How do you feel when you see that phrase?
I have had various reactions to it over the years. And even though I really truly believe in the power and peace self care can give us, I often still feel a little ‘ugh’ about it. What does it even mean?
I first heard about self care from Jennifer Louden 20+ years ago (wow- it’s been that long). She wrote two wonderful books called, “The Woman’s Comfort Book” and “The Comfort Queen’s Guide to Life,” about self care. They are books I still use sometimes when I need a little boost or guidance for self care.
But the notion of self care has a much longer history and one I think bears revisiting. Self care was a term coined by Audre Lorde, a black woman and political activist. She wrote, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Of course, when any member of a marginalized group says, “Yes, I am here for the long haul. I am here to fight the long fight against racism or sexism (or whatever cause you believe in). And I am going to be here for the long haul because I’m going to take care of myself,” then you can see how self care is an act of political warfare.
Then there is the definition of self care that is all about ‘spa days’ and vision boards and six hours with no responsibilities and buying linen clothes. Or something. This is the side of self care that can feel like a lot more fun but also a burden because we’re supposed to do it. Which places self care as another item on the ever-longer To Do list. Like we’ve got time for that.
So- wtf? What does self care mean in every day life? Because it sounds really fucking huge, and maybe I didn’t sign up to ‘fight for the long haul’ and ha ha ha when will I ever have six hours of no responsibilities and some days isn’t brushing my teeth self care?
Which brings me to the ‘ugh.’ Because it gets heavy and confusing very quickly.
So, I am going to lay it down for you. The two truths about self care that I have learned over 20 years of practice (and failure!) and teaching and learning and just listening to women and what they need.
Truth 1: Self care is what keeps you going.
Self care is utterly and absolutely doing the little things that keep you going. It’s taking your meds and vitamins. It’s brushing your teeth. It’s making the bed – a simple act that can set the tone for the whole day. It’s a chunk of dark chocolate or a piping hot coffee. Self care is doing the little things that help you feel like you can do your day.
And what those things are is different for everyone.
For me, meditation is like vitamins- gotta do it or I’m a cranky bitch. For others, brushing teeth, getting dressed, packing a good lunch is some serious self care. These acts of self care, the small ways in which you support yourself and help yourself function well- they are absolutely necessary for your health and the health of those you love. You gotta put your oxygen mask on first, then help everyone else. That’s self care.
Truth 2: Self care is what nourishes your innermost self.
Call that ‘soul,’ or ‘heart,’ or ‘center’- the second realm of self care is that which feeds you on a deeper level. This type of self care doesn’t just help you function daily, it helps guide your life so you feel it is well lived and so you can find joy along the path.
No surprise here: this also looks different for everyone.
Sometimes this kind of self care is a spa day. Sometimes it is a vision board. For me, it’s reading fiction about witches and symbols and magic. It’s also at least 1 weekend off a year (“Bye! Mommy is going away so she doesn’t dissolve into a mist of nothingness and resentment that you’ll never remember fondly!”) This kind of self care is what you miss when it’s been gone for a while. It is also the things that make your heart leap or your body dissolve into a joyful calm when you do them.
This is what I know about self care, but there is also a third truth: you need both types.
Truth 3: You need both. Self care is not a reward for good behavior.
We all need both kinds of self care. We need to take care of ourselves on a daily basis. And we also need to deeply nourish ourselves on a regular-irregular basis so we stay in touch with the center of us. Let me be clear: you don’t have to ‘finish’ or ‘be good at’ the small kind of self care to take part in the nourishing kind of self care. You can have a totally shit day, forget to take your vitamins, yell at your kids, and you still deserve to sit in the bath with a glass of wine and the trashy novel. One kind of self care is not a reward for the other.
Of course, the moment you walk out the door for that weekend away or to the art class you paid for all hell will break loose and you’ll feel pulled to go back and take care of things. Don’t. Self care is not a reward for good behavior. It is necessary to your survival; it is necessary to your survival as a human, and as a soul.
Self care is what helps us keeping going on a daily basis, and also over the course of a lifetime. It has different needs, it takes different actions. What is ‘daily’ self care for one is ‘nourishing’ for another. But if we don’t take care of ourselves, if we don’t keep in touch with a deeper sense of ourselves and our lives, we often begin to fall apart. We need self care to hold the center within ourselves. And from self care we have the energy to build a life we feel good about.
For some, yes. For others, no.
Self care = your needs, your style.
Finding the right types of self care for you and your life is really important. What nourishes us in one phase of our life can be completely different in another phase. And if you’re a mom of small kids, you may have lost your sense of self care completely (which is sooo normal, mama!) and need to start afresh.
Over the years I’ve been able to help women find their latest versions of self care (both daily and deeper types) with a set of questions and some chatting/venting until we get it right. And then- woo hoo! – you have your own menu of self care actions and resources that you can turn to in any moment and take care of yourself with.
If you’d like to find what self care is for you at this point in life, consider working with me for an hour (just an hour!). For $49 USD, we’ll spend 60 minutes working through the self care tool and then venting, chatting, and refining what really works best for you to feel steady on a regular basis and deeply nourished when you need it. We’ll also talk about how to avoid time monsters and shadow comforts.
If you’d like help creating and using a personalized self care plan, click the button below. You’ll go to my calendar first and set an appointment for your time zone and schedule. And then you’ll finish by paying via PayPal. If you’re ready to discover and create your personal self care plan, click below.