Is Self-Care Selfish?
Have you ever stopped to think about why we believe that taking care of ourselves is selfish? If you google the word self-care, you will find so many different quotes and plans and steps and suggestions around how to take care of yourself. It is amazing that there is so much content out there about something so fundamental.
Take for example babies - first time parents figure out how to take care of a human pretty quickly. Tiny humans give you signs that they are hungry, or tired, or want to play on the floor. There is very little training around this, because the ways a baby will communicate with their body are universal and consistent. Your adult body gives you those same signs. However, we are taught at some point in our development towards adults how to ignore the signs. Somewhere before we are old enough to make our own decisions, we are taught that what we need is not as important as what others need from us, especially if you are a woman. It is modeled to us that those signs are not important. That they are to be ignored for the sake of the rest of us. Well, I would like to offer a different perspective.
A quote that I read recently really brought it home for me:
“Self-care is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation.” - Audre Lorde
Self-preservation. Wow. Our society teaches us that taking care of ourselves is not important, but when was the last time you saw a healthy, thriving elderly person and thought, wow they must have put everyone else in their lives first before taking care of themselves? No, we know instinctively that they worked out regularly, and ate the right food, and slept eight hours a night. For decades, not just when it was convenient. When I started “indulging” in self-care again, I realized how silly it is that I was ever taught not to. Yes, I take care of myself now because it makes me feel good. But, I also do it because I want to be a healthy, thriving elderly woman who gets to take care of other people [my kids], and play with my grandkids. I would argue that this choice is both accomplishing the taking care of others thing at the same time that it is self-preservation. So whatever your reason for making the choice to shift your perspective on self-care, I promise you it is a worthwhile change to make. You have heard all of the ways you are supposed to take care of yourself, so I won’t drain those. In my experience, the harder part is shifting from not doing it to having the permission and space to do it every day. Here are the first steps that I took that made the transition work:
How to start taking steps towards taking care of yourself everyday:
Set boundaries – I started looking at where I needed to say no, and where I could protect my time. One critical boundary was prioritizing an hour in the morning to workout and meditate, before tending to my two small kids. I had to be clear with my husband what I needed and work with him to revise schedules or shift wake up time, depending on how the kids’ sleeping patterns evolve. But, he knows how critical this time is for my mental and physical health, so we work through it.
Start to become aware of your capacity – Have you ever had that feeling towards the end of the workday that you don’t want to do something, but you push through anyways to get it done? Notice how that feels. We are taught to go past our capacity as the norm. I started to notice this and then take a break instead of pushing through, and that has made a huge difference not only in how I feel but also in my productivity.
Take stuff off your "to do" list – Every day or week I make my to do list, and then I take at least one thing off of it. I choose the thing that can really wait until tomorrow and put it on first thing in the morning. Or better yet, I find something that can be delegated or not done at all, and delete it.
Do something you love – When I take that capacity break (see #2 above), I pick something I love to do and do it, even if it's just for ten minutes. One of my favorite things to do as a child was dance. So I blast some Taylor Swift “Shake It Off” and dance like no one is watching (because they aren’t, I’m working from home after all).
Find one thing that brings you joy – In one of my favorite books, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo, she asks you to release things that no longer bring you joy. I flip that on its head and find something in my home or life that brings me joy. I take at least ten seconds to sit in the feeling of joy and appreciation for that object [side note: there is research to suggest that savoring the moment is critical for actually registering a positive experience]. Once I’ve done that, I think about one way I can increase the joy from that thing. For example, I love tending to my garden. We had an episode on using plant care as self-care, and our guest Niyya Tenee was all about indoor plants. So that conversation inspired me to get one indoor plant. And then, after a few months of keeping it alive, I got two more. It makes me happy every time I look at them, and helps me bring the feeling of tending the garden inside and year round, since I live in a cold winter climate.
I know how hard these five things can be when you have society, childhood programming, and expectations of other people in your life fighting against them. However, I would offer that you try doing these five things for a month, or three months if you can, and then see how you feel. Now that I have started living this way I feel the immense benefits not just for myself but for my family, and I will never go back. And I find that the people that you want in your life adjust to the new way of being with you, and that support and recognition of you as a person with needs is priceless.
Want to Dive Deeper?
Check out these episodes where we talk more about boundaries and self-care: