“If you find yourself having to regularly indulge in consumer self-care, it’s because you are disconnected from actual self-care, which has very little to do with “treating yourself” and a whole lot do with parenting yourself and making choices for your long-term wellness.” Brianna Wiest
I have a confession to make. For a long time, I equated self-care with things like bubble baths, lavender scented candles, and manicures — treats that I’d indulge in every now and then to reward myself for making it through a difficult or stressful time.
And while those things made me feel good in the moment, they didn’t do much to address the constant stress I was feeling.
These days, I have a deeper understanding of what self-care looks and feels like. It’s no longer about treating myself every now and then. Instead, it has become about building in rituals that support my emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being and removing the things that don’t.
What is self-care?
According to Oxford Dictionaries, self-care is “the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress.”
Taking an active role in protecting your well-being and happiness.
I love that.
So, yes, baths, candles, and manicures can certainly help to enhance our well-being and happiness, but they often don’t go far enough to truly protect our well-being and happiness.
I’m not sure when that finally clicked for me, but it was somewhere in between being diagnosed with food sensitivities and now. (For those keeping score at home, that’s a 10-year window. 😬)
I started paying attention to self-care as a way to address the chronic health issues I was struggling with. For a long time, all I could do was focus on my diet. But once I got acclimated to it, I began to incorporate things like acupuncture, yoga, meditation, energy work, and gratitude into the mix. Those things made me feel so much better that I began to think I didn’t need to worry anymore. That is, of course, until we started trying (and not succeeding) to get pregnant.
These days, my focus is less about taking care of my physical body and more on the overall picture of health and happiness. Of course, food comes into play, but so does my emotional health, exploration around spirituality, and creative expression.
What I’ve learned over the past 10 years is this: self-care is an evolution.
Just like you wouldn’t go from running only when chased to running a marathon, you can’t go from putting yourself at the bottom of the list for years to having a self-care practice that dreams are made of in a matter of days.
The key is to start small and grow.
How to get started with self-care.
The following suggestions are beneficial for anyone who is looking to add self-care to their routine or to improve an already established self-care routine.
- Connect with the reasons why you want (or need) to take better care of yourself. This may sound ridiculous, but I have found it to be incredibly helpful to understand the reasons why I’m feeling compelled to make changes in my life. It helps me stay the course when things begin to feel difficult. It also makes it easier to make choices in alignment with where you want to be.
- Identify the sources of your stress. Make a list of all areas of your life — physical, emotional, work/career/school, money, relationships, and spirituality. Once you know what is getting in the way of your happiness or overall sense of well-being, you can make a plan to address it. Otherwise, you’ll just be throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks.
- Make a list of things that you can do (or stop doing) in order to address the sources of your stress. There is no right or wrong way to do this, it’s simply a matter of understanding what you want and need (or don’t) in your life in this moment. It could be as simple as getting more sleep, not being on your phone at night, or drinking more water. It could also be committing to a regular yoga practice, letting go of toxic relationships, meditating every night, setting a weekly budget, or spending the first 15 minutes of your day doing something just for you.
- Start taking action. Once you’ve made your list, choose 2-3 items that either feel the most important to you or that you’re most curious about and start doing them! Pay attention to how those things make you feel both during and after doing them. And then do it again. Or try something new. At the end of the day, this is YOUR practice and it has to work for YOU.
- Adjust as necessary. If you realize that something you’re doing is causing you to be more stressed out or that it doesn’t seem to have the same effect that it did the first few times you tried it, adjust course and try something new. Self-care is a practice that requires time and commitment in order to find what works best for you. Give yourself permission to explore and have fun.
- Notice the warning signs. I always know that it’s time to step up my self-care game and refocus my efforts when I begin to feel resentful, play the victim, or act like a martyr. Though, admittedly, it often takes all three to get me to pay attention. Once I realize it, I go back and look at what I’ve been lax on or whether a new stressor has popped up in my life so that I can create a plan to address it head-on.