I recently saw a self-care checklist on Instagram with things like bubble bath, eyelash extensions, tanning, wax, mani-pedi, etc. and I thought to myself: this person doesn’t really understand self-care. Maybe I’m getting hung up on semantics here, but those things sound like grooming habits to me. Grooming habits are a part of self-care, but they are not the sum total of a wholistic self-care lifestyle. If you think self-care is merely cultural beauty rituals, you may want to stick around and discover how much more it actually includes, and how important self-care practices can be in creating a life of balance, peace, purpose and joy.
What’s Wrong with a Mani-Pedi and a Bubble Bath?
Absolutely nothing! We all want to look and feel our best. And if those activities balance your entire life, consider yourself lucky! But for the rest of us, who need a little more, keep reading.
There are several problems with self-care being defined by grooming habits. If self-care equates solely to looking good, then we have defined the term from a shallow perspective that feeds the already prevalent cultural paradigm that aesthetics is the solution to life’s problems. It also perpetuates the idea that superficial applications are more important than substance. It neglects to recognize and fuel the other parts of the soul that need attention.
Now, you may argue that a pedicure makes you feel relaxed and balanced like nothing else. Awesome! You’ve tapped into one of your customized self-care rituals, but not everybody feels the same way about a pedicure.
Note: I didn’t write this article to criticize people who find joy in improving their physical appearance. It was written to help people see that there are deeper levels of self-care and different needs. Highly creative, sensitive types, women who are on a healing path, and women who just plain give too much of themselves are probably gonna need more than grooming routines to keep them feeling healthy, happy, and balanced. I am creative, sensitive, and healing so I am writing from my personal perspective.
The word care in the way we are using it is a verb. Let’s look at the definition:
- feel concern or interest; attach importance to something.
- look after and provide for the needs of.
So, self-care is to feel concern and interest for yourself, to look after and provide for your own needs.
If we look at the noun of this word, we get a little more insight:
- the provision of what is necessary for the health, welfare, maintenance, and protection of someone or something.
From these definitions we can clarify a definition for the term self-care that looks something like this:
Providing for yourself those things necessary for health, happiness, support, and preservation.
This encompasses body, mind, spirit, and emotions because you are all of these things! To neglect one is to live an unbalanced life! And to live an unbalanced life is to lack peace and joy.
I’m not suggesting that you ditch your grooming routine. That’s part of self-maintenance. Caring for the body through physical appearance shows respect to ourselves and others. It says, “I’m worth the time and you’re worth the time for me to make an effort.” It’s important. But there is more.
Have you noticed that people are flocking to yoga, meditation, and healthy lifestyles? These are all self-care activities. I believe people are seeking for more peace, joy, meaning, and balance in their lives. I think the desire for these things stems from being flooded by superficiality on our devices every minute of every hour of every day and from the fact that we are too busy. Collectively, we know it’s good to take care of ourselves, but now we feel the need more than ever. In this fast-paced, instant-gratification, disconnected world, we crave something slow, meaningful and connected.
And it starts with the Self.
To shift from an aesthetic mindset to a true self-care mindset, you have to be aware that there is more to care for than just your appearance. It requires you to look at each area of your life—body, mind, spirit, emotions—and recognize what you need. It requires you to begin incorporating new habits into your life that will facilitate care for those needs on a regular basis.
Balance is the Result of True Self-Care
We talked about how in this fast-paced, instant-gratification, disconnected world, we crave something slow, meaningful and connected. When you slow down, when you work for something meaningful, when you connect to your body-mind-spirit-emotions life feels balanced; it becomes balanced. Balance is a state that is experienced inside of you. You can’t neglect parts of yourself and expect to feel balanced. The reason balance is so elusive is because we misunderstand what it actually is.
What is Balance?
Balance is not stuffing a million things into your day from each of your goal categories so you can check off boxes at the end of the day and feel “balanced” because you got it all done. Balance is seeing to both your needs and your responsibilities in a mindful way. It is doing what needs to be done, but also giving to yourself what you need in order to feel healthy and cared for. I’ve personally learned that if I sandwich my responsibilities between small acts of self-care throughout the day, I feel amazing. I feel balanced. I feel peaceful.
What many people are missing in the search for balance is themselves. They cut themselves out of the equation. They give, give, give to everyone and everything else and feel depleted and exhausted and weary, and wonder why they lack a sense of balance. You simply must make time for YOU.
Is it Selfish to Take Time for Yourself?
Women struggle with this concept. . . a lot. We get so used to giving to others that giving to ourselves feels wrong. But the answer is:
No. It’s not selfish to take time for yourself. It is absolutely essential!
We all have different thresholds in life—thresholds to pain, chaos, demands on our time, energy and resources, etc. and we all need to recharge and renew and refresh ourselves. How do you expect to find balance in your life, or have the energy to give anything to others if you don’t take care of yourself first?
I had to learn this the hard way. I’m a highly creative person, an intuitive-feeler (NF), an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person), and an Empath. That’s a pretty heavy combo of sensitivities. I’ve learned that if I don’t put myself first, I withdraw; I close myself off to protect myself from a world of unrelenting stimuli. I find myself unable to give from a place of love and authenticity and default to giving out of obligation, which breeds resentment. When I don’t take care of myself, I not only feel unable to give, I don’t want to give. Which has its own consequences.
