Self-care as a way of life
Self-care has become kind of a buzzword of late, which tends to diminish and cloud it's meaning. The common image when you say self-care is a bubble bath and a glass of wine, or a spa day.
To see it through that lens portrays it as a hard-earned, rare indulgence, which not many have the time or money for. Often, it is reached for as a last resort, once we are already at the end of our rope.
Part of the problem is that taking care of ourselves is not valued in our culture. On the whole, being busy, over-extended, and tired, are seen as badges of honor. There is a connotation of self-care as selfish and self-indulgent.
This may be subtle and not totally conscious, but think about typical everyday exchanges...running into someone you haven't seen in awhile for example: "How are things with you?" "Good, busy! How about you?" "Yeah same here, so busy. Better than the alternative right?"
Do we ever say, "Not busy at all, it's great!" or "I'm getting plenty of sleep, and my schedule is manageable!"
So, part of the challenge is overcoming cultural and familial conditioning.
Another challenge is caring for ourselves enough to practice self-care! Being helpers/caregivers, having low self-esteem, past trauma, depression, or deriving our sense of worth from what we accomplish are some of the obstacles to our ability to care for ourselves.
But, what's the big deal? Why is it so important to practice self-care? Not just once in a while, but every day, every moment?
There are the more obvious reasons: better health and well-being, and less stress. But another important but overlooked benefit is developing self-trust and a felt sense of safety. Feeling safe is essential to healthy bodies, minds, and relationships.
When we are attentive to the signals coming from our bodies, minds and emotions, we can take better care of ourselves, and we know we can count on ourselves.
Think about a child: we don't take care of our child's needs just once in a while. We don't regularly wait until they melt down to attend to them. We take care of them every day, every moment.
If a child's needs are ignored, they learn they can't depend on the people that are supposed to be taking care of them. They don't feel safe physically or emotionally. This activates the nervous system to go into survival mode: fight/flight or freeze.
If we regularly ignore our needs, ignore the signals from our bodies and emotions, we lose touch with ourselves. Our self-trust and intuition is diminished. We flounder around, trying to keep up, trying to find our way.
So we start with the simplest of things. When we are thirsty, we drink some water. When we have to pee, we head to the restroom. When we are tired we take a break, even if it's just ten minutes. We go to bed a little earlier. If we know a certain food doesn't make us feel good, we don't eat it, or we eat a bit less of it.
If an emotion comes up, we can attend to it with curiosity and compassion. What is it trying to tell us? Are we feeling overwhelmed and need a break from our task? Is it something we need to talk through with a friend? Journal? Is there a change that needs to be made? A boundary that needs to be set?
Over time, we learn that we are safe because we are listening and taking care of ourselves. We learn that we can trust ourselves because we are attending to our needs.
Self-care is a way of living which supports self-trust, ease, a fulfilling life and healthy relationships.
We start small. We listen. We pay attention and take care.