I am not a fan, personally, of New Years’ Resolutions; instead, I believe that we all ought to try being the best version of ourselves possible, in each unique moment. But, if you do find NYR’s helpful in your life, then I have an idea for your 2017 #goals: self-care.
I have been thinking a lot lately about social constructs that limit our thinking, and thus, our lives. This is probably at least in part due to talking to my therapist about my process of individuation (which is something I definitely thought I achieved as a teen, but am finding more and more that I am currently in the throes of…ughhhhh). This is a time when big life questions not only mean that I need to start making choices, but these choices are consequential (sure, every choice is consequential, but some more than others). Anyways, it’s really made me think, and part of that has meant examining which belief systems are my own, and which were imprinted onto me from my family, and which were programmed into me by my culture (I have also been very inspired by one of my all-time-favorite lifestyle sites, Free + Native. Thanks Lacey!).
Then I read this article, which begins:
When we’re expected to take care of others emotionally and physically, taking time, energy, and resources for ourselves can feel shameful. In the United States, women report higher rates of stress in their lives than men and people of color report higher rates of stress than white people—there are a lot of factors for why, including the stress of racism and discrimination.
This is so important. The people being the most shamed, are the ones who are already under the most stress. I do not want to be part of a society that shames for self-care. Do you?
It has occurred to me in the past year or so, just how much I apologize. Women are taught to apologize just for existing, in many societies, which is so sad. However, even when I don’t actually apologize, I often feel guilty (which is basically the same thing). Guilt holds us back in so many ways. It robs us of the present moment; it is a thick coat of dust covering up the bright light of happiness.
Every time I catch myself apologizing and feeling guilty, I now try to stop, acknowledge to myself (and then to whomever I am with, if it’s an interaction), clarify my actual feelings, thoughts and rights, and modify accordingly. One of the things I have been programmed by society to feel guilty about is taking time to myself, and/or taking care of myself. And sadly, I know I am not alone. In our culture, people are applauded for not having enough time to eat or sleep. Just think about how crazy that is for a moment (and then maybe check out my rant where I yell at you to prioritize sleep). In our age of fast-food, not one person should be able to say they forgot to eat or didn’t have time to eat. Food is everywhere! And sure, healthy food is not everywhere, but literally gas stations sell food. If you cannot find something to eat on the go, the one benefit of living in our fast-food culture is being wasted.
People are taught in our culture that self-care is a luxury, but I don’t believe it is. Let me just pause here to acknowledge my privilege; I am a childless, white, heterosexual adult, with an undergraduate degree, who was raised by a family who didn’t struggle with money, in some of the most sought-after vacation locales in the world. I am so lucky. But I still have problems, as does everyone. We all think we are unique, but the truth is, we all feel the same emotions. We all have challenges, big and small. We all want to live with less pain and suffering. That makes us all equal, and all human. And as humans, we can either take care of ourselves, or not. In fact, I would go so far as to agree with some activists who claim that self-care is a radical political act;
Lorde says self-care is not self-indulgence but self-preservation. Some have to look after themselves because their are not looked after: their being is not cared for, supported, protected.
Unfortunately, [in the US] we have been trained and conditioned to work more, even though we are accomplishing less. We are taught to stay busy, apologize constantly if we are women; and then console ourselves by bragging about how tired and busy we are. We must be important if we are busy, right!?
Americans have hardly any vacation time, and still we hardly make use of the little we do have. According to Harvard Business Review:
In a dataset of 2,310 respondents, we looked at data from the 20 countries with the most paid vacation days (247 respondents) and compared them to respondents in the United States (1,151). The 20 countries with the most vacation ranged from Australia, with 28 days allotted, to Sweden and Brazil, with 41 days. By contrast, the United States has no law requiring paid time off, and the average full-time worker with a year of service gets 10 paid vacation days (and only 25% of Americans take their full allotment, according to another survey).
It’s ridiculous; especially when you consider the data showing that we get more done when we take more time off.
Yes, self-care can be a luxury; it takes time, money and effort to take care of yourself. And who has the most of these precious resources? Affluent people, of course. So maybe it isn’t the easiest thing to do; but it’s still not a luxury if you do not make it one. It’s a necessity. Is there anything more important than taking care of yourself? Literally, anything? If you don’t take care of yourself, at best you’ll be a highly-functioning wreck, and at worst, you’ll die. So, even if you work 60+ hours a week just to get by, and you have no spending money, and you are in poor health, and you have dependents to take care of, you still need to take care of yourself. It’s a requirement. In fact, at that point, it becomes even more of a requirement. If all you have is time, meditate (it’s free!); if all you have is money but no time, add a massage to your weekly schedule. Maybe self-care for you means time alone; maybe it’s time with others. It’s going to look totally different for each and every one of us, but I truly believe that the world would be a much better place if we all individually prioritized our own well-being. If you love something, you take care good care of it. It’s as simple as that. If you still cannot bring yourself to get on board with showing yourself love and kindness, I highly recommend journaling, meditating, and/or seeing a qualified expert such as a psychologist.
Have you ever said that you exercised/saw friends/etc. and someone either said (or insinuated) “Must be nice?” As if by having the time to do something for yourself, you’re somehow not important enough to be busy? I hate that so much, and yet it’s so easy to perpetuate (yes, I am also guilty of it!). One book that really resonated with me, on this topic, is Thrive by Arianna Huffington. Sure, she has more resources than most of us. But can’t we all figure out how to eat [at least a bit more] healthily, exercise occasionally, and make more time for rest? Let’s all encourage and support each other on this journey; making it easier for each other also makes it easier for ourselves.
Here are some ways I enjoy taking care of myself, that cost me time, money and effort. These things would usually be complied into a list with a completely different title: “10 Ways to Pamper Yourself,” for instance. But I challenge you to mentally reorganize your attitude toward these practices. You wouldn’t call brushing your teeth a luxury, would you? Yet you make sure there is time for it even on the busiest days, because it’s simply non-negotiable.
Your list might look different; this is just a list of what works for me, as a reference for you. If you’d like, you can write out your own list and post it someplace (like your mirror) as a reminder. These are things that keep me rested, rejuvenated, energized, and equipped to take on the challenges particular to my life, and that includes helping others. These are things that we are taught to believe are superfluous luxuries. My point is: they’re not. You need to take care of yourself! And if you needed permission, I’m giving it to you now. My 2017 goal/theme: no shame.
10 Self-Care Ideas
- Sleep 8-10 hours per night
- Enjoy a soothing, cleansing face mask (one of my favorites here)
- Do things that take up time and have no purpose other than providing happiness and/or contentment in the moment (for me that means reading, petting my cat, talking to friends on the phone, going to the library to browse, taking walks, listening to podcasts, reading blogs)
- Take supplements
- Meditate (it’s free and you don’t need any special space or equipment!)
- Look at lists/articles like this: 17 Images Guaranteed to Make You Happy
- Keep one day a week completely unscheduled (make no plans)
- Spend money on nice clothing that feels good, looks good, and works well for whatever its function
- Eat vegetarian
- Say no to things, especially if saying yes would only be because of a feeling of “should”
Here are some more ideas:
Another source of inspiration for this article is the great podcast Another Round; the hosts are all about self-care.
Please let me know if this is a topic that you have considered; how self-care is or is not a part of your life, and why; and if you have ideas or resources, please share below. Good luck on this journey. Remember: if you take care of yourself, you’ll be better equipped to show up for everyone else. I’m right there with you, struggling, learning, loving.