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Discover a New Way to Think About Self-Care

Woman doing yoga on a dock

Self-Care: Image Vs. Reality

When you hear “self-care,” what’s your first thought? The first image that pops into your mind?

For me, it’s a salon pedicure and a bubble bath. Which is strange, considering that I’ve only gotten a salon pedicure once. And, although I do take baths on the regular, they never involve bubbles.

So why doesn’t my image of self-care match up with my experience?

When “Self-Care” Isn’t Working

I have spent most of my adult life trying to figure out how to be healthy – physically, mentally and emotionally. But the truth is, I didn’t give much thought to any area of my health until I became a mother. I got motivated to care for myself when I became responsible for another human.

In the early days of motherhood, when I was home all day while my husband traveled for work, I was looking for a “quick fix” that would help me to feel better immediately. Less tired. Less depleted. Less alone.

In my attempt to feel better, I often bought into what I now consider the commercialism of self-care. Advertising tells us that a certain product will help us feel better, or better care for ourselves. But most of those products don’t address the deeper problems of our neglected or spent bodies, minds and souls.

So I would tell my husband I needed time alone on a Saturday, and he always obliged. Or I would buy myself a little “treat” – a new nail polish or a bakery-fresh cookie. I might want to eat out so that I didn’t have to cook. When I could manage it, I would even schedule a weekend away – with friends or my husband.

I felt like I didn’t have enough to give, but none of those things – not even the coveted weekend away, which I’ve even advocated for – could fix that.

Some of that was the stage of life. Babies and toddlers demand around-the-clock care and supervision and generally don’t make for stimulating conversational partners. The older my kids get, the less depleted I feel, and the more I enjoy parenting. But I’ve also learned how to engage in self-care that makes a difference in my daily life.

Understanding Self-Care

My current definition of self-care is any activity that strengthens my body, soul, or spirit and equips me to live my actual life.

That’s where my tagline, “Cultivate Practices to Thrive,” comes from. I want to connect you with other women who are thriving in the lives they’ve built for themselves. I want us all to learn from the practices they’ve developed that help them to show up as their best self.

I understand self-care differently today because of two resources. The first is this article by Brianna Wiest about “What ‘Self-Care’ REALLY Means” that I read several years ago. Wiest wrote, “[Self-care] is often doing the ugliest thing that you have to do, like sweat through another workout or tell a toxic friend you don’t want to see them anymore or get a second job so you can have a savings account….”

Self-Care Vs. Self-Comfort

The second thing that helped me understand self-care was an episode of one of my favorite podcasts, Sorta Awesome. In this episode, Meg Tietz and her co-host, Kelly Gordon, discussed the difference between self-care and self-comfort. This was such a lightbulb moment for me. Both can meet our needs, but my main takeaway was that several things I’d been allowing under the guise of “self-care” were actually self-comfort. Self-comfort isn’t bad, but it also isn’t a long-term solution to issues like chronic stress, anxiety, depression, and burnout. In fact, some acts of self-comfort could exacerbate those issues, if they become our go-to coping mechanisms.

Let me give you an example from my life.

All I wanted to do at the end of one exhausting day was sit on the couch and zone out with a bowl of ice cream and Netflix. And I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with that. But when one evening turned into four or five, the problem became that I was comforting myself in an unsustainable way. Unsustainable because it didn’t strengthen me or equip me for the responsibilities of full-time mothering. It allowed me to escape for a little while, but it didn’t make me feel better or more able to face my life.

Self-Care Isn’t Sexy

These are some of the “ugly” (as Wiest put it), unsexy and sometimes downright un-FUN practices that I use to strengthen my body, soul, or spirit and equip me to live my actual life:

  • Getting up early to sit in silence and read my bible
  • Sweating through a workout
  • Clearing the kitchen counters
  • Cleaning the bathroom
  • Calling to schedule an annual checkup
  • A therapy appointment
  • Sorting through the pile of mail and sitting down to pay the medical bills
  • Planning meals for the coming week
  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Saying “no” to a social invitation after a busy week
  • Saying “yes” to a social invitation after a busy week

Did you notice that those last two are polar opposites? Yeah, that’s another part of self-care that I’m learning – tuning in to what I need now, today, in this moment to thrive. It can change from day to day (although I’m getting to know myself well enough that I can figure this out with greater accuracy than in the past).

Has your understanding of self-care been influenced by popular culture, media, and advertising? How has your understanding and practice of self-care shifted over time?

If you’re looking for practices to strengthen your body, soul, and spirit and equip you to live your actual life, then sign up for my monthly email newsletter, Time to Thrive, to make sure you don’t miss a thing.

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