Mental Health: Exploring Self-Care
What do you think and feel when you hear the word self-care?
It may appear self-care is a recent trend that only younger generations take part in. According to the Pew Research Center this is true. The research showed in 2015 that Millennials spend more money and time on self-care than any generation before them. However, according to an NPR article, The Millennial Obsession with Self-Care, self-care is hardly new. Ancient Greeks partook in self-care to make them better citizens. It seems Millennials understand what the Ancient Greeks understood. But what about older generations— the Baby Boomers or Gen X? What are their thoughts and feelings about self-care?
During discussions I’ve had about self-care, I have heard people (mostly middle-aged women) ask, “What is self-care?” and “How do I do it?” I have heard them say, “I am not good at self-care” or “It’s not realistic to take care of myself. I am a mother. I work full-time…” For some, self-care is just one more thing to do and if it’s not done, it’s one more area in their lives to feel badly about. For others, it seems too self-indulgent.
If we want self-care to be a ritual we all partake in to become better citizens, I think it’s important to explore these concerns and answer these questions. The last thing we need to do is taint self-care with shame and fill it with unrealistic expectations. So, let’s explore self-care a little more deeply. My guess is self-care is already a part of many of our lives.
But, I’m not good at self-care,
As you can see from the partial list above, many of these rituals do not take up a lot of time or may be things we are doing already. I first learned the ritual of self-care (before it was a trend or had a name) spending weekends at my dad’s apartment. There, I listened to classical music, drank hot tea by the space heater, took baths in the claw tub and drew pictures. These rituals still bring me comfort today. When someone says they are not good at self-care my insides crumble a little bit. What I hear is shame and doubt- as if self-care is something we have to be good at. We don’t. We just simply have to do it or recognize the many ways we already are doing it. Here’s a way we can begin to notice this.
When we want to change our eating habits, one of the ways to do this is to begin a food diary. This kind of documentation facilitates self-awareness, and change doesn’t happen without awareness. In the same way as changing our eating habits, we can start a self-care diary to become aware of how we take of ourselves or how we don’t. If I were to begin a self-care diary today, here is what it might look like:
Ways I took care of myself today~
Made my bed
Made a cup of tea
Went for a walk
Finished writing this article
Why is Self-Care Important?
Self-care is more than just sitting in meditation or doing yoga poses on our mats, self-care is important for reasons we may not fully comprehend. Sure, our self-care practices will make us start to feel better inside our bodies and minds. But, as previously stated, what is really happening is we are building a relationship with our selves. This is the best and most important relationship we will ever have. Therefore, I see self-care as an opening into the deeper world of our souls. Our souls know who and what we are, and what our gifts are— gifts only we can give. Our souls carry what is true and real about ourselves, and I believe we can consciously live in our souls, which means we will live in a more authentic way—the ultimate in self-care. For this to happen we need to start digging our tunnel inside of ourselves and create a self-care plan.
Creating Your Self-Care Plan
Begin by making a list of activities you would like to do or do already. Then, begin taking an inventory by starting a self-care diary, which will keep track of your self-care rituals. Make a commitment to bring these rituals into your life on a daily basis and begin to notice how your relationship with yourself expands and deepens.
I am available to help you develop a self-care plan starting with taking a self-care inventory. I am also available to help you stay with your plan and help guide you deeper into your relationship with yourself. If you have questions or are interested in setting up a time for your self-care assessment, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, go to the Self-Care & Discovery Consultations Tab on this site.
What is self-care?
Self-care is any act that we do that promotes well-being. I highlight any because self-care doesn’t just mean yoga and meditation, although these are good self-care practices. Sometimes, I have stretches of time when I don’t take good care of myself. When this happens, I restart my self-care with an at-home pedicure. First, I use a foot file on the bottom of my feet. Then, I make a handmade scrub of salt and olive oil to rub on my feet. I then rinse with warm water and massage my feet with lavender foot lotion. Before I start walking around I put on soft, comfy socks to keep them smooth. This is self-care.
To help you begin self-care or to give yourself a reboot here is a partial list of other self-care rituals:
Taking a warm bath with essential oils
Reading a good book or a poem
Taking a walk, hike or bike ride
Visiting a therapist
Having lunch with friends
De-cluttering a room or closet in your home
Getting pedicures and manicures
Getting a massage
Listening to music
Dancing in your living room
A few minutes soaking in the sunshine
Lighting candles and sitting in the dark
Making a cup of tea
I also see self-care as an entry point to greater self-awareness and therefore, a means to develop a meaningful relationship with ourselves. Gary Obuchowicz, a self-care mentor and coach, says “Self-care alone is not enough. You need to have self-awareness too. Self-care plus self-awareness equals self-love.” Any of the self-care rituals above or other ones we come up with are acts of self-love.
What I think is important to understand is self-care is anything that gives us some space and room in our life, in our body, in our mind, and in our self. We all need space because we thrive in it. Without space in all of these areas we feel overwhelmed. Feeling overwhelmed is not motivating. So of course, just the idea of self-care might sometimes make us angry or fill us with shame because we just can’t seem to do it.
Clarissa Pinkola Estes said in her book, Women Who Run With the Wolves, “The modern woman is a blur of activity. She is pressured to be all things to all people.” I have a feeling most of us (in this case, women) resonate with this, which brings me to the next common obstacle about self-care.
Self-Care is not realistic.
Self-care is not realistic for many of us if we are looking at it through a narrow lens. As previously stated, self-care is any act that promotes well-being, or if that’s too overwhelming of a definition—any act that brings us a tiny bit of peace and space so that blur of activity stills for a moment. Recently, I listened to a woman share an example of how self-care is not realistic, especially for women with children. Sometimes her son needs help with homework and for her, helping him is important—more important than taking time out for herself. What I heard from this example was the conflict behind the experience. The issue here is not taking care of our child versus taking care of our self. The issue is the mind creating a conflict between the two. We, as women, do this a lot. When we have conflict, we are not at peace. We are in distress. And, why do we do create conflict in our minds? I think it’s because of what Clarissa said above, we try to be all things to all people— and, now the world also wants us to be all things to ourselves. Many of us respond, Oh, heck no.
But, you know what? We know self-care is what we have to do and for some of us it’s what we want to do. It’s time to take that old metaphor we know so well about putting on our oxygen masks first and apply it directly to our lives. We, especially have to do this if we are in conflict about what we do for others and what we do for ourselves. And, here’s a twist— we don’t have to pick one over the other. We can have both at the same time. Returning to the example of the woman wanting to help her son—if helping her child is her commitment, then there is no need for conflict. The way to not have conflict is to be mindful about our commitments. When we are mindful and conscious about our choices and commitments we are at ease. This is self-care. What is not self-care is beating ourselves up about what we should be doing when we are doing something that is important to us.
If our argument is that self-care is not realistic, but on some level we do sense the value in taking care of ourselves then we need to make it realistic for ourselves. We need to find the space to fit it into our lives, even if it’s 5 minutes of coloring. Any action we take toward taking care of our self will not only benefit our selves, but our families, our friends and any one or thing we come in contact with.