We all know that self-care is important. Perhaps you’ve heard the metaphor about the oxygen mask and putting your own on first. Or the saying that you just can’t pour from an empty cup. For caregivers and everyone else, it is imperative that we make our self-care non-negotiable.
Because we matter. For those of us who care for others much of the time, hearing that we matter may not be incentive enough to focus on self-care. Or it may feel at odds with our caretaking of others. But how we show up for others makes a difference. And prioritizing our own self-care helps us show up with love and energy.
Consider a parenting challenge faced daily in many homes: Bedtime. If you are grouchy because you haven’t eaten, are dehydrated, haven’t slept well, or are still carrying significant stress from your day, it may be difficult to bring the same patience and care to your child’s nighttime protests. But if you are in a good mood and feel at ease, you are much more likely to bring humor and creativity to any conflicts that arise. Or at least to move through the challenge with greater calm and perspective.
Strong self-care allows us to live fully engaged, vibrant, resilient lives in the face of whatever ups and downs life is throwing our way.
In my work as a counselor and parenting coach and in my own healing work, I have come to appreciate three dimensions of self-care. While most of us are familiar with the first, examining all three may be helpful in deepening our thinking and expanding our practice of caring for ourselves.
The First Dimension of Self-Care
The first dimension includes common self-care practices. These include exercise, diet, meditation, drinking water, spending time on hobbies, spending time with loved ones, giving yourself a treat, etc. Unfortunately, this list can sometimes feel like a weighty list of “shoulds” against which we measure ourselves, defeating the purpose and becoming a source of stress instead of a sanctuary.
The Second Dimension of Self-Care
The second dimension is less about specific activities and much more about the way we approach every task and moment in our lives and less about what we are doing. Can we be present while doing any mundane life task (including any from the list above) in a way that acknowledges we are a living, human being whose energy matters. We are not machines to be judged by what we accomplish everyday. Instead, our everyday tasks are our lives, not something to power through so we can live in some distant future moment when everything is done and we’ve been productive enough. Some examples include listening to favorite music while doing the dishes, calling friends to talk while commuting, picking up fresh flowers weekly for your office, lighting a candle before you work or pay bills, cooking dinner as a family. The possibilities are endless and can be as individual as your fingerprint. If we are doing the tasks in the first category but rushing through them or simply checking a box to say “done,” we may find ourselves just as depleted as if we were not engaging in self-care practices at all. The how matters.
The Third Dimension of Self-Care
The third dimension is all about our self-talk. In my individual work with clients and in my mindfulness and self-compassion group, we look carefully at our inner dialogue. Are we talking to ourselves with kindness and support? Or is our inner world full of sarcasm, self-judgment, and self-deprecation? Is our inner world a safe, caring place to dwell? Our patterns of self-talk are mental habits that can be examined and, over time, shifted towards greater kindness and generosity. With empathy and self-compassion practices, we can learn to soften the harsh, critical voice in our head and turn our inner world into a self-care haven.
Painful experiences in the past may have instilled challenges to all three dimensions of self-care, making it hard to recognize that we are worthy of care, setting up patterns of rushing or avoidance that make mindful attention to the present moment difficult, and creating recorded critical messages that are all-too-easy to play in a loop internally. As a trauma-informed therapist, I understand the impact of these painful experiences and partner with individuals, couples, and groups to help them unburden the weight of the past so that they can experience greater freedom and care for themselves well. You deserve to enjoy your life. I’d love to explore with you ways you can do just that.