Self-care, these two monosyllabic words, are very popular these days.
As a feminist and a woman creator in this society, I have often struggled with the practice of self-care. The concept makes sense to me: take good care of yourself lest you be so overspent and miserable you make others (and yourself) suffer.
But, sometimes it’s hard. And while I used to think the difficulty was another personal failing, I am now well aware that it is not. So, please, if you are blaming yourself for not doing self-care “right” or “well”, STOP.
You are not broken.
There may be some reasons why self-care is so damn hard for you.
Here are my 7 (by no means exhaustive) reasons why self-care may be tough for you. I speak from experience (as always) and I hope you will find something useful here…
- Your Mama
No, this is not the beginning of a joke or another pseudo self-help guide on How To Blame Your Mother.
Self-care may include the word Self, but we all contain so much more than just our individual stories. We are narratives that go back centuries, we are timeless and ephemeral all at once.
When we are struggling with self-care, it may be very useful to look at how self-care is viewed in your family. Was taking care of self frowned upon? Is the directive, spoken or silent, about women who take care of themselves framed as positive or negative? How did or didn’t your mother take care of herself?
Again, this is not an experiment of blame. Think of yourself as a neutral researcher and record what you see. Now, ask yourself: how have I internalized my Family Story of self-care in my own life? Do I feel guilty I have more free time/wealth/resources/healthy relationships than my mother, aunts, tired grandmother? Do I feel ashamed of my quest for wellness?
Oftentimes, our resistance towards self-care is much larger than us, especially in light of family. Go there. See what you find.
I deserve to be well no matter what my Family Story says about self-care.
I deserve to be well even if my family is not.
2. You’re a Perfectionist
Self-care became yet another to-do item, another thing to make pristine and without fault. You berate yourself for missing meditation, for eating fast food, for not getting to the gym that week. Instead of enlivening you to begin where you are, this inner dialogue leaves you spent and overwhelmed.
Self-care should never be another reason to hate yourself. We are all doing the best we can. And if you have a lifetime habit of neglecting your own needs, you’re probably not going to be all perfect with your self-care in one week or after one powerful weekend retreat.
Balance your expectations.
Forgive yourself for slipping up on your self-care list. Lighten your load. Instead of cataloging all the ways you don’t measure up, start thinking of the ways you do. Okay, you missed your meditation and haven’t called your health insurance back about therapy, but you did take a shower, call your friend for support, wear something cute just because, and drink water that day.
I know these things may seem small, but they are still very much part of self-care.
Count the small things and watch them grow in time.
I release perfection and accept what is.
I am enough just as I am today.
3. You’re a Black Woman
We don’t talk enough about the socio-political causes that betray self-care. A society that prides itself on hard work without rest. Communities besieged by poor schools, lack of housing, and misogyny so commonplace it has become language.
Reading Behind the Mask of the Strong Black Woman: Voice and the Embodiment of a Costly Performance by Tamara Beauboeuf-Lafontant last week reminded me of just how insidious the Strong Black Woman archetype is to black women when it comes to self-care.
How can one engage in self-care when the world is convinced you do not contain a self? How do you practice self-love when your community is predicated on your servitude to men and children and that your strength means you do not need support?
I read the book greedily, nodding my head at the way this myth has discolored my view of self-care in my own life, with my family, and with my friends.
In our current landscape, self-care is a thin, rich white girl on the beaches of Tulum spewing messages on embracing our goddess and Being Positive. We see her pictures on Instagram and while we know better, a part of us may wonder, is self-care only for certain bodies? That is, privileged ones?
We have to carry critical awareness of the ways we are subscribing to messages that were invented to keep us starved when it comes to self-care. Self-care is not the province of the rich, the highly educated, the non-melanated.
Yes, self-care is easier when you have access to resources and institutional support and are not part of a legacy that says you exist purely to serve others.
But, it does not mean we cannot do what we can. With what we have. With who we are.
We must reject those messages that tell us surviving is the pinnacle of what we are allowed.
We are allowed to thrive.
I deserve to feel stable, healthy, and secure no matter what the world says.
I am strong and vulnerable. Both of these are okay.
4. You’re Doing Too Much
Maybe you have no choice in the “too much”. You are a mother perhaps, maybe even a single one. You are taking care of an ailing loved one. You are working two jobs and going to grad school and managing four side hustles.
I really feel for mothers. And for women in general. We are expected to give so much but are almost never thought to have needs.
But we do.
In addition to service we cannot control, we live in a society that glorifies busy, of “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead”, of “grinding'”.
And then we try and slap an exhaustive list of self-care, informed by the guru of the moment, atop our already heavy burdens.
