late twenties. I have a very vivid memory of recognizing my need for self-care. Sitting in the school pick-up line for my niece, I had just gotten off a work conference call. “Sit at home tomorrow and wait on a phone call from Human Resources” is what I was told. Lay-offs were coming and I would find out if I would be included in that lay-off.
Imagine all of the thoughts flooding through my mind as a young, single woman. Just a few minutes after that phone call, my niece got into my car. Immediately, I could tell that she was sad about something.
Refer back to that societal conditioning of always putting others first. Most people would have put their feelings aside to “take care” of my niece. How was I supposed to do that when I was in fear of losing my job? Losing my job meant losing a company car and the salary that allowed me to provide a lot of things for my niece.
You Can’t Do for Others, Until You Do for Yourself First
What did I do with my niece who was obviously struggling about something? I told her that I could tell she was upset about something. When I did this, tears just started streaming down her face. Communicating my love for her and my desire to fully be present when she would tell me what happened was incredibly important.
However, I was not going to really be present to hear her story until I was in a better mindset. On our way to my house, I explained what the next thirty minutes would look like for us both. Self-care was my main priority. Now, that probably sounds selfish to most of you, but my self-care was anything but selfish.
I let my sweet niece know that I was going to take thirty minutes to get myself in a better place as I, too, was dealing with something hard. In that thirty minutes, I wanted her to find something to do that she enjoyed. Afterwards, we would sit down and talk about what happened to her at school. The most important thing for me to communicate is that she was important and I would be there for her, but first I had to take care of myself.
What Can Happen When We Take Care of Ourselves First
My sweet niece spent her thirty minutes coloring. I spent mine meditating with calming music. Afterwards, I was able to listen to my niece’s story of being bullied at school. If I had listened to that before I practiced self-care, there’s no telling what the result could’ve been.
Two possibilities are still in my mind. Parking my car and running into the school to talk to the little girl who was bullying my niece was one. My anger and fear about my job would’ve been put on the child who was bullying my niece. Obviously, that child was dealing with something difficult, causing her to bully my niece.
Confronting my niece’s teacher and letting her “have it” for not intervening in the entire classroom following the lead of the bully was the other possibility. Neither would’ve been helpful for my niece.
Instead, I listened to my niece and comforted her. We had a discussion about why people bully others. I asked her what she knew about the little girl who was bullying her. She said that she knew the little girl’s father was in prison. My niece was able to understand how that little girl was struggling and unfairly put her “stuff” on my niece.
Excusing the bully’s behavior wasn’t a part of this by any means. Teaching my niece to have compassion and love for others even when they have hurt her was. Still, to this day, my now eighteen-year-old niece can grasp why people hurt others. She also learned that I had to prioritize myself first in order to truly be there for her. The result of that is that she learned self-care is of utmost importance before helping others. Teaching her how to do that by doing it myself showed her how to do it for herself.
Now, let’s address what self-care is for you. There are so many different possibilities. Often, my clients ask me what they could do for self-care. My response is ALWAYS, “You have to figure that out for yourself.” Knowing what feels good, brings peace and is healthy for you is not something that somebody else can truly know.
I’ll give you some examples of self-care. You could take a walk. Listen to music that feels good for you. Take a long, hot bath. Watch a TV show you enjoy, but be careful not to get lost in episode after episode because, then, you’re just numbing out. Self-care might be sitting outside. It might be getting a massage.
There are endless ways you can practice self-care. Try several different things until you find what brings you peace and a healthier mind. The act of trying several is also a practice of self-care.
Creating Time for Self-Care
For those of you who find it challenging to create time for self-care, this is for you. Often people imagine that self-care has to be a big and grand event that is time-consuming. With that mentality, it makes sense that self-care doesn’t typically happen.
That is not the case at all though. Self-care can be three or four minutes of peace in the midst of your workday. It can be sitting in your car on your lunch break for a few minutes listening to music that you enjoy. Another possibility is pausing to simply drink some water. Now, does self-care seem a bit more manageable?
Here’s a tip on ways to remind yourself to practice self-care. Use your phone to set a reminder during your day to take that pause for whatever activity you choose. When beginning a practice of self-care, I recommend only doing a few minutes at first. If you try to do something new that takes a lot of time, you will probably not keep up with it.
How to Remember Your Self-Care Time
Set your reminder for the days you’re going to take your pause. Don’t ignore it and say you’ll do it later. That “later” never comes. As you get used to practicing self-care with your reminders, you’ll begin to see the benefit.
Often, I have clients who start this way and then realize how much better they feel. Then, they begin increasing the amount of time for self-care as they no longer see it as an obstacle or an insurmountable task. Once this takes place, that’s when you can increase the amount of time for your self-care.
Starting off with the goal of creating thirty minutes per day for self-care can be overwhelming. If something is overwhelming that doesn’t “have” to be done, it’s not going to get done. That’s why I say start with just a few minutes. You can always increase. For more blog posts on what other things society has gotten wrong, click here.
“Self-care is never a selfish act—it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer to others.”
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