I hate having to stop at a gas station to fill up my minivan. I always drive it until the gas gauge is sitting on Empty. It’s not always convenient to stop and fill up then, but it’s urgent—I risk being stranded on the side of the road if I don’t.
It never even occurs to me to take the time to stop for gas when my tank is only half-full. Honestly, it feels like a waste of time.
Self-care is very similar. It is the fuel our body, mind and spirit require to keep running, especially when we’re pouring out to others. And you know I’m not talking about pedicures! I’m talking about the basic building blocks of a healthy, happy life. Things like adequate sleep, food, a break from screen time, community. If we put off those things until we “have time,” we’re likely to find ourselves metaphorically out of gas and stranded on the side of the road.
However, if we take the time to stop and “fuel up” with the things that make us healthy, happy, and whole, our systems continue running smoothly, even when we hit some bumps in the road.
Self-Care Is Like Car Maintenance
In addition to fueling up every week or so, we also must invest in other maintenance on our vehicles. Oil changes, tire rotations, and checking fluid levels need to be done regularly, among other things. We might be able to let those items slide for a while, but ignore them completely and before long, your vehicle will break down.
If you’re a first-time vehicle owner, some of the details of car maintenance might be new for you. You may need to read the manual or talk to a mechanic to find out how often you should have the oil changed and the tires rotated.
In a similar way, if self-care is a new concept for you, you might need to learn the how, what, and when of tending to your body and soul. Even a self-care aficionado likely needs to revisit their self-care practices when they enter a new season of life. College, a new job or relationship, parenthood, or moving to a new town are all major transitions.
Here’s an exercise to help you think through your self-care routines.
A Self-Care Exercise
First, make a list of self-care activities that are important to you. These should be life-giving activities that fill you up—body, mind, or spirit—or things that help you to be healthy, happy, and whole in the long run. Here’s a list to jumpstart your thinking:
- Reading a good book
- An annual physical
- A bath
- A night off from putting the kids to bed
- Attending a Bible study or Book Club
- Dinner out with your spouse or friends
- A girls’ weekend
- Working out
- Balancing your checkbook
- Challenging yourself or learning a new skill
- Enjoying a favorite hobby
- Prepping food so that you’ll eat healthier and stay within your budget
Next, you’re going to divide your self-care activities based on the frequency with which you’d like to do them. Some activities need to be done every day; other activities perhaps need to be done weekly, monthly, or only annually. YMMV.
The final step is to schedule your self-care activities—at least some of them. Pull out your phone and text some girlfriends about dinner. Look at your local gym’s class schedule and put a couple of those on your calendar. Ask your husband to take care of bedtime tonight (then draw a bath for yourself—a twofer!).
Self-care is like car maintenance. It requires attention, routine, and an investment of time and money. But it’s necessary and worth it to avoid burning out or breaking down.
I promise it’s not always car analogies! For more about self-care, including lots of practical ideas that you can apply simply and sustainably, please subscribe to my once-a-month newsletter.