We cannot just drop all our responsibilities and run away to a white-beached island (as much as we may dream of doing this during our commute to work).
Is there anything we are doing that is more a drain than a gain in our world?
Would our daily perusing of Instagram and Twitter be better served drinking a glass of tea or STARING INTO SPACE DOING NOTHING?
Can we consolidate our five days of gym time to three or four?
Can we make allot ten minutes before bed to listen to our favorite songs and write in our journals? Can we take baths instead of showers? Wear cute clothes when we go grocery shopping? Narrow our goal of 10 minutes of meditation to 5?
What can you make room for in your own life? What needs to go?
This balance will take time, but speaking from experience, sometimes less is way, way more.
I release what no longer serves me.
My small moments of pause and self-care do matter.
5. You’re Comparing
Let the Insta-Gurus tell-it, true self-care is meditating upon waking for two hours, eating a raw food breakfast, always sending love and light to your commute companions, never reading the news because its “bad energy”, yearly 5K personal growth retreats, and spa treatments every Friday.
It’s a lot for a girl to handle.
Especially if you’re kinda broke, still working on your inner shit, employed at a less than fun job and suffering from panic attacks.
After much trial and much error, I learned that my self-care does not have to look like anyone else’s. I learned that yes, dwelling in Bad News for the majority of my day was a huge energy drain, but I am someone who is socially/politically engaged–I have to know what’s going on.
I learned I didn’t need to buy every crystal, on-line class, self-help book, yoga package because someone else experienced Excellent Transcendence with it. I learned that its easy to make self-help just another mode of mindless consumption.
I keep my self-care routine, especially my morning one, malleable enough that it can travel with me during conferences, home trips, bouts of significant What Am I Doing With My Life-ess. I have cooled my impulse to buy my self-care.
May you learn what works for you and leave the rest.
My self-care is a daily part of my life.
I honor my uniqueness.
6. Your Habits
Sometimes, we’re just plain used to feeling terrible. Or anxious or depressed or low-key jealous of anyone who seems to be having a better time than us. We know we should exercise, eat for our pleasure and our nourishment, and spend time with people we love and yet we skip workouts like we’re getting paid to do it, eat food that makes us feel sick, and isolate, isolate, isolate.
This is where contingency plans come in.
We have to learn how to outsmart ourselves, to make self-care something we want to do, instead of another chore.
We have to accept that we probably won’t always feel like doing it.
So, we schedule things in our planner. We tell a partner or a friend to keep us accountable. We make sure we reward ourselves each and every time we take part in our healthy behavior, even if its solely copious inner cheerleading:WOOHOO, I ACTUALLY CALLED TO SCHEDULE THAT DOCTOR’S APPOINTMENT!!! I AM LIKE, SO TAKING CARE OF MYSELF.
We plan for missed workouts and personal sequestration: We schedule six days of possible working out times, even though we know we’re only gonna realistically make it to two.
We do our homework in libraries and coffeeshops to get used to being around people again.
We start small. We accept that we are hard-headed, lazy, procrastinating, whiny human beings with tender hearts and souls who still are smart, deep, funny and deserving of self-care.
What is the smallest step I can take today? This hour?
I accept myself, good and bad. I work with what I got.
7. You’re Waiting on Permission
No one is going to give you permission to take care of yourself (though if you are lucky to have a permission-giver in your life, treasure the hell out of this person). You may feel guilty. And people, your partners, children, church; may be very frosty and annoyed that you have decided to put yourself first. That you have made it clear that you have needs and they deserve to be listened to.
Sometimes, we want to pretend that everyone will be happy when we start valuing ourselves. Some people will. But in a world that relies on women to labor away emotionally, to not be compensated fairly for their work, which deems jobs involving care as “lowly women’s work”, women deciding to put themselves first will come as shock and then maybe an insult to a LOTTA people.
And we must live with that. It isn’t easy (especially for those of us who have any people-pleasing tendencies). But, if we are to reinvent this world, we must start within our own daily lives, our own psyches. We must heal that portion of our souls that has told us repetitively that we should be ashamed to spend time on ourselves, that we are defined only by what we do for others.
We must feel the guilt of self-care and proceed anyways.
I give myself full permission to feel good.
Taking care of myself is right, true, and delicious.
Well, I hope this helps some of you out there struggling with this whole self-care thing. Self-care can feel unwieldy and massive, but honestly, it always comes down to one day at a time and the simplest step. It comes down to acting in love and making a guess to what love looks like if love isn’t your first language. It’s about seeing our “failures” as ways to learn about what actually works.
You are worthy of taking good care of yourself.
Remind yourself often until it feels like truth.