“A pause gives you breathing space so listen to the whispers of the real you waiting to happen.”
You and I, we’re much too busy. We’re doing too much. We’re stressed. We’re overscheduled and overwhelmed. And we’re not doing enough self-care.
The good thing is there’s help. There are headlines, hacks, and half-baked gurus who promise to bring us to the less-stressed light. And there’s a vast supply of products to help too. Bath salts, wine, essential oils, yoga classes, massages, chocolate cake, books, life coach packages, etc. But sometimes I wonder, are all the articles and products about becoming less busy actually helpful? Does the practice of self-care actually take care of yourself?
For the last few weeks I’ve been dosing myself regularly with the things prescribed as self-care. Bath soaks. Chocolate cupcakes. Mantras. Spa music. I’m doing it and I feel like if I fake it till I make it, maybe I’ll soon feel like my life is better managed. I’ll feel less stressed. I’ll run to social media and post a bunch of cloying hashtags: #blessed #metime #nofilter.
I’m somewhat inclined to think that most of the snake oil being peddled as self-care is feel good fluff. It’s not bad. Baths are lovely. Chocolate cupcakes are really lovely. But, it’s not self-care in and of itself. It’s escapism that that has often been packaged and sold to us.
Escape is a completely necessary and wonderful practice. One I enjoy with some frequency. Escape practices allow for quiet, space, pampering, indulgence. Do it. Enjoy your escape.
But the reality is all these practices aren’t bringing me even a slice of peace. I am sitting in the bathtub with billions of thoughts swarming my head. I don’t know how to turn off. My life moves faster than I can. My daily existence exceeds my ability to process it all. Things have to change.
This here is the crux of actual self-care. Self-care is parenting yourself. It’s cleaning your room by the time your family returns home. Not having candy for dinner. Getting lessons in how to make a solid pasta with bolognese. Kissing booboos. It’s going to your room and thinking about what you’ve done and continue to do; not as a practice of shaming or punishment, but as a practice of self-awareness and understanding the consequences of your actions.
Self-care means pausing and paying attention. It’s asking yourself a lot of questions: How am I? What’s working? What’s not working? Why am I stressed, sad, mad, overwhelmed, feeling ashamed, etc.? What can I change? If I can’t change it, how can I cope? If I can change it, what do I do first? Self-care can…suck.
Sometimes I pause, check in with myself, and realize the thing I need right now to relieve some pressure from my life is a hot bath and a glass of wine. Perfect. Escape can be self-care. But sometimes I pause, check in with myself, and when I really pay attention I am forced to recognize that the way I am living right now isn’t cutting it.
My habits, jobs, or relationships have become cycles that bring frustration, stress, sadness, or other crappy feelings. I can throw all the yoga classes and massages at those feelings, but I won’t actually feel better until I change something.
When you come to the point where you need to take care of yourself, it means your current way of being isn’t working and you need to guide yourself back to a good course.
It’s saying no to something. Sometimes it’s saying no to something deeply ingrained in you or in our culture. It will feel like parts of yourself go missing. It will feel like you are doing it all wrong. You will have to keep reminding yourself our materialistic and accomplishment-obsessed culture got it wrong, and you have a right to sanity.
Here are some of things I have done out of self-care that have sucked: reduced my eating out budget, quit a job, put a goal on hold, taken a six-month break from drinking, disappointed my daughter, disappointed my wife, let myself feel pain rather than seeking distraction from it, and opened my heart knowing it will break over and over again.
Self-care can be gritty, treacherous stuff. It’s like a scramble up a steep incline. Rocks are loose under your feet. It’s hard to find stable footholds and grips. But, eventually, you get to the summit and take in a windy, clear view.
About a year ago I made a list of things that make me feel most human. At the time of making the list I didn’t realize it, but looking back I realize this was a list of things I do to pause. The practices that work for me to connect to myself and check in. A walk in the woods. Time alone. A soak in a hot bath. Yoga.
None of these things are necessarily self-care in and of themselves, though they can be. But, they are practices that allow me to listen to myself. They make room for self-awareness.
Your self-care will be varied, inconsistent, and dependent on your current circumstances. But, the practices you use to pause, pay attention, ask yourself a bunch of questions, and listen to the answers can be consistent, regular practices. Schedule them into your life. Make yourself accountable. Ensure you are pausing. Give yourself the opportunity to listen.
Self-care is what enables me to go to a lovely massage and return to a life I like. I’m not just waiting for the next time I can get away. The neverending chase for bliss and ease doesn’t provide me substance or solidity. So instead I work to craft a good daily life. A life with rhythms and cycles that I can sustain while maintaining a feeling of wholeness.
This simplicity is exactly what has brought me the most happiness. This life that is wholly boring, introspective, questioned, and arranged with intention.