Self-care is a buzzword that has become associated with social media posts of face masks and spending money. But that is not what it is really about.
I first learned of the term self-care in college while studying literature in a course where all the writing came from lesbians of color. I learned that for Audre Lorde self-care was an act of defiance. In a world that rejected her blackness and her queerness, she practiced self-care to persevere. As a young feminist, this was a turning point for me on what it meant to take care of ourselves. At that time, I was still very much a people-pleaser and often felt drained and stressed from trying to please everyone (which we all know is impossible). But I didn't really listen to Lorde's advice. I still didn't know how to take care of myself.
For me, self-care was about getting a good job with benefits so I could financially take care of myself. Self-care was also on some sort of superficial level about taking care of the looks of my body. Not necessarily my body or spirit. Since adolescence, I had always done facial masks, hair masks and foot scrubs to keep my body looking nice. I worked out, took vitamins and drank water. These were my young acts of self-care.
Now, I feel I actually understand self-care and how to care for myself. It took some major changes in my life to know what true self-care is about and here is what I think it is:
finding the time to deeply listen to your wants and needs, then acting on them as much as possible.
Now, I am a mother of two and a wife. I used to be a full-time teacher. Taking care of others, giving of my time and putting others' needs before mine comes easily and I like being in the position of giver. But when we spend all of our energy giving we can become drained emotionally, physically and mentally. We can even become anxious or depressed. I am not suggesting you stop giving but that each day you schedule in some time to receive.
So how do we practice self-care? We practice by saying no sometimes so that we have time at home to recharge. We practice by asking help from someone else. We practice by really being present in our own body and mind to listen to what it is telling us. I have seen countless people who are stretched thin in doing suddenly come down with a terrible illness that forces them to rest and receive. Instead of making our bodies shut us down, build in moments of rest every day and schedule quality time of rest every week and month. Your inbox will never be empty. Your chores will never be done. Your to do list will never be complete. Things can wait. Things can be put off until tomorrow. People do not need you all the time.
I also want to share that time spent watching television or on our phones is not self-care. When we are looking at screens we may be relaxed but it is more like a zombie state. We are not thinking and not at all tuned in with our bodies. Self-care is about tuning in with our selves and having a relationship with ourselves. Today, it is easy to never be alone but we need to be alone to grow. We need time to unplug and listen.
I used to feel guilty for resting. If my husband came in and saw me sitting, I would say something like, "I'm not being lazy, I am just..." He would tell me how he would never accuse me of being lazy and I realized that was my perception. Our culture is so focused on doing that we don't make room for being.
But being is the work of our soul.
It fills our cups and it makes us whole again. No amount of doing can make you whole. You must be with yourself truly and without judgment to be whole. We must surrender into ourselves to truly be whole. Self-care is surrender. Surrendering to your own needs and giving yourself what it is you need in that moment. Self-care is personal but I will share some ideas to get you thinking:
Going to therapy
Being in nature
Reading/listening to books that inspire you
Participating in a hobby
Doing something creative
Going to sleep early or sleeping in
Using your sick days for when you are sick
Asking for help
Trying something new