I’m so glad that the motto, “self care isn’t selfish” is floating around ubiquitously now, but there are still so many high-pressure connotations to what people think self care entails. It isn’t wrong to picture bubble baths, candles, and fancy scented lotions and potions, yet, more practical and accessible self care practices exist. These practices answer just one question – what do you need to return to a natural (healthy, harmonious) state? Arriving here is where you begin to be ready to take on the world and your mission. We can consider what it takes to replenish and access our existing internal toolbox. This is the internal reserve that can’t be touched by buying, building, and changing things externally. Naturally, the factors involved in finding and personalizing your best self care practice are endlessly numerous.
Spectrum of Care
Through varying life stages, I have found large and small ways to impact my wellbeing. Being a young adult in college vs. being a working professional vs. being a new mom – whoah, does anyone else feel like they’ve lived in more than one world? The tiny apartment (with fittingly tiny bathroom) that my husband and I shared for 7 years was not an oasis for relaxation. We had a stand-up shower and we had to sit on the toilet sideways to close the door. Self care for me during those days involved time well spent on my dancing and art, date nights to connect after busy work weeks, snuggling the cats, walks around the local green spaces, becoming more financially savvy, ensuring enough hours of sleep, and learning (via college, parents’ advice, experience, Google…). Oh, and candles. What a richly restoring time, no? For us, yes. We were on a fairly traditional track for young Americans. But the picture is very, very different for so many people. Socioeconomic status, age, family structure, geographic location, mental health – these are all HUGE factors in what it may look like for someone to return and to restart at their core. Most recently, I caught myself at the end of a long day with my 4-month-old daughter, an evening of cluster feeding and comfort nursing, and I craved a stretch. I didn’t think it would be “nice” to stretch – my body and my mind both needed to move in order to go any further. I rolled out my yoga blanket quickly and noticed the corners were curled. I eagerly began to hop on the blanket to get in as much time as I could in case the baby woke up again. Then, I paused. I stepped off of the blanket and decided to unfurl the corners and spread out the layers; to make this a sweet and tidy little rectangle. And there it was – my self care for the day (maybe the week?) was tidying these corners. It was so simple and I almost felt moved to tears. Almost. No one has time for tears about blankets with an infant! Just kidding. Maybe crying is part of your self care and that can be wonderfully clarifying and great for the body. Somewhere between almost crying about smoothing out a piece of fabric and flying on a private jet to dip your toes in the coast of Santorini lies the full spectrum of self care. (That blanket thing was basically free…just saying.)
Social Self Care
One of the largest contributors to that inner reserve is social connection. Balancing your world between your inner landscape and your social engagement is the goal of holistic self care. Our increasingly insular society leads us away from the understanding of how deeply impactful other people are to our wellbeing. I have grown to love everything about a coffee date. They’re quick pick-me-ups and get the endorphins of love and connection soaring. An hour or two of chatting, making eye contact, laughing, being seen and heard, maybe with a hug or two, can make a world of difference in your mood. The beverage or snack is just a perk! I feel so whole and alive when I can enjoy this lively setting in a sunny window, smelling the aroma of freshly brewed coffee and baked goods, and people-watching inches from the sidewalk. It may not be for everyone, but that’s just it. Find your go-to social niche with a pal, coworker, or new friend.
Self care also isn’t trendy. I watched jade rollers “roll” right in and back out of the trends that “influencers” were peddling. I’m so behind the trends. (As in: I got super into Backstreet Boys in 2003 after denouncing them for my entire middle and high school careers. Hey, I just loved Oldies.) That being said, I love my jade roller! It’s beautiful, simple, versatile, and practical. It was also a birthday gift from my aunt and I think of her every time I look at it. These are great criteria for the “stuff” of self care, but the material items are not necessary. I love William Morris’ guideline, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” What stands the test of time for you, for your heart, and what continues to move you? These are the things to surround yourself with. Who are the people who celebrate you, help you to breathe easily and laugh-cry, and who are always unconditionally there? They’re out there, and they’re not buried beneath borderline unethical palo santo and essential oils.
“The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.” – Lester Bangs, Almost Famous
In the end, sustainable and effective self care is uncool, unbranded, and unconditional love for your self and those close to you. I’m writing this in the time of the Covid-19 pandemic quarantining. At night, I sneak in yoga, writing, drawing, crochet, face masks, and manicures when I can. I find time at the end of the night to talk with my husband, to laugh, plan, worry, and dream together. I watch t.v. and chat with my Dad, reveling in the baby’s giggles, fuzzy little sandy-colored head, and her inherited strong will. We see each day how quickly she is growing – all in this beautiful little bubble that we wouldn’t have had if not for the pandemic. I go on walks with my father, daughter, and husband (some combo of or all together) and, even on the same streets, with the same dog that barks, and the same peach blossoms and magnolias, this is joy. Renewing, replenishing, joy.