Self-care has been hard concept for me to internalize. I don’t think I even heard the term until I was over 30, and for nearly two decades after that, I would try to practice it, but with little success. I just didn’t get it. Mentors and therapists would ask me, “what are you going to do to take care of yourself?” They might as well have asked me to solve a calculus problem.
I began to learn that common self-care activities include taking baths and naps, eating favorite foods, and taking a walk. These are all things I enjoy, so I would do them and have some success (in other words, I momentarily felt less stressed or more at peace) but I knew I was still missing the mark. I was going through the motions.
It came together for me when someone suggested a novel approach…ask myself what I really needed to feel safe, secure and taken care of. For example, when I was in conflict with someone and not ready to deal with it, what I really wanted was some space to sort out my feelings. Taking care of myself in that situation, might include turning off my cell phone for a few hours, or a day.
If you’re like me, you just thought to yourself, “I could never do that. my (insert here) would go crazy if I was incommunicado for that long.” This could be a sign that you’re taking too much care of others and not enough of yourself.
Self care is especially important when survivors are sharing their stories. Talking about what has happened to us is very healing, but it can also be overwhelming and flood us with emotions, memories and thoughts that need time to settle out. During these times, when I ask myself what I really need, it’s to do nothing, just give myself the time to be with my feelings. I might need permission to forget things for a few days, or a favorite piece of clothing, or a familiar/favorite food.
This is no different from what we do when taking care of others. We ask or examine what they really need, do our best to provide it without judging what it is, and give them lots of compassion and understanding. We need to do it for ourselves too.
So, what are you going to do for self-care this week? I’m going to do whatever I need to do.