Let’s have an honest talk about self-care. You know you need it, you know it’s helpful, and you even encourage your friends to do it. All the while, your self-care consists of putting the kids to bed early, then eating pizza while watching a true-crime documentary. No, there is nothing wrong with it, but the pizza-TV combo should not be your only self-care plan.
There has been a lot of talk about self-care in recent years. As researchers take a closer look at issues like burn-out among teachers, compassion fatigue among health care providers, and a decline in the mental health of the American population since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, the topic of self-care has made its way to the front pages of magazines, and new companies have taken full advantage of this new billion-dollar industry. Well-intentioned coaches and so-called experts have been pushing for self-care routines that involve expensive massages and weekend trips that many people can’t afford, crating this unrealistic expectation that in order to take good care of ourselves, we need to have to burn a hole in our bank accounts.
Truth is that in order for self-care to actually work, it needs
to meet these four basic standards:
Yes, massages are great but if you can’t afford to get one every week, or if you are not comfortable with someone touching your body, it doesn’t work. This is true for many traditional forms of self-care. Instead, your self-care routine needs to be realistic for your lifestyle, preferences, and financial situation. Speaking of routine…
In order for us to really experience a decrease in stress levels and stay in the green zone, rather than running on empty most of the time, our self-care routine has to be, well, routine. The practice of self-care is a routine-based set of activities that you engage in and which are also sustainable. In other words, the activities that you choose need to be accessible to you on a regular basis and for a long time, so that you never fall get past a certain threshold of exhaustion, patience, irritability, or burnout. If you have a simple set of go-to activities that can improve your wellbeing, and engage in them regularly without depleting other resources, like money for example, then your self-care routine will be sustainable.
The idea of self-care can be difficult for many people. Taking the time to care for one’s self often makes people feel selfish for taking the time away from their responsibilities, children, spouse, or even work. So instead of actually engaging in self-care, many people just take whatever time is left over - for example, a few minutes after the kids are in bed, or an hour on a Sunday. Self-care only works when you commit to taking care of yourself. Sounds simple, but it isn't. It seems simple, but it isn’t always simple because of the stories we tell ourselves, like “I don’t have the time” or “there is always something else I need to do”. In order to really practice self-care, you will need to give yourself permission to take some of the time you give everyone else and reallocate it to yourself. Because you deserve it.