I used to equate "self care" with a trip to the spa. It seemed to be a luxury available only to those with the time and money to spare on pampering and stress relief. I didn't see myself in that picture, so I didn't process how badly I needed self care until I was emotionally and physically worn out from day-to-day life, and didn't even have the energy to take my clothes out of the dryer or cook a real meal. Clearly no one else could do self care for me, so something had to change.
While pampering can absolutely be a form of self care, self care actually encompasses all of the nourishing practices that keep you well, physically, emotionally, mentally, socially, and spiritually. It includes everything from taking your prescribed medications on time to moving your body in joyful ways and carving quiet time alone before the rest of your family wakes up. The self care you need is dependent on your life, your schedule, and what feels best to you.
When we aren't caring for ourselves, it's often because we are putting a large amount of energy into caring for others. It may be that we're busy trying to make a living to support our family or caring for our boss by burning the midnight oil to complete a work project.
It's important service to nurture others, but when it means we neglect ourselves, we drain our inner battery. When we have no energy left to keep ourselves going, we certainly don't have any spare energy to funnel out to those who matter most to us.
As a self care coach and yoga teacher, here are a few of the common scenarios I see, when someone is skipping restorative self care:
They're so depleted at the end of the workday that all they want to do is shut out the world and their thoughts. So they log some serious time with the TV remote and Chinese food delivery menu.
They've been stressed for so long that they can't remember the last time they had a good night's sleep, despite feeling exhausted.
They've had a health scare and know it needs to be addressed, but they feel frozen in their tracks.
They miss their friends, but are so tired or worn thin that they feel overwhelmed by the thought of scheduling time to be social.
On the rare weekend they have unscheduled time, they just want to sleep in, even if it means missing a huge chunk of daylight.
They lay awake at night, beating themselves up over mistakes and regrets.
I've been there, too. And I know how it feels to be so physically and emotionally wiped out that you can hardly wrap your head around a solution.
At one of the times my self care was at its worst, I was working in public health and training to be a yoga teacher. That's right - my job was to help people feel healthier and less stressed, and I was letting my own health go.
In fact, I was actively resisting self care. I was aware that something had to give, but I was so tired that for a long time I knowingly opted to deal with the symptoms, and not the source of my fatigue. I didn't want to see friends, I didn't want to buy groceries, and I didn't even want to answer the phone. I self-medicated with Netflix and holing up in my apartment as much as I could.
It seemed like an effective and comfortable plan for trudging forward, until it wasn't anymore. By then I felt like a shadow of my former self, and I was thoroughly tired of feeling tired.
What I wish I'd known then was that self care isn't a luxury; it's a necessity. And it's not only an emergency plan for when your battery is so low it almost can't charge. It took time and baby steps to start to feel fully conscious again.
First I had to dig deep to fully explore the source of my energy drain. From there I started to pave the path ahead, moving forward in thoughtful baby steps. 10 minutes of yoga, and a mindful dinner. A walking date with a friend, and a phone call home. Lots of writing. And a deep sense of self awareness that has allowed me to reflect and recognize when I'm slipping down the path to overwhelm.
Self care is 100% necessary for burnout prevention and maintenance, and even small efforts can have a major impact. It can help you:
Feel more energized and less overwhelmed.
Create resilience to bounce back when something difficult happens, instead of freezing in place or living in denial.
Enjoy life more and dig into the stuff you love, even with limited time.
Have more to offer others, by consistently refilling the source of your energy.
Spend less time doubting and criticizing yourself.
Put your physical wellbeing front and center so you get sick less, recuperate faster, and make better behavioral choices.
Feel more creative, productive, and inspired.
Give yourself wholehearted permission to prioritize self care. Your health and happiness depend on it.
Ready to take a manageable but impactful step toward better self care?