When we don’t share who we are, or give from an authentic place it’s easy to feel like you’re not contributing, like you have no worth, and that you’re not enough. You must take care of yourself to combat these feelings. When you give to yourself first, you are better able to give and share with others, and actualize your potential. This process snowballs. As you give and share and see how it blesses other people’s lives, you begin to feel more worthwhile, like your contributing and making a difference.
How to Begin to Self-Care
In order to self-care in a way that truly benefits it requires a person to do a little detective work. You have to observe the way you do things and notice their affect on you. For example, notice how you feel if you only drink one glass of water in a day. Notice how often you exercise and how you feel when you don’t. Notice how many hours provide enough sleep for optimal performance during your day. Do a lifestyle analysis in all four areas: body, mind, spirit, emotions. Keep a notebook with the things you observe so you can make informed choices as you redesign your habits.
Some areas to consider: exercise, healthy eating, time management, positive thinking, stress management, connecting with and managing emotions, mindset, improving mental capacities, and of course, caring for our physical bodies, including appearance. Where do you feel you need to most change? Where are you most depleted? What area, if improved, could make the biggest impact on your well-being?
This Week’s Challenge
Get out a piece of paper, make columns for body, mind, spirit, and emotions and list under each what you know you need in your life to feel good in that area. For me, I need both yoga and aerobic exercise. I need to stay away from sugar and rarely eat meat. I need to be in bed by 10:30 at the latest. I need lots of quiet. I need time to read. These are all things I’ve noticed about myself that I need to honor in order to feel good. What are yours? Take time and list the ones you’re aware of now, and build habits of observation and recording to discover new ones. Read Below for some ideas.
Breaking Down Self-Care
When considering which self-care habits to build, it’s pretty obvious what things can help a person improve physically. Exercise, good nutrition, relaxation, meditation, yoga, strength training, addressing health problems, grooming, etc. are all clear points to improve upon. But get specific. Under exercise maybe you need to hike, which also provides, mental, emotional and spiritual benefits. Maybe you need to ride a bike, or skate to get your heart rate up and feel amazing. Only you know what you need. What is it? Write it down.
Spiritual self-care is a very personal and each individual has to choose what activities help them connect with their Higher Power. For me, my connection with God gives me hope and something more powerful than myself to lean on in tough times. My religion gives me a framework for understanding the purpose of this life. Not everyone has both a spiritual and religious practice. I happen to have both and wouldn’t exclude either, as they benefit my life in immeasurable ways. I highly recommend that you don’t exclude this area of self-care. It’s very empowering and centering. Find what feeds your spirit and do it regularly.
Self-care of the mind includes not only addressing mental health issues (if you have them), but also calming the mind with meditation, yoga, relaxation techniques (crosses over from physical). It includes keeping the mind sharp by challenging your thinking. It includes monitoring and practicing healthy self-talk. It includes focusing on something for a time instead of picking up your phone to check your notifications up to 80 times a day (which is the American average according to this blog post ). I think mental self-care even includes play—a break from mental stimulation. What do you need most?
Emotional self-care includes addressing any emotional health concerns with appropriate professional help, having an emotional vocabulary , healthy activities that help you work through your emotions, like journaling, yin yoga, meditation, affirmations, creative projects, breathing, and being still. We can include healthier relationships in our scope of self-care too (which are always emotional). Begin with you.
Once you have your list. Pick one thing and create a plan for incorporating it into your life.
A Word on Creativity and Self-Care
Humans need to create. We are all creators. Whether that’s creating order where there was once chaos (such as in the kitchen 😉), or creating art, music, dance, writing, speaking, decorating, baking, taking photos, needle arts, gardening, curating ideas, cutting hair, etc. whatever you love to create, I believe it’s a vital part of nurturing the soul. For creative, Sensitives, and women on a healing journey it’s especially important.
During a 20 year-long stressful set of circumstances I created, wrote music, sewed, designed, drew, and tried anything and everything I was interested in. It gave me an outlet for my emotional pain. I believe it played a big part in keeping me healthy (combined with exercise, healthy eating habits, and a spiritual practice). Other women I knew going through similar difficulties told me they had major health problems. None of them had a regular creative outlet. My health problems didn’t come until I shut down my creativity. For a creative type, giving up on creativity is like giving up on life.
I’m a firm believer that creative self-expression helps a person stay emotionally healthy, and I encourage it even if you think you’re not creative.
Conclusion on Self-Care
Now that we have a broader definition of self-care, and we know how to get started, let’s increase our commitment to care for ourselves. If you’re feeling tired, stressed, unable to cope, hopeless, frustrated, unclear, void of purpose, sluggish, over-scheduled, sloppy, etc. then caring for yourself should be top priority because this vehicle (body) through which you travel this life is only as good as the care you give it!
Additional Articles to Help You Self-Care
Additional Self-Care Resources
My book The Love Yourself Dare has 45 activities after the story that can help you honor yourself through self-care.