I have a love-hate relationship with the term “self care.” And if I’m being honest it leans more towards the hate. It has become such a buzz word. And it’s thrown around, especially at women, in a way that packs the shame and guilt. If you just took better care of yourself you wouldn’t be so stressed. If you just spent more time loving yourself you wouldn’t be so tired. If you just carved out more time for yourself then all of your worries would meltaway. But it’s just not that simple or true. And if it was then burnout, anxiety, and depression wouldn’t be so prevalent. Just saying. I do think it is vital for us to take care of ourselves and to be intentional about it. Which is why I won’t swear off “self-care” completely. But for me it absolutely cannot be something else to add to my to do list.
I do not have the time, energy, or mental capacity to add extra things to my list right now, especially in the name of “self care”. And even if I did I can almost promise you they would never get crossed off because when I’m stressed or overwhelmed the very first things to be ignored or put off are the things that are for me. So many of my responsibilities are for my family and my children and those things absolutely have to get done. I mean we all need clean clothes to wear and meals to eat. But do I really “have to” write for an hour? Do I really “have to” get my walk in? Do I really “need” some quiet time? Probably not if it means something for someone else won’t get done. Too much of self care feels like just another thing to juggle. And since my hands are already too full I absolutely will not commit to picking up another ball because 1. It is probably on fire and 2. It will surely be one too many and everything else will come crashing down.
Instead I have to think of “self care” (if you have a better word/phrase please let me know) as elevating the everyday. (I know I saw that phrase on social media somewhere and I cannot for the life of me remember where. Just know I cannot take credit for that phrase.) But basically instead of adding in a lot of extra things or stuff I have had to find ways to make the everyday routines more special. This looks like waking up earlier than my kids so I can get exercise in uninterrupted (most of the time). This looks like drinking my coffee hot before my kids are out of bed in a mug that makes me smile. This looks like using the good face wash because it feels luxurious and makes me feel like I’m pampering myself. This looks like putting mascara on even if it is just a quick Target drive up. This looks like making a fancy meal on a random Thursday because it sounds good. This looks like telling my kids “after ‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno’ we are turning on mom’s music” and dancing it out. This looks like using my good lotion after a hot shower. This looks like putting a face mask on while I’m reading after the kids are in bed. This looks like regular everyday things that I gift just enough extra attention or intentionality to that they transform into what can feel like a radical act of self care or self love.
None of these things end up feeling like a “to do” because they are things I would do anyways. But choosing them automatically makes me feel more empowered because too much of my life is not about choice but instead duty or responsibility. When I do take my couple of minutes to wash my face, I am going to allow myself time to go through the whole regimen. I’m not going to check my phone during that time. I’m not going to answer a kid who has called out from bed for the billionth time because they can’t find another stuffed animal. I’m not going to feel guilty for letting Dan handle the kid who is calling out either. I’m just going to give myself those few moments to breathe. That is self care to me right now in this phase of my life. It is subtle ways of showing and telling myself that I am worth the time, energy, attention, cost, etc. Those moments add up. I have read articles and seen social media posts about how “a shower is not self care it is hygiene.” And yes. We should all be able to shower any day we want without feeling like we’re inconveniencing someone else. We shouldn’t have to call our shower “self care” just to avoid feeling guilty about taking time to ourself. However, nobody else gets to determine what self care looks like to us or for us. Maybe you don’t have the privilege to afford yourself much time outside of that one hot shower. If so then that shower is allowed to be your self care. No doubt.
Self care for me isn’t about day trips to the spa or shopping sprees (although I wouldn’t turn down either). It is much more about connecting with myself throughout the day. It allows for meaningful and conscious moments of choosing myself. Self care is actually defined as “the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress.” Self care doesn’t have to be grand. For me, it is a hell of a lot more effective when it is small or subtle. When there are many moments of choice stacked on one another to create an experience from start to finish that recognizes my own humanity and my need for attention and care, that is when I feel most grounded or well. As much as I want to believe that adding lots of cute things to my cart will lessen my stress, I know small moments of actively checking in with myself throughout the day are much more likely to do the trick.
We are all busy and stressed. But surely there is one thing you can do for yourself today that doesn’t require being added to your list, that doesn’t require extra energy, and that won’t cost you anything, etc. Choose it. Let yourself experience whatever it is. Be intentional about recognizing it as your self care. We are all human and we all deserve to be cared for by ourselves and our loved ones, but only we can decide what kind of care we actually need.
Be brave. Be you. Be human.
With so much love and gratitude,
*Originally published March 2022 and republished August 2023