Updated: Dec 12, 2020
When hearing the term “self-care,” some people think it means being selfish. Some people think of it as something we all automatically do.
The truth is, it’s neither of these things. Some of us are better at it than others, but engaging in self-care can take some practice.
Our culture teaches us that we should give our everything to our kids, our jobs, our partners, and our families. We should strive for greatness and success.
Social media reinforces this idea by showing us just how “perfect” everyone else’s lives are.
That seemingly “perfect” person in our news feed isn’t perfect, they’re simply showing us the best moments, the happiest moments, the most successful moments. And since we’re so busy giving our everything to our families, jobs, whatever, when do we get a chance to take care of ourselves?
Self-care was talked about frequently in my social work program, but in a very odd way. It was usually promoted as something to do because you can’t properly help your clients if you’re not well yourself.
Ok, but how about taking care of myself for my own sake?
Don’t get me wrong, of course I want to be well in order to give my best to my clients, but I also want to be well so I can be well. Simple as that.
It’s not selfish to take time to take care of yourself, both physically and mentally. We need to take this time.
The pendulum swings both ways, of course, so you don’t want to spend so much time taking care of yourself that it completely overshadows others in your life. It’s about finding balance.
Easier said than done, right? Yeah, I’m still learning this one.
I look to my dog, Dottie, to see an excellent example of finding this balance. When she needs more water and I'm still asleep, she licks my face until I get out of bed and get her some water. When she wants attention, she climbs on top of me to let me know it's time for some love.
But she’s also incredibly loyal and protective. She may feel tired and want to sleep, but if I’m walking around the house, she’s going to follow me to make sure I’m safe. And if someone is at the door, she’s right there to bark and sniff them in case of danger.
So why do we have a harder time finding this balance? Don’t we have the same instincts as animals to protect ourselves and our loved ones?
Absolutely we do! The problem is, we also have “shoulds.” “I should stay late at work and finish this project because my boss wants it asap.” “I should repaint the door because it looks bad to the neighbors.” “I should spend more time reading than watching TV.”
Ok, maybe that “should” is true, maybe not, but we can’t do everything. Are there times you should stay late to finish that project at work? Sure. Are there times when it can wait until Monday? Definitely!
When I find myself getting overwhelmed with “shoulds,” I ask myself, “how important is this?” Will not staying late at work tonight potentially cost me my job? Or is it more like it would be great to get it done today, but I’m really tired and it can wait? If it’s really urgent and I know there will be a really bad consequence for not getting it done, I push through and get it done. If it can wait, and I feel like I really need to be done for the night, I put it on pause for another day.
That’s not being selfish or irresponsible, that’s being wise and recognizing that I’m human and need to stop and breathe sometimes.
I remember one of these “a-ha!” moments occurring when I was teaching.
Teachers always try to save their bathroom breaks for lunch or planning periods so that every possible classroom minute is spent learning. But, nature sometimes has other plans.
One time, I caught myself feeling guilty for going to the bathroom and asking another teacher to watch my kids for a few minutes.
And then I thought, “Wow! I’m feeling guilty for leaving my kids with another teacher for a few minutes so that my body can do what it needs to do?”
Times when we need to prioritize self-care may not always be this obvious, but they’re no less important. Allow yourself a moment to pause. Allow yourself a moment to breathe. Allow yourself a night out with a friend. Allow yourself an hour curled up with a good book. Allow yourself the occasional ice cream sundae.
And if you’re like me, and you have a hard time remembering to take time for yourself or allowing it? Put it in your calendar.
Yup, I’m serious. Do it.
Schedule it like an appointment or a meeting. So on this day at this time, I am going spend one hour drawing and taking a nice, quiet bath. At this time on this day, I’m going to take 10 minutes to sit and have a cup of tea.
If the phone rings today, and it’s not someone I want or need to speak with right away, I’ll let it go to voicemail and call them back tomorrow. (It took me a long time to be ok with this one, but that’s the whole point of voicemail, right?)
You deserve time to take care of your own needs and wants. Not because it will make you a better parent, a better spouse, a better friend, a better whatever, but because it will make you a better you.