If you think self-care means taking a break to do something pampering or fun, think again. Sometimes self-care is doing the stuff that’s hard and not fun at all.
When you think of self-care, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? For many, it’s things like bubble baths, manicures, chocolate, and girls’ nights out with friends. A deeper dive brings to mind things like eating healthy, getting plenty of sleep and seeing your doctor regularly.
Jillian Michaels recommends dedicating 12 hours a week to self-care. I agree with that, but I also think it should be something that infuses all parts of your life, rather than something you do for just 12 hours a week.
Self-care shouldn’t be a mere handful of things you check off a list. Self-care should be something that you do every day, throughout all aspects of your life.
What is self-care?
There are a few different definitions for self-care, but this is my favorite: The practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress.
The reason I love this definition is this: protecting one’s own well-being and happiness. It doesn’t specify physical or mental health or claim that self-care is only for times of stress. What it does offer is a holistic embrace of the whole person (well-being and happiness), while encouraging you to embrace self-care even more during periods of stress, which indicates that you should be engaging in self-care all the time.
When we take this “bigger picture” approach to self-care, it becomes far more than pampering and caring for your health. And this is important because self-care — the act of taking care of yourself — goes far beyond taking care of your health and pampering yourself.
When you broaden your vision of what self-care means, you broaden the scope of what it includes.
When self-care means taking care of your well-being, it can include things like:
· Getting your car serviced regularly so you don’t end up on the side of the road
· Clearing clutter out of your home so you have more space
· Quitting your high-stress, high-pay job for one with lower pay but less stress
· Choosing a smaller apartment in a quiet neighborhood instead of a large house on a busy street
When self-care is about taking care of your happiness, it can mean:
· Ending toxic, unhealthy relationships with lovers, friends, or family
· Choosing to stay in and binge Netflix instead of going out with friends when you’re tired
· Saying ‘no’ when your boss asks you to work the weekend
When we take this wider view of self-care, we realize that it can include almost anything we might do. Every choice that we make contributes to or takes away from taking care of ourselves.
This means that self-care doesn’t always have to be something that you dedicate a specific time to. It doesn’t have to be a couple of hours on a Friday night or a Saturday spa day. It can be infused into every decision every day.
“I don’t have time for self-care.”
This knowledge, that self-care can be infused into every daily decision, demolishes the argument that you don’t have time for self-care. Self-care is no longer a self-indulgent pastime that only those with lots of free time can afford.
It also demolishes any guilt you might be feeling over not finding time for the more indulgent forms of self-care, such as bubble baths and spa days. If even something as simple as choosing a fruit plate and a couple of scrambled eggs for breakfast instead of a bowl of sugary cereal can be self-care, then it no longer matters if you don’t have time to get a manicure or a massage.
When you can let go of the guilt over not having time for self-care, and stop worrying about finding time, that will automatically improve both your well-being and happiness. Letting go of the guilt and the worry is its own form of self-care.
What do you gain from NOT taking care of yourself?
Look, I get it. I have days where I give in and indulge sugar cravings all day because it’s that time of the month or I didn’t sleep well the night before. I have days where fast food for lunch or dinner is faster, easier, and sounds better than cooking a healthy meal from scratch. And I am not a fan of going to the doctor — any of them.
None of us are perfect. But if you’re resistant to self-care, ask yourself this: what do you gain from NOT taking care of yourself?
There must be something; otherwise, you wouldn’t resist. The occasional lapse is understandable. But if you consistently resist making the choice that is best for you, there must be a reason and you should keep looking until you find it.
It’s easy to brush off self-care when we view it as indulgences like manicures and weekend getaways. But when we widen the scope to include things like brushing our teeth twice a day or going to the doctor, it becomes more difficult to brush it off.
So ask yourself what you get from consistently choosing unhealthy foods, canceling that dentist appointment, or driving your car even though that rattle keeps getting louder and more persistent. What you get may not be much, but there must be something that makes it seem worthwhile to keep making that choice. There must be something that you believe, or convince yourself to believe, justifies that choice.
Compare what you get from your current choice to what you’d get from a different choice. Fast food might be more convenient, but healthy homemade meals would give you more energy. The dentist might scare you or take a few hours out of your day, but getting a cavity filled or a broken tooth pulled might eliminate that headache or toothache you’ve been dealing with for months. You might drain your savings paying for a car repair and rental, but when your car is fixed, you’ll be able to drive confidently again without praying that each trip gets you to your destination.
Consider every decision you make to be self-care
Instead of looking at self-care as being something else you need to do, a separate “thing,” see it as a daily occurrence — one that repeats itself throughout the day.
Self-care can be manicures and bubble baths, chocolate cake and margaritas with the girls, if that’s what you want and have time for. But it’s also the daily decisions you make.
Whether to put on makeup this morning, whether to go all out on styling your hair or simply pull it into a bun, whether to put on flats or high heels are all decisions that are self-care. You make the decision based on how you feel in the moment and what you think is necessary. That is protecting your well-being.
Even decisions like whether to watch the news, read a newspaper, or watch a scary movie are self-care — you’re protecting your happiness if you decide against it.
Start seeing every decision you make as self-care and you might be surprised at how the choices you make change.