Cute mature woman relaxing in the bathtub

Most everyone I know recognizes the importance of self-care, at least theoretically. We get that if we take care of ourselves, we will have more to give others.

But it is HARD sometimes! At least for me, it was a real challenge to make it happen.

And I know I’m not alone. Most people I know, most of whom care for others on a daily basis, neglect to take care of themselves.

What can we do about this?!

I propose a commitment to make 2013 the year of profound improvement in self-care. This will provide the foundation for healthy, authentic relationships–not only with our partners, but everyone whose paths we cross.

In order to consciously commit to self-care this year, it’s important to look at what it really is, notice some common barriers, and explore some manageable ways to get more of it into our lives!

Self Care: What it is

Self-care doesn’t actually refer to any particular activities that we commonly associate with self-care. Self-care really is anything that supports personal health maintenance. This means all activities that are carried out with the intention of improving or restoring health, or preventing mental or physical illness.

Put another way, self-care is anything that provides a reprieve from repetitive, stressful experiences of daily life.  I liken self-care to the resting Savasana in yoga.  In the resting pose, all the benefits of the previous posture become integrated into our bodies.

In the same way, as we stretch ourselves in life, we need the rests in-between to rejuvenate, strengthen, and become our best selves.

Good self-care impacts not only us, but the quality of our relationships with others.  Because when we get burnt out, we have fewer resources to draw from when stressors arise.

Without the rests that self-care provides, we become irritable, less present, and unable to fully connect.

Given how important self-care is, why can it be so dang hard to make it happen?

Self-care: Barriers

In my own experience and in speaking with others, I’ve found five common barriers to self-care:

  1. The tendency to equate self-care with things that feel immediately gratifying. If you are in a time crunch or stressed, taking a lunch break with a friend doesn’t feel good, because you know how much you have to do and how little time you have. It feels better to defer that nice lunch. Try to remember that self-care takes mental and physical effort. But once you surrender to that lunch as a conscious choice  for self-care, you will be sorry you didn’t do it sooner.
  2. Lack of self-knowledge.  We may not yet have found out what really works for us.  Often we assume that what others find restorative should work for us. But not everyone wants a massage or a mani-pedi.  Without knowing what works for us, we unconsciously defer our self-care for another day.  Solution? Take some time to really think about what really works for YOU. See the list below for ideas too.
  3. Limited time. Ok, really? How often do we say we don’t have time for something, but then waste time doing something else. It really is just a choice. Put it on your calendar!
  4. Tight budget.  If you are on a tight budget, many of the activities associated with self-care are out of reach: Lunches out, massages, spa days.  We may choose to spend money on the kids instead. Consider putting your money where your mouth is. If it’s important enough, we will invest in it. And, if we REALLY just don’t have the funds, don’t let that stop you:  There are many things we can do for no (or very little) cost. See the list below.
  5. Resistance to self-care as “just another way to be strong for others.” Some of us in the helping professions like the idea of self-care as a tool to do our jobs.  But some of us see it as just more of something to do for others. If this is you, just reclaim self-care as something just for yourself. Pick some things that restore you or just feel good, for your sake only.

It helps to remember the purpose of self-care. It is anything that connects us to others or nature, protects us from toxic influences, relaxes us, supports our health, or is just plain FUN.  If any of the suggestions below aren’t for you, brainstorm things that serve one of these functions and you will be successful at taking care of yourself!

Connecting activities:

  • Talk openly with a trusted friend
  • Make a date with your partner (and turn off your phone)
  • Sit outside and listen to the birds
  • Go to a party

Protecting activities:

  • Say no to things
  • Take time alone
  • Spending time only with 100% safe people
  • Avoid getting involved in drama at work

Relaxing activities:

  • Take a hot bath
  • Go to yoga classes
  • Light a candle
  • Burn essential oils for aroma therapy
  • Do nothing

Healthy activities:

  • Excercise
  • Eat nourishing foods
  • Get enough sleep
  • Drink water instead of coffee
  • Give yourself a facial

FUN activities (or things that make you laugh):

  • Go to a movie by yourself
  • Read fiction
  • Watch stand-up comedy
  • Listen to music
  • Go see a play

Add to this list, make it your own, and USE it!

Now is the time, not tomorrow. Take your theoretical understanding of the importance of self-care to the next level. Walk the talk and see for yourself the the profound effects caring for yourself will have on your relationships.

Let me know if there is anything I can do to help in the comments below!

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