Self care is often the hardest thing to do in any given situation. And it has a lot to do with boundaries – which is where I tend to struggle.
Self care seems to be the latest phrase, doesn’t it? Marketers use it to encourage us to buy bubble bath and candles and then we post photos on our Instagram with #selfcare. And we tick “self care” off our to-do list for the day – or even the week – and go on with our lives. Self care is so much more than just bubble bath though.
Don’t get me wrong; I love a nice bath as much as anyone else. I have an industrial-sized tub of Epsom salts in the bathroom and I love to lay in the bath and listen to audiobooks. I think the problem is that a lot of us stop there though. We think taking better care of ourselves means having a bubble bath – half an hour or so of lazing about in the tub and we’re done for at least a day or two.
Real self care is so much more than this though. And a lot of what constitutes true self care can be a bit uncomfortable or inconvenient for people like me!
Self care means taking care of yourself, inside and out. It means eating healthy meals not so that you can fit comfortably into your jeans, but so that your body is strong and healthy and able to do the things you want to do. It means not having that second ice cream for the same reason. It means exercising for the same reason, and then if you’re injured or unwell, not exercising even when you want to.
What is self care?
- It’s telling a client you can’t finish that work off over the weekend because you need to spend a few hours away from your desk… But it can also be sitting at your desk and working all weekend because you know that you’ll need the money this produces when your invoices are paid next month to avoid extra stress.
- It’s telling someone you don’t want to spend time with them any longer because they are negative and always make a point of noticing your flaws, or they encourage you to do things you know are not in your best interests.
- It’s sitting with your pain and discomfort and dealing with it head on, rather than numbing out with food or TV, in the full knowledge it will just show its ugly face at a later date.
- It’s putting your wellbeing first, which can mean disappointing or upsetting others, or even having others feel let down by you. It often means things like delayed gratification and being sensible – both of which are hard for many of us, especially in this day and age!
- It’s having the discipline to eat one or two biscuits and not the whole pack, because you know you’ll feel uncomfortably full and your body won’t be healthy if you do. It’s eating vegetables when you’d rather have cake.
- It’s spending my evening reading a book and then having an early night because I know that actually, spending the evening on a Netflix binge won’t make me feel too fantastic even if it does seem very self indulgent.
- It’s finding a way to shut off that constant negative self-talk that most people struggle with. It’s not calling yourself a name when you drop something.
- Sometimes, self care is not eating the entire tub of ice cream in front of a trashy movie with a glass of wine at my side. Actually, most of the time that’s not self care.
- For parents, self care often means taking the hit now in helping children to learn how to behave – rather than opting for the easy life now and dealing with the consequences later on.
For me, self care is a daily – if not hourly – practice of making sure my day to day life is not something I need a regular holiday from – and not just because I can’t necessarily afford a regular holiday right now.
It is essentially making decisions based on how I will feel about this a week from now. A week from now, will I be glad I sat at my desk and worked, or will I wish I had sat on the floor with S and played with Lego instead? A week from now, will I be glad I spent an hour in a coffee shop listening to someone I don’t actually like that much, or will I wish I’d used that hour more constructively? A week from now, a month from now, a year from now, will I be glad I did this or refrained from doing this?
For me, self care means that when I wake up in the morning, before I do anything else, I meditate. I sit in silence and begin my day on a calm, relaxed note. Self care then, means waking up at 5:30am most days so that I can do this. Waking up at 5:30am doesn’t sound like the bubble-bath-and-nail-polish most of us associate with the term “self care” but it’s what I know I need in order to maintain a reasonably healthy and productive life.
I find that whilst bubble baths and fancy moisturisers are nice, they are often used as a band-aid to try and bridge the gap between how our life is, and how it needs to be (not how we want it to be, but how we need it to be in order to be healthy and function). Often we end up having a nice luxurious bubble bath because we can’t afford a week on a tropical island, but we really feel the need to escape this hell for a while. That’s not real self care; it’s after the fact crisis management.
There is an element of self care – or a lack of it – in every thing we do. From our breakfast choice to our commute to work to how we spend our evenings, we’re either taking care of ourselves for the long haul, or we’re putting a patch over the problem until later. Which one do you do?