Self-Care is not a Luxury
A toddler suddenly behaves uncharacteristically like a brat. Whinging, arguing and showering unpleasantness on their loved ones. As a parent, what do you do? Usually the first question is “is he hungry? Or is he tired?” Because 90% of the time, that’s what is behind most of our children’s annoying moments. We give them the benefit of the doubt, we whisk them away to a nourishing meal, and a nap in a quiet cosy room, and then confidently wait for their brains to reset back to adorable child.
But we don’t cut ourselves the same slack. When we are feeling tired, we rarely seek rest – instead we ‘push through’. When we are hungry, we put ourselves through mental gymnastics, figuring out if the food we are about to eat is deserved, is self-indulgent, is too high in sugar, is forbidden, is ‘clean enough’, is green enough… When we are feeling insecure, we ramp up the negative self-talk, and berate ourselves for the size of our thighs, bank balance, or the degree to which we are having a bad hair day. When we are feeling defensive, we don’t offer ourselves compassion. When we are stressed, we angst over the fact we have such poor coping skills. Or we feel resentment at the world around us for being so, so needy of us. When we take time for ourselves we feel guilty because our jobs and families need us!
We are surrounded by productivity advice, how to fit more into our days, be more focused and work harder. ‘Busy’ is worn as a badge of honour. “How are you?” “So busy!” comes the reply. Sometimes that “I’m so busy” comes with pride, the unsaid “I am so important, so productive, such a high achiever” other times it comes with despair “I am so out of control, I have so much to do and I don’t know where to start”.
We are fed a daily stream of self-care and wellness advice. Most of it focused on nutrition, diets, exercise, clean eating and health. Yes, we need these things, they are crucial to wellness.
But self-care doesn’t stop there. There’s an awful lot of work to be done inside too.
Self-care is about kindness to yourself. Treating yourself as if you were that tired, worn out child.
Start by asking yourself “What do I need?” Maybe it’s less stimulation and some quiet time? Maybe I just need a good nap. Or a connection with someone I love. Or to connect back to myself? Or perhaps some space to dream and open my mind. Or to tidy up some mental knots that I have been winding myself into. Or to unpack and process some difficult experience that I have shoved to the back of my mind. Or to rethink my priorities. Some mental decluttering.
Self-care is giving yourself what you need. These might sound like ‘soft’ options. Things that are nice to have, but not necessary,especially when you are so busy.
They are not.
Self-care is your most important job every day. It is not a luxury. It is not something to delay until you have the time, the space, or the enthusiasm. It is not to be confused with what you do when you get a break, or when you have a clear calendar. It’s not something you do in a day spa. It is not something you do as a one-off.
If you are working dawn to dusk, and haven’t got a moment for yourself, it’s more important than ever. If your family are depending on you to provide, you need to be in strong mental shape. If you are juggling lots of balls, you must reduce your stress levels. If you have small children, you won’t survive without resting and recharging. If you have older children, you won’t thrive without it, and neither will they. They will emulate your ‘exhausted martyr’, ‘raging battler’ or ‘stiff-upper-lip’ persona for decades to come.
It is a daily practice, small rhythms and routines or moments taken. They soothe your spirit, calm you mind, energise your body, clear the mental clutter.
You will not find lower stress, calmness, a clear mind and better focus by adding more to your to-do list. Putting mental clarity first, before you even attempt to power through your tasks, will make your whole day feel better.
So it’s not about sitting in a day spa, getting pampered, while leaving everyone else to do the real work. It’s about taking adult responsibility for your mental health and for your stress levels. Every single day.