When I hear the word self-care, I’m immediately transported back to my childhood bedroom in the early 80s. In that room with a full wall of collaged magazine images of River Phoenix, I spent countless hours teasing my bangs and shellacking them with Aqua-Net in hopes that they would finally be as high as the cool girl’s bangs. The rest of my time was spent watching Three’s Company reruns. That’s when I first saw the Calgon commercial featuring a busy wife/mother/career woman who had to “escape it all” and pamper herself in a relaxing bath with Calgon bath beads to “lift her spirit”.
This, I thought back then, was how grown adult women took care of themselves. After an exhausting day of “doing it all” they finally got their “me-time” and absconded to a bath. Truth be told, I am and always have been a big fan of taking baths. Maybe it’s that commercial being ingrained in my mind at a young age. Maybe it’s the negative ions in the running water (which are said to increase serotonin). Either way, I’m a lady who likes baths and regularly carves out time for them. The key word here is regularly.
I know, we’re all busy busy people and not all of us feel like we can carve out regular long chunks of time for self-care. The good news is that we don’t have to.
Self-care works the best if you consider these six things:
- Despite what is ingrained in my brain, baths are not the only (nor the best) forms of self-care. Self-care is different for everyone. “Self-care is any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health.” For my husband, self-care is working in the garden. For a friend of mine, it’s limiting her time looking at news and social media online. For me, it includes setting up my microphone and amp in the backyard when no one is home and belting out off-key songs during my fairly regular solo DIY karaoke sessions, taking 10 minutes a day to stretch my body at least four days a week, spending one minute a day doing the 4-7-8 breathing technique, not Googling my weird physical symptoms and disappearing into WebMD, taking action on political issues, getting at least eight hours of sleep (almost) every night (and, yes… taking baths). The first step, is figuring out what thing you can do to take care of YOUR physical, emotional and mental health.
- The next step is making these things a part of your regular routine instead of waiting until you’re desperate and at your breaking point. Self-care doesn’t have to take long. It can be one minute of midday deep breathing or five minutes of morning journaling or 30 minutes a week of knitting. Taking care of ourselves can feel impossible when we’re already juggling so much BUT we tend to find time for the things that we want to make time for.
- Create realistic goals. The quickest way to NOT achieve a goal you set for yourself is to make it impossible. It took me six months to realize that exercising every single day was simply not going to happen for me. I beat myself up repeatedly during those months until I changed my commitment to myself. Setting a goal that felt reachable not only boosted my confidence when I reached it but also made me want to push harder to best myself.
- Self-care changes as you change. I no longer do a daily brain dump about the mean girls in junior high in my journal (an early form of self-care that I didn’t even know I was doing) but I recently started laying down in bed midday for 20 minutes once a week and not doing anything else besides laying down – ie: no book, magazine or phone. If I fall asleep, I fall asleep and if I don’t… I just try my best to be present and think and listen to the sounds of my suburban neighborhood (cars, kids playing, the wind in the leaves of the trees in my backyard). A year ago, if you told me I’d be just laying down and doing nothing for 20 minutes, I would have never believed you. The things that worked for you then, may not work for you now.
- Work with what you have. I went for years without taking a single bath when I lived in an apartment that only had a shower. During those years I found other ways to take care of myself like doing morning pages and baking cupcakes. Don’t wait until you have the money to join a gym (just start moving) or can afford to buy the best set of watercolors for your art practice (use you kid’s crayons to make some art). Start now with what is available to you.
- Be accountable. It can be hard to share our difficulties about taking care of ourselves with others. BUT, some of us (me included) need a little accountability to stay on task. If you don’t have a friend that you can confide in, consider checking out an accountability app (I’ve used the Done app and found it very helpful).
In the end, self-care is a very personal thing. It’s about you and how you live with intention and take care of yourself. Maybe it’s a yearly trip to a tropical place or sleeping in once a week or meditating every day. Thankfully, I’ve let go of my River Phoenix themed interior decorating style and no longer aim for the tallest teased bangs on the block but I’m still practicing some of the self-care rituals I learned as a kid (I cross my fingers that I never have to live in a house without a bathtub again). And some of those old things have metamorphisized into adult versions (my mean girl diary entries are now morning pages). I’ve also brought on new good for me habits that my younger self would have balked at (ie: sitting and doing nothing). Whatever self-care means for you, make it yours and don’t beat yourself up about it.