“I have come to believe that caring for myself is not self indulgent. Caring for myself is an act of survival.” — Audre Lorde
Self care is just that. An act of survival.
It’s not always chocolate and bubble baths, although those things can help. It’s not spa days, even though they feel good at the time.
Sometimes, it is the small, simple acts of allowing yourself to not just survive this stressful world, but to thrive.
I wanted to use this blog post to dispel a lot of myths about what self care really is. But first, a little bit about me.
My journey with self care
I blog about mental health not just as some attempt to gain fame, but because it has a genuinely special place in my heart. Not only that, but it is something I live with on a daily basis. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder since 2010, but lived with depression and anxiety for many years before that.
I really started exploring the concept of self care last year, in 2019. I was so desperately burned out after a chaotic season of motherhood. As I mentioned, I live with significant mental health issues. But I am also a mom.
My kids are now 4.5 and 3. I was finding myself putting the most important role of my life on a back burner so that I could take care of my physical and emotional health. I was so stressed and worn out, I could hardly stay awake past six o’clock in the evening. So, I started exploring better self care practices.
You see that phrase everywhere you look these days, self care. Initially, I thought it was pretty simple. Just do things you enjoy, take time for yourself. How hard could that be?
Yes, that is correct, in its essence. But that is oversimplifying it so much that it almost makes it incorrect.
What I have come to believe is that real self care is made up of 4 different aspects. These are non-negotiable, and are critical for making the self care successful.
How to know when you need self care
Before we get into what self care really is, how do you know if you need it at all? Here are some key warning signs that I am drawing from my own experience. These might not all apply to you in your particular season of burn out, but I guarantee you can relate to at least one of them, if not more.
- You feel more fatigued than is normal for you
- You find yourself irritable at the littlest provocation
- There is a lack of caring/motivation (on your part) in your day to day life
- You face relationship issues
- You are having issues at work
- Maybe you feel sick physically
Do any of these resonate with you? If you are unsure, I recommend starting a journal. At the end of each day, take 5 minutes to work on some self-identifying.
How was your day?
How did you feel mentally?
What were your stressors?
If you do this for a week or so, it should help you get a better idea of whether or not you are experiencing some of the symptoms I listed above.
What self care really is
I really had to learn to change how I viewed self care, like I mentioned above, if I was going to help myself get well. I had to stop thinking that it was just eating dessert after dinner if I ate all my veggies.
Ultimately, I had to realize that my mental health was in my hands, for better or for worse. Either I was going to engage in activities that help me get well, or I was not. Simple as that.
Yes, mental health is not simple. It is a very complicated and debilitating situation for a lot of people. However, we are very much in control of how we respond to the symptoms of our illness That is simple. Not easy, but simple.
“We are still masters of our fate. We are still captains of our souls.” Winston Churchill
For self care to be effective, it has to have the following four characteristics.
Self care is duplicatable
A mental health mentor of mine, Jordan Brown, said very eloquently, “Self-care is more than hot bubble baths and kind words. It’s choosing self-love practices that fit into your life. If it’s not part of your regular schedule, it might as well not even exist. Protecting your energy has to be part of what you do, day in and day out.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself. Self care is duplicatable. That means that it is something you can do over and over again in hopes to achieve the same results. It must be done on a regular basis (as long as you are finding it helpful), and must be a part of your day to day schedule.
Otherwise, it is simply less effective.
Self care is affordable
Another important aspect of self care is it must be financially affordable. I don’t want to be misunderstood here: Vacations are great. Spa days are freaking awesome. But they are typically expensive. Valuable maybe, but costly.
If someone is trying to relieve themselves of stress in a difficult time, I do not recommend adding the stress of struggling to finance your self care habits. Are you in a season of life where you are trying to save a little money? You can still practice self care.
When the activities you choose are costly, they become non-duplicatable, making them less effective overall.
Self care is restorative (vs pleasurable)
This is a really important distinction that needs to be made when discussing self care. I use myself as an example for this a lot. I am a massive introvert. I love my friends and family, but alone time is when I feel my best.
So, while going out and grabbing drinks with some friends is FUN (I usually enjoy myself at the time), it is not restorative for me. I am usually having to play “catch up” for a few days after a late night drinking.
Yes, you should enjoy the self care. It shouldn’t feel like punishment. But sometimes being pleasurable does not mean it is exactly what your mental health needs that day.
Self care is not living in a toxic environment
One of the best things you can do for your emotional health is set boundaries. If we are living in an environment where we are constantly bombarded by negative emotions, it is going to be very hard for us to heal.
Sometimes it is the people we are in contact with on a daily basis. Sometimes it is using too much social media. Sometimes it is staying in a job that is doing nothing but give you stress.
We have to do what we can to remove ourselves from these situations. I don’t believe any emotional damage is permanent. After all, the power of the human spirit is STRONG. But if we stay in toxic environments for too long, it can be very hard to go back and erase the damage.
Ideas for REAL self care
So, what can you do? If your nights out bingeing vodka cranberries aren’t cutting it, and after an expensive spa day you still feel unwell, what should you do instead?
Here are my list of 10 activities you can do daily to feel restored in a time of stress. These activities are all duplicatable, affordable, restorative, and non-toxic (theoretically).
Write in a journal. Write 3 things that went well that day, if you are unsure where to start.
Eat a healthy breakfast. Grab a banana if you have to.
Drink plenty of water. At least 64oz, but shoot for more if you’re super active.
Go to sleep 15 minutes earlier. Or set your alarm to wake up 15 minutes later.
Call a friend who motivates you and is a good influence.
Go for a 20 minute walk. If the weather’s bad, walk around the house.
Take a bath with epsom salt. There are a lot of benefits of epsom salt, and it feels so good!
Take 5 extra minutes on your lunch break.
Spend some time meditating. Even if you can’t quiet yourself completely. Try guided meditation if you do not know where to start.
Take up a new hobby. I think learning something new can be a great distraction for our brains, and very rewarding.
Why self care matters
Self care matters because YOU matter. You matter more than any one person could ever say. That means you need to be doing what you can to take care of that body, mind, and heart of yours.
Sometimes we let life get to us. We’re all guilty of it. I know I am. But it’s how we respond that makes us human, and makes us amazing. It’s the little ways we keep ourselves alive on a daily basis.
“Letting it get to you. You know what that’s called? Being alive. Best thing there is. Being alive right now is all that counts.” (The Eleventh Doctor)
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