How do you define and engage in self care? For me, self care involves specific daily actions I deliberately do to both take care of my own needs and my overall health and well being.
Before learning how to survive during a global pandemic, I believed self care was something I planned a couple times a month when I had free time or was experiencing extreme stress. That’s when I would schedule acupuncture, a nice massage, or a vacation getaway. Sometimes I considered it to be selfish to take time for myself and prioritize my own needs.
These past two years have made me acutely aware of these two critical aspects about self care.
- First, self care is an act of self-love and therefore it is not selfish, and
- Second, self care involves all the actions and investments to myself that make a huge difference where I prioritize my own needs to take care of my whole person.
I still enjoy the indulgences of haircuts, acupuncture, massages, and vacations. All of these things are therapeutic in different ways. My self care practice also involves all the little things and hobbies that bring me joy. I love to hike, bike, sing off key, play board games, and watch horror films year round. I love to snuggle with my cats and spending more time reading in bed. There are times I get so focused on the daily rhythms and routines of life that I forget how important taking the time to do these things that make me happy.
Self care also includes when I mindfully check in with my body, emotions, and thoughts to understand how I’m really feeling or what my body is trying to tell me. The last thing I want to do is ignore or disregard my itchy skin or body aches. My body skillfully finds different ways to communicate with me. When living with atopic dermatitis and nickel allergies I am constantly reminded to pay attention. Over time I learned to resist and ignore my own needs. I still do not exactly know why it’s become easier for me to make commitments to others before myself. Despite the time and energy required, taking the time to listen to my own body to identify what’s going on internally and what my own needs are is self care.
The last couple of years have been really tough and to be honest I am still tired.
At the beginning of the pandemic in the Spring-Summer of 2020, I did not have a self care practice and experienced the extreme consequences of compassion fatigue. I started working from home and I could no longer visit the gym to work out my anger and frustration. My work schedule changed to where I was required to work longer hours and weekends. I was really scared about getting COVID-19 – I still am. Feeling stressed and anxious adversely impacted my sleep and diet. The culmination of all these effects took a toll on my physical and emotional health. I felt so overwhelmed that I stopped engaging in things that made me happy, like reading, painting, and relishing in the unproductive moments of adventure. My lack of control made me yearn for it more. I knew I needed to engage in self care, but really didn’t know where to begin. So many aspects of my life felt unmanageable. I was burned out and needed to recover.
Looking back on that time, I see how not taking care of my own needs, devoting so much time to unfulfilling work, and the major disruptions in my life impacted me negatively. For a while I was in recuperation mode.
After gaining self awareness, I had to redefine what self care actually meant for me and my life. My previously understood tools of self care no longer felt safe, such as going swimming at my indoor gym, getting haircuts, traveling, and getting acupuncture or a massage. What could I still do to take care of my physical and emotional needs while balancing my need to stay safe?
I started small. Caring for my basic needs became the priority. Reestablishing my routine of going to bed and waking up at the same time was the first step. Next I started to set alarms to remind myself to take breaks, spend time outside in the sunshine, and exercise. Again, I had to train myself to intentionally learn how to listen to my body.
It took me about 6-9 months to learn how to adapt to the new circumstances of life and accept my limitations. About that same time my regular work duties resumed, as did my routine. I rearranged my home office furniture so it was more open, comfortable, and inviting. Slowly I felt I could breathe again and I started bringing back activities that bring me immense joy. Lastly, I had to kindly remind myself that I live with chronic eczema and a systemic nickel allergy that requires constant attention and care.
All the actions I proactively and deliberately take to live low nickel by managing both my eczema and nickel allergy are also self care actions. Diligently striving to learn and eat a low nickel diet is a huge burden and an ongoing act of self care. Cooking from scratch by using nickel free cookware are actions of self care. Engaging in a skin care routine to manage my eczema in a specific way using fragrant free cosmetics and cosmetics that do not contain ingredients higher in nickel is the type of self care my skin demands. Being true to myself by communicating my eczema and nickel allergy needs and asking my spouse, family members, friends, and my employer to help me live low nickel are significant conversations that take courage and examples of self care.
Boundaries are one of the foundations for self care for me. Reflecting on my values and how I spend my time and energy is huge. As an overachiever, (something I’m still working on) not over planning but actually simplifying my schedule by mindfully slowing down has been essential to my health. As is continuing to re-evaluate my own expectations I place on myself that do not serve me, but actually cause me significant undue stress I don’t need to experience.
Admittedly I am human, so I am not perfect at self care. Self care does not need to include a rigid schedule of additional burdens added to your to-do list. It should not be self-defeating. I thrive when my days vary and that means my daily self care practices also vary widely.
That’s one of my favorite aspects of self care – you choose what you need to do to fulfill your own needs and how you spend your time. It can be something small like seeking 5 minutes of silence, or maybe a formal meditation practice, or paying someone to complete a task that you’re avoiding. It might also be rewarding ourselves by adding the $50.00 we would have spent on weeknight take-out to our vacation savings account, because in the end we chose to cook and eat low nickel at home instead.
Maintaining our physical health and mental health is vital, and even more so when living with chronic conditions.
How are you doing? What do you actively do to maintain your own self care practice? I’d love to learn more. Share your own tips and experience by leaving a comment below.