Question: what is self care?
This question might sound silly to you. It’s so basic. Of course everyone knows what self care is. But do we?
According to Suzy Reading, psychologist and author of The Self-Care Solution, self care can be defined as “any life-giving activity that restores, sustains or improves your health.” Pretty simple, right? Why, then, are so many of us at a loss as we approach our own self care? Why does it so often feel like a burden or an afterthought, rather than a core activity?
There are two main reasons that we get scrambled on the self care front. The first is that since the dawn of modern advertising we’ve been told that self care equals $$spending$$. I like to call this capitalist self care. Feeling worn out or blue? You need a shopping spree! A pricy day at the spa: mani, pedi, facial, the works! Go treat yo self to some credit card debt! Hell, go buy a shiny new car! Capitalist self care has its place to be sure. Who doesn’t get a lift from a kicky new pair of boots? But we’ve been given one slim sliver of the apple and told it’s the whole fruit.
The second big reason that we’ve gotten self care all twisted, particularly for people who have been socialized as girls/women, is the idea that if we perform even the smallest and most basic caregiving for ourselves before everyone else within arm’s reach is completely taken care of, we’re being selfish. This is reinforced by our friends, family, and colleagues with unfortunate frequency. Saying no to any ask or favor? You might hear, or at least feel, something like “How dare you?! Don’t you care about the family / the team / the work?” Thus the absolute onslaught “self care isn’t selfish” and “you can’t pour from an empty cup” memes saturating the internet. And they’re not wrong. But saying it and knowing it are two different things.
In light of these factors and many more, it’s actually easy to see why seemingly simple self care is difficult for so many of us. But what do we do about it? We know that buying random crap isn’t the answer. We know we deserve–and in fact need–our own care. Now what?
The next step for most of us is finding the time. And in this day and age, that can seem like no small task. Often, the approach is to keep our schedules exactly the same buy try to cram meal planning, jogging, meditation, and/or a hundred other healthy habits into the cracks. This approach tends to rapidly fail, leaving self care strivers feeling frustrated and more worn down than ever.
What, then, is the right approach? Well I’ll tell you right now that there is no one-size-fits-all, magic bullet answer to each and every person’s self care. One theme, though, is constant. Those who are successful at integrating real, consistent self care into their lives don’t try to cram it into the cracks. Instead, their intention to engage in good self care forms the frame upon which their lives are built. In other words, for self care to be consistent and successful, it must be a priority rather than an afterthought.
What does such a thing look like? It might look like setting and sticking to a set bedtime and wake-up time. It might look like consistently setting aside time each week for meal planning and prepping. It might look like more intentional time with friends. It likely looks like a combination of many factors woven through your day and helping to form its structure. And for many people, it looks like getting some support.
Self care doesn’t have to be hard, no matter how distant it may feel to you now. With a good plan and support system, an understanding that self care is not a single goal but a lifelong process, and some patience in place, you’ll be well on your way to a solid self care foundation.