The Secret to Self-Care
By Deborah Blackwell
How many times have we heard we need to take care of ourselves? Self-care is the answer to everything. Or, it at least plays a major role in the recipe for wellbeing. What started in the 1970s as a medical concept, three decades later, turned into a way of life.
I thought I knew what self-care meant—do whatever you can to take care of yourself. I understood it, but I didn’t know how to do it. Or actually, how to feel it.
It’s easy to intervene in the comfort level of those we love and care about. It’s a feeling—like a parent tending to the wellbeing of a child—it comes from the heart. Caring for others’ emotional and physical wellbeing comes pretty naturally.
But self-care is a whole different ballgame. What does it even mean?
Originally self-care meant to follow doctors orders, like, don’t forget to take your medication. A couple of decades later, self-care became about how to find some peace in a chaotic world—light a candle, take a bubble bath, try aromatherapy. Or take a walk and listen to soothing music. Make a cup of tea, curl up in a blanket, and read a good book. Yes, this is all self-care. But does that always work?
Most of us have a tendency toward busy-ness. Our schedules are busy, our days are busy, and are minds are busy in our 24/7 world. But always being busy—whether through cultural norms, crazy circumstances, or self-imposed demands—keeps our nervous system from settling in to self-care.
It’s hard to sit down, be still, exhale, and really rest.
We also have a tendency toward self-judgement. We tell ourselves aren’t not doing enough to—fill in the blank—reach our goals….exercise…get followers…manage our budget. And worse, we feel the need to hurry. We have to I don’t keep up…cross it off the list…and oh that’s right, take care of ourselves.
I tried to slow down and pay attention to my own needs—whatever they were—but nothing seemed to change. I took bubble baths, listened to soothing music, I even spritzed lavender oil all over my house. But I didn’t feel better.
I felt like I was failing at self-care, so I beat myself up. What was was I doing wrong?
At my wits not ever being able to unwind, I discovered I couldn’t look at the outside world for relief. It was an inner-conflict. Self-judgement, self-criticism, and a lack of self-acceptance was not only hindering my self-care, it was undermining it.
It’s the human condition. The inner voice says, “I suck. I’m a fail. I’ve tried and can’t. I give up. I quit. Yep, I suck.”
Beating myself up prohibited me from doing the one thing that defines self-care: self-love.
I sat with that for a minute. What if I just let everything be ok? My feelings, my life as it was at that moment, even what I thought were my fails. Because in life there really is no failing, it’s only a perception we hold.
Imagine what it would feel like to let ourselves off the hook and loved ourselves just the way we are.
The same way we love and accept our children, or grandparents, or our neighbor who brings us homemade cookies.
Self-care starts with the freedom of accepting who we are. Offering ourselves self-love, or at least self-like with a sense of humor. The rest—like a long bubble bath that heals—will follow.