When I was in therapy, we worked on ways I could tend to my own self-care and wellness while in the midst of mom-ing, responsibility, and all that being an adult entails. (Can I just go to the bathroom alone??) Whether professionally or personally, self-care is having its moment right now. Unfortunately, with the rise of pressures from social media, there’s a fine line between Instagram-worthy self-care and true, life-giving self-care. So I’m here to chat about the “self care myth” and ways you can side step that pit and move towards your own wellness rhythm.
The Self-Care Myth
When I first started seeing stuff on self-care in social media, it was on Instagram. I could get lost in a deep #selfcare hole of beautiful images of milk baths with rose petals, candles and back porch yoga, clean and Pinterest worthy living rooms with Anthro furnishings, spa day facials on flawless skin, muscular and toned bodies, you name it. In and of themselves, none of those things are bad. Not at all! But what I found was a feeling of envy or even shame that I wasn’t able to accomplish the same level of self-care bliss that these beauties online could. Some things were too expensive, or time consuming, or just not possible for me.
How is it self-care when I am trying to live up to someone else’s bliss? Spoiler: its not.
When we do this, we can find ourselves tired, broke, and feeling the pressure to keep up. (Which can then lead to anxiety, depression, and FOMO.) The world shows self care as all these beautifully crafted images, but what it doesn’t show is what self-care truly is: a mindful journey.
Finding the truth
I remember sitting down one morning with plenty of time to go for a run. I didn’t have anything to do for a couple hours, and I could definitely have laced up my running shoes and gotten my sweat on. There was this internal battle I had…one where I felt guilt about wanting to just sit under a cozy blanket and drink my coffee. You should be working out. And yet, I felt my body longing to rest in that space. And then I had an epiphany. It wasn’t self-care if I was guilt-ed or bullied into doing it. And my own expectations of what it should look like was bullying me into believing that sitting down for the morning was lazy and a waste.
So instead, I made my coffee my favorite way (coconut butter and almond milk, please) and went and sat on my couch. I took some deep breaths and reassured myself that just as much as a run is good for my body, rest is too. Then I gave myself permission to get rest. Any moment that my mind started to wander back to what would be a more productive use of time, I gently brought back. It wasn’t easy. But I realized that self-care is just not self-care if I am doing what I think I’m supposed to be doing, rather than doing what I sense my body is needing.
Self-care is the act of practicing kindness, gentleness, and refreshment to yourself by doing things that create more margin in your life. Being mindful about what your body, mind, spirit, life, etc. need. So this could mean balancing your checkbook is a form of self-care. Doing a sweaty workout. Writing a grocery list. Making your bed. Cleaning. Reading a book. Getting a hair cut. Making a doctor’s appointment. Doing laundry.
And sometimes its not an enjoyable activity. Maybe I need to do laundry so that this is off my to-do list and then I can relax knowing its done. And what is self-care for me may not be for you. And vice versa. I can get ideas from social media, but I shouldn’t be thinking that what the images on Instagram portray is the standard. Self-care is not keeping up with the Joneses (or Kardashians). Its staying in tune with yourself.
What to do about self-care
What would lessen your mental load? This is probably the most important aspect of self-care. If you can lessen the mental load of what you carry day by day, this will give you more freedom in other areas. And who doesn’t want more freedom?? This is also where the maybe not so sexy tasks of self-care come in. Scheduling that doctor’s appointment. Getting an oil change on your car.
A couple years ago, I mustered up enough courage to go to the dentist after not having gone for several years. (Dentist fear is real.) We uncovered some work that needed to be done that would cost a lot of money and time (and more courage!). Rather than putting it off again, over the following year and a half, I got all of the work done. A month ago, I got my wisdom teeth removed. Are these things that would make Instagram followers envious of my self-care routine? Not necessarily! (Unless dental health is your thing.) But they are things that I did that now give me much more peace knowing I have a healthy mouth and am up to date on my dental needs.
This is self-care.
Here are five areas that you can check out to start incorporating your own self-care rhythm. And if you think of anything outside these five areas, go for it!! This list is just meant to get the creative juices flowing, but absolutely make it your own! It is called self–care.
- Let’s get physical — For me, when my body isn’t well, everything else goes to crap. My emotions, my joy, my productivity. All I want to do is go back to bed. So check out the physical. Would eating better/well, exercising more, exercising less, indulging more often, taking naps, going to bed earlier, etc. help you to feel more alive? Would anything in the physical help you to have more margin in your emotions, schedule, thought life, etc.?
- It’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to. — Sometimes, I will admit, I let my emotions run the show. And most of the time, this is not a good idea. So I do a variety of things to care for my emotional life and keep it healthy. Journaling, blogging, talking with someone, calling my mom, watching a sad movie so I can cry, going for an angry pound-the-pavement run, doing something that will help me to create more emotional space in my life. Often times, when we don’t have emotional space for ourselves, we don’t have it for others. So our lack of margin in this area can in turn affect our relationships with significant others, friends, coworkers, etc.
- Connecting to a Higher Power — While for me this means a connection to God, caring for our spiritual selves does not mean the same for every one of us. For me, spending time investing into my faith is an important aspect of my self-care. So this may look like meditation, prayer, yoga, being still, reading scripture/books, etc. I believe that every one of us needs to tend to our spirit, whatever that looks like for you. Connect to your spirit and see what happens. Find what feels good for you.
- Dolla Bills, Y’all — Ahhh money. Such a taboo subject. But I’m here to tell you that it shouldn’t be. In this area, sometimes it can be hard to create margin. But even a different mindset about money can be all it takes to open up self-care in our finances. Take a moment to think if there are any areas you could cut back or be more open. Maybe a coffee shop visit once a month is what you need. Allowing yourself a new swim suit or pair of jeans. Send $100 to savings each month. Explore what would help open up some peaceful space in your financial life so its not just another point of stress for you.
- Smarty pants — Have you ever had a really amazing conversation with someone about something you both really cared about and left feeling energized? This is what is means to care for our intellectual selves. I know it can feel weird to think of ourselves as intellectual, but you are! You’re a smart, thinking being, and your brain needs some care too. For me, I like to read articles about topics I’m interested in learning more about. Running. Emotional wellness. Trauma. Therapy. Plants. Natural healthcare. Maybe you’re not so much into reading but love TedTalks. Take some time to learn something new, talk with someone about what you’re learning, and interact with your intellectual side!
In the end…
I encourage you to take these five areas and spend some time with a notebook and write what you think for each of them. You might be surprised at what comes up. Another thing to keep in mind is how you can engage with your community in these areas. Being around others can often deepen your experience in many ways. Maybe jogging with a friend or attending a spiritual gathering could be a way that you deepen what lights you up.
In the end, its important to find areas of your life one at a time (not all at once!) that you can incorporate a new idea that helps you have more margin and joy. Self-care wouldn’t be useful if you left feeling burned, empty, and down. So take some time for yourself to explore all this, and let me know on Facebook or Instagram how it works for you!