Self-care is a popular topic of conversation in both psychology and self help circles. Self-care means honoring your feelings, needs, and boundaries and includes physical, emotional, and spiritual components of the self.
We specifically view self-care as a form of stewardship. Self-care allows you to live according to your value system and purpose in a sustainable way so that you can do the work you were designed to do for as long as you are able. Without appropriate stewardship, resources run out. This is true of physical resources—like money and inventory—but it is also true of emotional, mental, and spiritual resources. Our energy and time are finite resources. Viewing self-care as stewardship means that we prioritize rest and recovery, setting boundaries around our time and energy not out of guilt but out of a desire to do good according to our mission in life.
Self-care is NOT massages and lattes (although it can be). And viewing self-care as strictly indulgence can limit perceived access of self-care to those who are privileged enough to afford it. Self-care includes the way we talk to and about ourselves. It includes setting boundaries, honoring rest, and rejecting the “grind” culture. Self-care says “I am worthy, and so are you” while resisting the temptation to compare.
When thinking about self-care, it is IMMENSELY important that we view self-care through a lens of compassion. Self-care can easily become punitive in our “grind” and “hustle” culture. For example, exercise or movement is supported by research as an effective way to manage stress. However, it is important to ask: Am I exercising to celebrate what my body can do, because my body is worth caring for? OR Am I exercising to demand my body be different? Compassionate self-care listens to and honors the body—this means I will take a rest day when I need one. Punitive self-care ignores pain and pushes through, using shame or guilt as motivation. Just so you are aware, you are already enough. Any “self-care” that reinforces your not-enoughness is NOT self-care.
To take this further, we might be tempted at times to neglect our needs for things that are valuable and good. However, this often leads to burn out and resentment because we find it is not sustainable. We need adequate rest and recovery even from good things.
However you hope to exist in the world, be that to every part of you.
If you don’t know where to start, begin with the tangible needs of the body. This means sleep when you are tired and eat when you are hungry. I once had a client who told me that as an act of self-care she will go to the restroom when she needs to rather than waiting until it is convenient—how simple and profound! Caring for the physical self is often the first step in trauma work as those with post-traumatic stress often learn to disconnect from the body in order to endure and survive pain or circumstance they cannot escape.
Another way to start is to pay attention to your inner experience. Meditation is one strategy to intentionally pay attention to your inner experience and can be directed or non-directed. Acknowledge your emotions and your suffering. Pay attention to your self-talk. Are you compassionate or punitive toward your self? Do you judge harshly or minimize hurt? However you hope to exist in the world, be that to every part of you. Do you aim to be like Christ? Practice being Christ to the parts of you that feel unredeemable, shameful, or less than. This will impact not only your care of self but your care of others as well. We tend to judge according to the criteria we keep for ourselves.
Many self-care strategies require practice. Learning to speak to yourself with compassion instead of judgement is like learning a new language. You might have to translate your default self-talk into compassion as you learn. There are some wonderful exercises at www.self-compassion.org. In general, we get better at self-compassion by practicing self-compassion. We get better at setting boundaries by setting boundaries. We get better at meditation by meditating. Practice.
This, like most things, is complicated. Maybe you are in a stage in life where adequate rest and recovery just are not possible (young moms I see you). Maybe you are in a job that demands more time and energy than you have. Maybe you are dealing with things under the surface that no one sees. What is sustainable for the short term may be different than what is sustainable in the long term. Be gentle with yourself here. Maybe you are doing the best you can.
For more information about tangible strategies for self-care (based on research) check out Burnout: The secret to unlocking the stress cycle, by the Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski
If you enjoy meditation or are interested in learning more check out 10% Happier, by Dan Harris or No Mud no Lotus, by Thich Nhat Hanh.
For more information about boundaries and values systems we recommend Dare to Lead, by Brene Brown.