Self-care. This has been such a buzz word in the mental health field. As a counselor, I was told numerous times in school to learn and implement a good “self-care regimen.” And as I solemnly nodded at the admonishments of my professors, I neither understood what self-care was, nor was willing to accept that I was not invincible and needed to take care of myself.
Life is often a better teacher than those we encounter in the classroom. And as I counsel with more people and encounter transition, I am learning the importance of this much-discussed but not-fully-understood term.
So, what is self-care?
First, self-care is meeting your basic needs. That may seem an almost “no brainer” but how many of us are walking around tired and eating terrible things? One of my favorite explanations of this comes from Julie Lundgreen who talks about her mental health struggles, self-care, routines, and boundaries. (In the video linked, she explains the difference between self-care and self indulgence–very helpful!)
Second, self-care is “filling your cup.” I am constantly telling my clients: “You can’t pour an empty cup.” And I need to consider this too. What fills me up? What is it that I need to feel like Elizabeth? Meeting your basic needs means you are focusing on your body, what other things do you need to take care of your mind and spirit? Again, I refer to Julie as she describes how she has put together an effective self-care routine. Her main point: routines prioritize self-care and they compel us to do it even when we don’t “feel” like it. If you’re learning, like I am, that self-care practices in your life need some serious attention, start asking yourself the hard question: What do I need?
After answering that, consider this question: Why do I need self-care?
Shauna Niequist in her book Present Over Perfect describes a need for REST. We are not the sum of all of our accomplishments (or our flaws). We have value because we are created in the image of God and because we are bought with the blood of Jesus.
One of my favorite quotes from Present Over Perfect is: “Now I know that the best thing I can offer to this world is not my force or energy, but a well-tended spirit, a wise and brave soul.”
I think one of the biggest barriers to creating an effective self-care routine (besides not fully understanding the concept) is not understanding why or how we avoid it. There’s a certain amount of vulnerability in admitting we have limits, and that we have emotional, physical, and spiritual needs. And when we do that, we can be connected to ourselves and to others in a profound way.
Brené Brown asserts that we avoid vulnerability because we often doubt that we are worthy of love and belonging. As Christians, we know that there is some truth in that statement–through our own actions we cannot earn love and belonging. But since we are created by a loving Father that sent his Son to die for us, He has deemed us worthy of both love and belonging.
To avoid the uncomfortable questions: Am I loved? Do I matter? What do I need? Brené asserts that we numb, perfect, and pretend. We numb through ignoring, busyness, substances, and distraction. But this keeps us feeling hollow, disconnected, and empty. Perfecting is paying extreme attention to detail and running ragged in an attempt to make everything “good” without counting the cost to our wellbeing. Pretending keeps a mask on to create an image that is so incongruent with our experience that we become fragmented and isolated.
Let’s take better care of ourselves. Not because we are self-centered or weak, but because we have bodies that need nurturing, minds and hearts full of emotions and thoughts that need expressing/processing, and spirits that are longing for growth and connection.