Are You Just SURVIVING, or are you THRIVING?
I have a love/hate relationship with self-care. I love the IDEA of it, especially when I think about my ideal ‘me time’ – driving to the mountains with the sun shining and a Starbucks in the cup holder, then going for a massage and a pedicure at a spa where you get a robe and slippers… Ahhh, bliss! Then reality hits and I realize that a day like this MIGHT happen once a year and I probably need more regular self-care than that! Whatever ‘me time’ looks like for you, I suspect that you’ve found yourself disappointed and resentful when things don’t work out. I remember bursting into tears once because one of my toddlers started throwing stuff at me while I was trying to do yoga. Inner peace was not achieved.
So what is self-care and how are we supposed to get it done?? I am very much in process with this. It’s definitely not one of those things you do once and then cross off a list permanently. Here are a few things I’ve been thinking about recently:
- It’s vital. Self-care can be seen as putting your own oxygen mask on in an airplane before attempting to assist your child. Deborah Gray talks about this in her book, Attaching Through Love, Hugs & Play* (2014). She encourages parents to set patterns early that ensure the meeting of their own basic needs (p. 60). She writes about healthy boundaries, and the importance of taking time for yourself so that you are able to be fully present for your children. “Being ‘present’ means that [we] are fully engaged and emotionally connected with what is occurring. If we do not take breaks, we tend to drift off, being physically but not emotionally present. Our minds are looking for ways to shut off the flow of new information until we make sense of the current information.” (p. 71) I have found that viewing self-care as vital to both my own well-being and the well-being of my children has been an important shift from viewing it as a frivolous luxury.
- It’s holistic. If I schedule regular time by myself and make sure that I am caring for myself emotionally, but then stay up too late at night and eat too much junk food, I am not caring for myself holistically. I am learning to think about the interconnectedness of my physical, emotional, relational and spiritual needs. Care and attention in one area can have positive effects in other areas, and neglect in one area can be detrimental to my overall well-being. I found this podcast to be especially helpful in this area. The pastor speaks about emotional health and well-being, and about the importance of getting our needs met, body, soul and spirit. At one point he says, “We can’t give away anything we don’t first possess.” So, if we want emotional well-being and overall good health for our families, we need to own it for ourselves first! Self-care can certainly include trips to the mountains, massages, and Starbucks, but it can also look like therapy, working out, and learning to take a break from the unrelenting barrage of “news” on Facebook!
- It’s hard work. Let’s be honest: it’s not easy to take time to meet our own needs. We feel guilty for leaving other things undone, and for leaving our spouses with the kids. The daily realities of parenthood make it tough to ensure our own needs are being met, especially at certain stages. Throw in the demands of parenting ‘children from hard places’ and it can feel downright impossible! We need to recognize that it’s not easy, and chances are no one is nailing it all the time. We need to extend grace to ourselves. If self-care is something I’ve neglected, I’ll need to focus on 1 or 2 areas at a time and celebrate any progress I make. We will also need to do the hard work of becoming aware of our self-talk. In the podcast I referenced earlier, the speaker shares some statistics about self-talk: on average, he says, we speak about 50,000 words to ourselves each day. Approximately 70% of these words are negative, and about 70% are subconscious. If we are going to care for ourselves well, we will need to do the hard work of paying attention to the words we say to ourselves, and counter the negative words with true, life-giving words, for the purpose of living in freedom and being who we were meant to be.
- It’s unique. We are all wired differently, and getting our needs met will look different for all of us. Certain principles apply across the board, such as healthy eating and regular exercise, but what works for one person may not work at all for another. I love my workout app, but I’m sure it’s not for everyone! Some of us may need to pursue professional counselling, while others may have close friends who are all the therapy they’ll need. Scrapbooking may fill one person’s soul and drive the next person up the wall. Let’s extend grace to each other, and recognize that our self-care journeys are unique.
So, what do I do if I feel like a failure at self-care? First of all, attack the self-talk that uses words like ‘failure’! Be gentle with yourself. Think of your self-care skills as ‘being in process’ or as a ‘growth edge’ or an ‘area for improvement.’ Take some time to make a list of what you need, thinking holistically. Figure out some first steps, and add only 1 or 2 achievable goals to your already packed to-do list. Ask for help – we are not meant to do this on our own! Supportive friends and family can be a great encouragement to us.
Let’s take some time to encourage and inspire each other: what’s working for you? How are you caring for your body? Your mind? Your relationships? Your soul?