Please Stop Telling Me How To Do Self-Care

emotional intelligence  mindfulness 

By Ashley Patek

Self-care

Great, self-care… another thing I'm doing wrong. 

Since having my second son, despite knowing the many benefits, making time for myself feels like just another unchecked box on my to-do list to feel guilty about.

I read about all the things I should be doing and then I beat myself up because I can’t find the time, or worse, I don’t even want to do these things. 

What does self-care even mean? There seems to be two polarized views about this, which makes it all the more confusing, and honestly, all the more exhausting. 

On one end, I am told that self-care comes in simple tasks such as taking an uninterrupted shower, sipping my hot tea in peace for the few quiet minutes before my kids wake, or going to the grocery store alone while jamming out to my favorite tunes. 

Others tell me that my errands, chores, and basic needs are not self-care and suggest dates with my husband, a girl’s brunch, or getting a massage.

I have come to realize that the answer isn’t so black and white. 

So, what is self-care? I vote for answer C, all (or any) of the above. 

The day I sat behind a closed door with the tub running to drown out my tears, I decided to hell with it all. I was tired of feeling like I was failing. I decided to put some new definitions in place. Self-care was no longer a “to-do”, it was now going to be a mindset. 

The way I see it, self-care isn’t just one external, superficial thing. It isn’t this or this. It’s more multifaceted than that because our mental health is more complex than that. 

Self-care is an intimate, internal experience. 

When other people tell me what it needs to look like, I give my power away. So, being told that self-care needs be dates and facials, well sometimes that isn’t possible, and forcing them and shaming myself for not doing them is the opposite of self-care. 

Telling me I need to go out with my friends when I want to be home nursing my baby isn’t self-care either, because it isn’t aligning with what I desire.

And sometimes I do want an afternoon yoga class by myself or a kid-free dinner for two, and denying that also fails to meet my needs.

My point is, there is no right or wrong. It is for me to decide. Self-care is changing and dynamic because I am changing and dynamic. 

To me, the ultimate self-care is mindfulness. And I am not talking about meditating or sitting still with legs crossed in a state of zen. Let’s get real, mom of two here.

But I am talking about learning how to be with the current moment with joy and ease, asking myself, What is it that I want and need in the here and now, and how do I make that happen?” 

My power is in my choice … my thoughts, feelings, words, and actions. What could I do in one minute of self-care… five minutes … one hour … one day … one weekend? 

So, today, self-care may look as simple (and vital) as locking myself in the bathroom to take a few breaths when I feel like I am about to lose it. 

Other days, I realize that some time outside of the house is exactly what I need whether it be solo, with my partner, or with my friends. 

I don’t need anyone else weighing in on what is right for me. That is my job. I am my highest authority and when I listen to my inner guide, the outline of self-care becomes more defined. 

The Skills Of Self Care

Underneath self-care is a foundation of skills, and I think that is why so many of us struggle with it … we weren’t taught the skills, namely how to follow our intuition, set boundaries, and delegate, to name a few. 

1. Following our intuition. 

This involves listening to the inner innate wisdom that we all have inside of ourselves. It is that thing that screams “This is for me!” or “Nope, this doesn’t feel right.” Somewhere along the way, I stopped listening to myself, and maybe I was never actually taught how to. But I do know that in the small moment of a pause, I find myself again and it is my intuition that informs what I want and need. 

2. Setting and sticking to boundaries. 

For me, boundaries come with giving myself permission - permission to feel, permission to ask for help, permission to love myself, and permission to speak up and state my limits. And while I practice setting and sticking to boundaries for everyone else, it really starts with placing and honoring boundaries within myself. 

3. Delegating tasks. 

I sometimes get into a pitfall of thinking that if I step away, all the balls will fall and everything will be a mess. This leaves me feeling guilty and prevents me from taking any action. I am blessed with a capable and loving support system and I can trust them to hold down the fort from time-to-time to make space for myself. It is challenging to do, yet when I follow-through, I am glad that I did and it never ends up being the trainwreck I envisioned. 

So, when we talk about self-care, let’s get to the root of why it is hard, and get back to the basics. 

Self-care is whatever kind of care you need in the moment, and it may change from moment to moment. Fine-tuning your intuition, setting boundaries, and delegating allows you to notice what you’re craving and allows you to take action in achieving it. 

We can compassionately examine which of these skills most needs to blossom. And, once we figure out which skills we are lacking, we can (re-)learn and choose for ourselves what we need in any given moment, and that is the truest of all self-care. 

_____________

*** Ashley is a mama to four children; two boys and two daughters born to Heaven. She is an occupational therapist, parent educator, certified holistic lifestyle coach, and Chief Storyteller with Generation Mindful. Ashley is an education seekin', acai-bowl lovin', Sunday brunch-havin', free-spirited mama. 

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