“The sacred is not in heaven or far away. It is all around us, and small human rituals can connect us to its presence. And of course the greatest challenge (and gift) is to see the sacred in each other.”–Anna Luz Villanueva
Self-care is having a moment in pop culture, or at least the term is. It’s popping up a lot in social media posts and on the covers of magazines in the for-sale rack at work. When the term is used, massages and vases of flowers and naps on a beach come to mind. In commercials and ads, it represents elaborate beauty products and spa days. In other words, self-care sometimes is synonymous with frivolity and consumerism. We don’t usually think of it as necessary. Self-care can be a clever marketing ploy, but it is so much more than that. There is nothing wrong with a spa visit or an afternoon out with friends to refresh the spirit, but self-care can go deeper. Self-care can be daily and may look nothing like time at some hot springs.
Self-care has been popping up in my life, in a couple of casual conversations and texts with friends. Last year, in my first or second week at massage school, we spent two whole days of class talking about self-care, for ourselves as students, for ourselves as soon-to-be professionals, and for our clients who might use massage as part of their self-care. A couple of years ago, I spent some time talking about self-care and coming up with a list of what it looked like for me.
Self-care, to me, instead of the frivolity, is the fundamental. Cars require preventative maintenance: regular oil changes, tires rotated and balanced periodically, certain belts and filters replaced at specific odometer readings. Without the regular and preventative maintenance, car problems explode in burned out engines and blown out tires. Self-care is the oil change, the 60,000 mile check-up. I used to think of self-care as the physical basics: drinking enough water, getting enough sleep, eating plenty of vegetables, running a few times a week.
What I learned, in that massage class day, in reading, and through my own experience is that self-care needs to encompass more than just the physical. It needs to be simple and daily. Self-care must be prioritized. Self-care, I realize now, is what I need to survive, as a human, as a friend, as a co-worker, as a student. However, when applied regularly self-care can help us more than survive, it can help us to thrive and to better help and serve others. The apt, even if over-used, analogy for self-care is the oxygen mask on an airplane. You’re supposed to put on your own before you help anyone else, even your children.
Self-sacrifice, the opposite of self-care, tends to be celebrated. I often hear friends, co-workers, and even strangers applaud themselves for how busy and stressed out they are. I bite my lip and leave my comments to myself, at least for strangers and co-workers. With friends, I try to casually share my thoughts, but for the most part, I realize people have to figure out self-care for themselves. No one is going to give up that self-sacrificing badge of honor without their own moment, their own decision.
Self-care isn’t always about time-outs and time-off. Self-care is all kinds of things, like keeping a fairly clean house and taking a few minutes for meditation in the mornings. It depends upon you and what you need to survive and thrive.
In my massage class, when we discussed self-care, we brainstormed a list of things that we needed. Some of us mentioned things that the others didn’t need and others brainstormed new ones that others wanted to try. We also talked about which self-care tasks were daily, weekly, monthly, or as needed. When I first explored self-care, I thought about how it made me feel when I did those things and how life felt when I wasn’t taking care of myself.
It’s not about bubble baths and facials. It’s identifying the things I need and taking responsibility for myself. It’s about feeding and resting my soul, my spirit, my body, my self. It’s both fun and a challenge to identify the ingredients needed for my self-care. First, I thought of the categories, and then I thought of the things I needed to do to fulfill my self in those areas. What are the things that I can do, regardless of schedule and budget, to keep myself regularly maintained?
For me, I have self-care needs on many levels and aspects of life. We all do. At the basic levels, there are physical, spiritual, emotional, and social needs. You might go further. What do you need to take care of yourself in these areas of life? What do you need to refill your cup, so that your cup can runneth over?
Here is my absolute basic prescription for self-care:
Daily meditation of three minutes, daily journaling to keep my emotional self in check, daily writing of at least 10 minutes (different than the journaling above), daily reading of my three favorite devotional/inspirational sources and praying. These are the basics for me. While it may seem like a huge amount of time, if I give myself at least 20 minutes in the morning and five minutes before I go to bed, that’s all I need. Now some people, like friends of mine who are moms, say that’s impossible. I get that I’m single with no kids, but that’s my prescription. That’s the point of self-care, it depends on the self.
Other things to add to my prescription for self-care (the frequency and time spent will vary on schedule, the week, and all kinds of things):
Daily exercise (any of these or others: jumping rope, running, swimming, hiking, walking, biking, yoga), 5 minutes minimum daily, up to 2 hours on other days
Learning (I’m studying Spanish and working on a couple of other at-home online classes in my spare time, for fun, for me)
Spending time in nature
Listening to music I love
Keeping a gratitude journal (7 things daily, including things that might be considered bad or hard or difficult)
Cleaning and picking up my apartment and car
Looking at the moon, watching the sun set and rise
Sleeping at least 6 hours a night
Drinking and enjoying no more than one daily serving of alcohol, or not at all
Communicating with loved ones (texts, phone calls, visits, chats)
Spending some time alone
Making and drinking tea
Singing in the shower
Having fun with getting dressed daily (enjoying the mundane, the style, the fashion, my closet)
Monday early morning planning for the week (writing out my schedule on a weekly calendar dry erase board and in my paper calendar, identifying the things and making the list that really needs to get done during the week that goes beyond the basics)
Daily looking in the mirror, loving myself, appreciating my appearance (this may sound vain, but for years, I hated my appearance and didn’t look in the mirror)
Setting intentions (before I begin work, before I drive, before any activity, really)
Counting to 20 and deep breathing when I need to (sometimes the count has to be shorter, say in the middle of the work day)
Telling myself that I love myself a few times a day, “I love you, Kary.” (This might sound silly, but this has been a miracle in removing my negative self-talk and helping me to be genuinely loving and kind to others.)
Laughter, play, telling bad jokes
There’s my basic self-care prescription. I find that if I do these things over the course of a week, I feel balanced, centered, refreshed, rejuvenated, or can reset myself to that state of balance. Sometimes, I need to do extra things, or spend more time on certain ones, but this is my general prescription. This list doesn’t include things like what specific foods to eat or what financial chores need to be done or how much water to drink. I take care of those things in other ways. I didn’t want my self-care prescription to feel like chores or an endless self-improvement list.
What is on your list? What is your spiritual oil change? What is your absolute? Do you have a prescription? What helps you to refill your cup?