I didn’t always view self-care the way I do now.
For years I thought the only way for me to live a fruitful life, especially as a Christian, was to be “selfless.”
And yes, the Bible does say to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14) But that verse includes the assumption that you love yourself.
The Bible does say “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4) Check out the words “not only” and “also.” It assumes you’re looking after yourself, too!
All this time I’d convinced myself that it was selfish to think about my own needs / wants / desires.
Self-denial took the place of self-care.
I’d never thought about “rest” looking life self-care, but it certainly can. To me, this is very freeing. Personally, I’m not a fan of lounging around the house in my PJ’s. It might be restful to some, but to me it feels too much like being sick. I find rowing with friends restful. I find a bike ride to a coffee shop restful. I find a day at the beach EXTREMELY restful.
When I think of “rest” as self-care it opens up the door to other restorative practices – even active ones. What is restful to you isn’t necessarily what is restful to me, and that’s okay. It’s not about what it is or isn’t. It’s about what recharges me for the week ahead and helps me connect with God in the process.
I found two older posts I’ve written about denying myself: Humility and Pity Party. While these posts aren’t completely out of line, I can read them now and recognize the error of my thinking. I needed help, and I thought I could fix myself by doing more…not less.
And honestly, this can work for a little while. When you’re so wrapped up in taking care of others, you tend to forget about yourself…temporarily.
But suppression and denial can cause unmet needs to build up rather than disappear.
What I thought was “selfless living” was actually doing more harm than good.
With the help of a counselor, I would eventually need to unwind and revisit all those unmet needs. I had no idea I had so many needs!
The need to be heard and validated.
The need for friendship and connection.
The need for movement and exercise.
The need to feel loved.
The need to feel beautiful.
The need to feel competent.
The need to learn new things.
The need to nourish my body with good food and plenty of sleep.
The need to be “Emily” not just “mommy.”
The list was long. And I was afraid of seeming “needy.”
I wanted to be ruddy and tough, not fragile and ridden with a long list of weaknesses.
But I was at the point that I could no longer ignore these things. I had buried them too long already, trying to “do it all” and “show no signs of weakness.”
It all comes back to self-care.
Self-care is a popular buzzword right now, and it can be used as an excuse to binge-watch television and eat all the cupcakes.
But at its core, I believe healthy self-care is the realization that we aren’t robots. Even adults, even go-getters, even mothers – we all have a right to take care of ourselves first. It doesn’t make us divas. It doesn’t make us high-maintenance. It makes us human.
Even this blog, chockfull of challenges and shopping bans, at times can seem to send the message that denying yourself is the answer to everything. But while self-discipline is great to an extent, self-denial isn’t always the answer!
Sometimes we need to be gentle with ourselves. Sometimes we need to listen to that still, small voice telling us to relax. Sometimes we need to put ourselves first for a season, to undo the damage from years of putting ourselves dead last.
I’m still learning how to walk this out. I don’t have it all figured out. What I can do is share some of the practical things that have helped me in the past year. Bear with me, and feel free to adapt this list as you see fit. My hope is that it will inspire you to take some baby steps toward healthy self-care – the right kind for you, in the phase of life you’re in.
Healthy Ways to Take Care of Yourself:
Take care of your skin. Your skin is your largest organ. And I used to think all skincare was overpriced and ineffective…but I was mistaken! This month I’ve been getting more into skincare, and it’s been really fun and rewarding. It’s such a small thing, but incorporating a few minutes to do my routine first thing in the morning is a simple, tangible way to start taking care of myself the moment I step out of bed. (Trader Joe’s actually sells some amazing high-quality skincare, FYI. Thank me later.)
Buy yourself a treat now and then. I’m not talking about a new car or designer handbag. I’m talking about something small – a candle, a plant, or maybe coffee with a friend. Treats don’t need to happen everyday – or else they don’t feel special anymore due to hedonic adaptation. But if you’re having one of those days – or weeks – or months – a little treat can go a long way. I’ve started incorporating little treats into my routine without guilt. (It can take time to unlearn that after years of toughing it out. See next point!)
Let go of shame. When you do decide to give into a treat, don’t guilt yourself. Don’t beat yourself up. I have a high aversion to spending. But not every unnecessary dollar I spend means I’m a failure. Sometimes it means I’m celebrating. Sometimes it means I’m just living my best life. Even a frugal lifestyle isn’t about deprivation. It’s about balance. I’ve always believed this, but now I’m actually practicing what I preach.
Go for a walk or take a fitness class. Walks are amazing – about as good as it gets for no cost whatsoever. A fitness class or gym / club membership isn’t free, but it’s an investment in yourself and your health (if you actually use it!) It’s a heck of a lot better to go workout after a long, frustrating day than to hit the nearest shopping mall for some retail therapy. The endorphins and strength you gain from working out regularly are a win / win. Do your best to make fitness an “I get to” experience. Not an “I should” or an “I have to” chore.
Seek out therapy. There is no replacement for this one. It should actually go at the top of the list, but I didn’t want to scare anyone! No amount of self-reflection or “friend therapy” can replace that of a qualified professional counselor. It feels really great and healthy to take that time and invest in myself so I can be a better person to everyone around me. Plus, there are so many things that are glaringly obvious to her, as a trained outside observer, that no one close to me would ever pick up on. If you’ve never been, look into free therapy. Get on a waiting list ASAP. And even if you don’t qualify for free therapy, make an appointment anyway. Best money I ever spent.
Nurture your goals and dreams. Take a step back and try to find what is life-giving for you. Rather than moving forward full-speed ahead, with no direction in mind, intentionally re-route yourself so that you’re moving toward your actual goals and dreams. And if you don’t know what those things are, reflect. Where would you like to see yourself in 1 year, in 5 years, in 10 years? This is a pretty major one for me, since I had lost sight of what I even wanted. I had lots of dreams when I was younger, and a lot of them have either already been fulfilled or they are no longer my dream. Time to get back to the drawing board. (Tip: your dream should be more than just “Survive until my kids leave for college.”)
Never stop learning. Read a book. Take an online course. Volunteer. As long as it’s nourishing, and you’re learning in the process. Find that wonderful state of flow – the space between feeling overwhelmed and feeling bored. As adults, our learning slows down greatly once we finish school. But learning should never stop. If you’re in a little bit of a rut, it’s completely possible that you aren’t being mentally challenged enough.
Do some yoga. Breathe. Pray. Second only to therapy, yoga is one of the biggest things that has helped me in the past couple years. The movements are so loving and restorative, and pair perfectly with the more high-intensity workouts I do. Twice I have suffered minor injuries due to working out, and the movements of yoga have helped significantly – if not completely healed those injuries! Taking the time to slow down, meditate, and pray also has significant health benefits. If we don’t check in with ourselves on a regular basis, how will we ever know how we’re doing? A little goes a long way. Again, this isn’t something to beat yourself up about not doing. It’s simply an invitation to try something new. It might make a huge difference!
That’s my list for today. It’s simply what’s been on my mind the past few weeks. This last stretch of winter is always challenging. (This year it’s not so much the cold, but the sickness that has my family wiped out.) Be gentle with yourself. Don’t expect humans to act like robots. Don’t ask more of yourself than you would ever, EVER ask of someone else. What are your healthy self-care practices? Feel free to check in and let me know how you’re doing! If you splurge on something small this week with no regrets, let me know!
Photo by: Karabo Mdluli