A Self-Care Journey, Part 2
Last week I shared a story about my own struggles with self-care and how I fell prey to the lie that productivity is the key to success (see blog post here). Today, I want to explain what self-care is and what it is not, as well as how you can develop healthy self-care habits to improve your own life.
Let’s start with what self-care is not.
Self care is NOT:
- a waste of time
- only for “girly-girls”
- only for women
- a sign of weakness
- for sissies
- made up of unpleasant tasks
- another thing to add to your never-ending to-do list
- only exercise
- only for the body
- too hard
Now that we have established what self-care is not, let’s look at what self-care is:
- necessary for your overall health and wellbeing
- good for your mind, body and spirit
- needed to be productive and efficient
- needed to be your best self
- a form of rest and play
- unique to each person
- pleasurable and fun
- a way to bring out your strengths
Do any of these statements surprise you? Do you agree or disagree with any of them? Let’s look at a few of these in greater detail.
Self-care is necessary for your overall health and well-being
Let’s say, for example, that you planned to go on a road trip across the country to go skiing in the mountains. Your car is packed, you have your snacks and coffee, and your playlist is all set, so you’re ready to go.
However, your car has been having engine trouble for the last few weeks and keeps stalling out on you when you’re driving through the city, but you justify that you’ll be driving on the highway so it should be fine. You were overdue for an oil change a few months ago, but you say it can wait until you get back. Also, the muffler has come loose and makes an awful racket when you drive, but you figure that if it falls off you don’t need it anyway. In addition, the driver’s side windshield wiper snapped when you tried to pull the ice off it in the winter and you haven’t replaced it yet, but as long as it doesn’t snow or rain during your drive, you won’t need it.
You know you should have taken your car in to the maintenance shop before planning a road trip, but you’ve been so busy and simply haven’t had the time. Besides, you only get one week of vacation and you don’t want to waste any time waiting for your car to be repaired. Plus, you don’t make a lot of money and it was too expensive to fly, so you had to scrape pennies to come up with enough cash to go on this road trip and there was no money left over for car repairs.
So, despite all the warning signs that your car needs some tender loving care, you hop in and hope for the best as you start the car and begin your road trip.
What do you think is going to happen? How likely is it that you’ll be able to travel 2,400 kilometres there and back without your car breaking down?
My guess is that you won’t make it to the mountains.
Our body is like that. If we don’t take regular care of our body (e.g. eating healthy, exercising regularly, visiting the doctor when we’re sick, sleeping the required number of hours, etc.); then our body will eventually stop working. We can certainly try to push ourselves to keep going, but we won’t make it too far if we’re running on fumes.
The same principle applies to our mind and spirit as well. All aspects of our well-being are dependent on how we feel physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. If any one of these areas is not functioning properly, then the other areas will start working harder to compensate for the part of us that’s not working well. If this continues on for a prolonged period of time, another area might breakdown and then another until we have a complete breakdown and stop working altogether.
If you want to live the best life you can possibly live, then you need to give yourself the best treatment.
Self-care is necessary to be productive and efficient
Imagine that you didn’t have a good sleep, perhaps because you stayed up late to watch TV or your toddler had nightmares and you had to sleep in his bed for the rest of the night. What will your performance at work look like?
You might be irritable when your colleague, who is a morning person, greets you enthusiastically with a boisterous “good morning.” Perhaps you spill some coffee on your shirt and then you snap at the receptionist when she tells you that your client has arrived for his appointment. Maybe you feel disorganized during your meeting with your client and can’t seem to focus on his words, having to ask him to repeat himself too many times. In the afternoon, you might find yourself dozing off at your desk, so you get another cup of coffee even though you know it’s going to affect your sleep that night. On your way home from work, you nearly have a fender bender because you didn’t realize the light had changed from green to red and the car in front of you has stopped. Then when you arrive at home, still frustrated because of your workday and your drive, you find your toddler crying and your spouse asking if you can take him, but you yell at both of them to give you a break and slam the door to your office. Later that night, your spouse won’t speak to you because of your behaviour earlier, so you end up tossing and turning on the couch, unable to fall asleep.
When we’re lacking in sleep, it’s very difficult, even impossible, to be our best selves and give our best performance. That’s why ensuring you get a good night’s sleep is so important. We might not be able to control all factors in ensuring we get a good night’s sleep, but there are many things we can control—such as not drinking coffee too late in the day, turning off all electronics at a certain time to prevent overstimulation, ensuring we sleep the amount of hours we need, and practicing activities that will aid in our sleep (e.g. reading before bed, meditation, prayer, etc.).
Self-care is a form of rest and play
Self-care doesn’t have to be strictly about diet and exercise. It is also about doing what we enjoy. If we enjoy reading and find it relaxing, then spend some time reading each night before bed. If we love sitting around a campfire with our friends, then we could have a backyard bonfire on the weekends. If we enjoy playing board games, then we could host a board game night or visit a board game cafe. If we find wine helps to relax our nerves, then drink a glass of wine during dinner.
It’s important to remember, however, that self-care does not mean doing things to excess. Our body is not built to indulge in excess, so everything must be done in moderation. Limit the amount of time you spend watching TV or playing video games, or the amount of time you read a book before you have to turn off the lamp to go to sleep. Limit the amount and type of food you eat. Limit the amount of wine or alcohol you consume even if getting tipsy really loosens you up. Limit how late you stay out with friends to ensure you get to bed on time.
Self-care can mean having fun, but once it starts to affect your rest, then it needs to be scaled back a bit so that you maintain a healthy balance of work, rest and play. These three areas of life need to be conducive to each other, and not work against each other.
Self-care is unique to each person
A particular method of self-care may work for one person but not for another. We don’t have to assume that just because a friend or relative tells us a certain type of activity works for him/her that it will work for us, too. You get to decide what works best for you.
If you enjoy going to the spa or getting a massage once a week, by all means, do that. But if you hate reading and would rather watch TV, that’s okay. If you like to jog, but hate going to the gym, that’s perfectly fine (unless your doctor has specifically recommended you do a certain type of exercise for health reasons—always listen to your doctor’s advice).
For example, my husband and I have different opinions about self-care. I love spending my spare time reading, writing, making crafts. My husband likes to play video games for relaxation. Occasionally, I will play retro video games with him, but I don’t care to play games too often because I find it overstimulates my mind, especially if we play before going to bed. I have to read a chapter from a fiction novel before going to sleep each night, but my husband only likes to read nonfiction and these books get him thinking too much which is why he can’t read before bed. I need to sleep eight to ten hours a night, but my husband only sleeps six hours. I love walking outside, even in winter, but I hate walking on a treadmill or exercising indoors.
Ultimately, it’s your decision to choose what forms of self-care work for you and what don’t. Never think you have to do what others are doing if you don’t enjoy those activities. However, there are still some basic forms of self-care that everyone needs to do, including sleeping, eating healthy, and taking care of your body (e.g. brushing your teeth, wearing sunscreen to protect your skin, exercising, bathing, etc.). The rest of your self-care regimen is up to you.
Next week I will share an article with self-care ideas that you can adapt to your own self-care journey to living a better, healthier life.What do you think self-care is or is not? Comment with your opinion below.
You are not alone.
You. Are. Loved.
I hope you find love, hope and peace in these words.