Recently a Facebook Group member shared her husband was encouraging her to do more self-care and was looking for ideas. The thread blew up with over 100 comments suggesting products and services (many of which the commenters happened to sell) the posters considered self-care. Let’s just say, some were, some weren’t.
This confirmed some ideas I’d had floating around in my mind based on recent observations at work about how our society, and women especially, view self-care. We all get the concept. Put on your own oxygen mask first and whatever. But people seem to forget the oxygen mask does you no good if the O2 doesn’t keep flowing.
True self care is not an act. It is a sustaining way of being.
As a sole parent of two young children who somehow thought it was a great time to chase a dream and change the world, I’m relying pretty heavily (ok, very heavily) on my support system right now. And, as a sole parent and natural nurturer, I have been everything from a thread to a pillar in plenty of support systems. And in my work I get to see lots of levels of self-care. I get all sides of it. I can feel it when my support system’s self-care is wearing thin. And, I can tell when mine is, and I know my children can feel it too.
We all get it. Yet, as a practical matter we don’t practice self-care very well. In my observation, that is for a few reasons.
- Not everyone understands it very well. And the marketing world takes full advantage.
- True self-care takes resources of time, energy, and money that it can be hard to find and hard to part with.
- Because true self care, while more important than we even give it credit for (and we give it all kinds of credit), can suck. Seriously. Suck. At least in the moment.
Finding and giving the resources to self-care can be hard. But not impossible.
A frequent frustration I hear from employees is that their companies want results that they are unwilling to invest in the people to get. But we tend to be equally guilty. In my experience few make the investment in self-care that would be needed for the results they want or even think they are getting.
True self-care is no different than the care of our children, pets, or others. It is an investment in time, money, energy, and discipline. Not punishment, take it easy if your hackles went up when you read that last one. But self-discipline is a huge part of self-care. Just like teaching our children to develop good habits like playgrounds over video games and broccoli before gummy worms, self-discipline is often choosing the long term good over instant gratification. And it is an essential and foundational component of self-care.
As much as we wish taking the afternoon off for pampering would sustain our reserves so we can give of ourselves to others, it won’t. It isn’t enough. It may be putting on your mask, but it isn’t sustainable self-care that will continue to pump oxygen down the proverbial mask.
The Cornerstones of Care
So, what is sustaining self-care? Clearly that is nuanced and complicated. But, put simply, it is the same care we take of our charges. Sleep, nutrition, exercise, love and connection, and safety. A way of life that leaves you restored. And, to feel fully restored, you need to engage in healthy emotional processing.
Sustaining these cornerstones of self-care is a way of life that takes money, time, and energy. It can be hard to find enough of these resources to get started and get things cycling positively. And sadly, in my experience, women are less willing to invest than men. It isn’t easy or we would all have great self-care. But to say you just can’t, is quite honestly, choosing a victim mentality. You CAN do something. And small changes lead to big impact.
So how do you start with true self-care? One way is taking a personal inventory on the cornerstones of care. Then, problem solve what needs to change to improve the areas where you are coming up short on self-care.
- Sleep – If you are not sleeping well enough or long enough you are not giving those you care for (including you) all you could be. Plus, it can lead to Alzheimer’s and dementia. So, if you are not already sleeping well, that is the first thing to solve for. What is standing in the way of that restorative sleep? And what are you going to change to make it happen? Increased activity and increased outdoor time during the day are key to getting a good sleep. So that may be a place to begin.
- Exercise – Happily, increasing exercise frequently helps improve sleep. There is a reason “getting your steps in” is all the rage. Because walking is about the best thing you can do for your mind and body. It is HUGE in self-care. So, ask yourself, how can you walk more?
Exercise is for sure an investment in time. And that can be hard when we feel like we should give the time to our children, employees or spouses. Or WANT to give the time to Netflix and Facebook.
So, solving for what will motivate you to make the investment in exercise may be your first step. And this one may cost money. In MN where I live it has been 30 degrees below zero all week. A walk/run is free, but it isn’t happening. A gym membership, fitness equipment, or other solution may have to come into play here. Finding the right one for you is key.
But, besides improving sleep, exercise aids greatly in healthy emotional processing (and a bunch of other stuff) which is absolutely essential to good self-care and good care of others. So, this may be the perfect place to start in unraveling the self-care needs and getting them cycling positively. Figuring out where to find the time and energy maybe your first self-care step. Remember, start small. Run up and down the stairs 3 times today. 4 tomorrow.
- Nutrition – This again takes money, time, and self-discipline. But there is no getting around it. If you are coming up short on nurturing yourself, you are not practicing the best self, and hence, other care you can be. If you take a personal inventory and find you are coming up short on nutrition, start problem solving. Happily, better exercise and sleep (and consequently emotional processing) can help spur better nutrition.
- Safety – If you are in a toxic relationship and/or dealing with mental or chemical health challenges 2018 might just be the year to take the bull by the horns and tackle the demons! Your self-care will suffer until you do. And you deserve to be safe and well. If 2018 is when you make that monumental decision to take those difficult steps toward being safe and well, I am rooting for you! It won’t be easy. But it will be worth it!
A few tips to get started on way of life self-care:
- Walking and movement are great self-care
Sitting is the new smoking. And sedentary ways hurt your body and mind in hundreds of ways. So, to get started, GET OFF YOUR SEAT. And good for you! You just practiced great self-care and started spirals of more self-care.
It is amazing self-care. Just stream of consciousness write. Commit to 5 minutes per day. And if you can, do it standing or walking. Boom. Self-care is happening. My 7 year old and I set a new years resolution to journal together for 10 minutes every day. Connection, bonding, emotional processing and developing good habits all rolled into my self-care. I’m pretty happy.
- “Integrative” is your friend
If you feel like a major road block for you is that you don’t have time, I’m sure you are right. It isn’t like most of the things you are caring for have a pause button while you nurture yourself. Or you can just stop earning money for your family.
Life doesn’t stop and the needs you are meeting are real. So, being able to integrate your self-care into things you are already doing is essential for many of us.
Because the need is intense and real, more integrative self-care opportunities are emerging all the time. (Heck, maybe you will launch one in 2018!) Clubs like this one that weave in networking, self-care, and socializing have taken off like rockets. Standing desks are becoming passe in favor of walking desks which much better meet your mental and physical needs as you work. And walking meetings are gaining popularity for the same reason. (Walking is almost the best self-care you can do. So, finding ways to do it while you do other things is a big self-care step.)
I’m even told on Amazon you can buy water proof sheets of paper to jot down the inspirations that come to you in the shower. Nothing is going to work for everyone, but finding the right integrations for you could be just what you need to open up a little energy and time to get your self-care started cycling positively.
- Mindfulness is a good place to start
Practicing mindfulness is inherently good self-care. And for me it helps me spot a lot of small opportunities for self-care throughout the day. These little cares add up. And I would miss them in the flurry of getting things done, or by being consumed by stress, or my child screaming, or… you get the idea. Be mindful. You are on your way.
- Be gentle with yourself
Developing a good self-care lifestyle takes time and work. It isn’t going to happen immediately. And beating yourself up when you come up short isn’t going to motivate you. But giving yourself a pass isn’t going to move things along either. Instead, give yourself Drops of Awesome for where you ARE practicing good self-care and view your life as the work in progress that it is! Reflect on what you might do differently next time and embrace the shortfall for the learning opportunity for the learning and growing opportunity it is. It works so well, you would be amazed!