We all know broadly what self-care is – it’s doing various things to look after yourself and your health, whether that be physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, blah blah. It seems easy, but it isn’t always. There’s a bunch of problems that regularly seem to come up when self-care is the topic of discussion.
Firstly, it’s not selfish to do self-care.
It’s really common for people, especially women, to feel like taking time out to do self-care is selfish, so this bears repeating louder for those at the back...
It is not selfish to do self-care!
Rather like a piece of machinery eventually breaks down if you fail to do regular maintenance on it, people eventually break down if they don’t do regular maintenance on themselves.
That’s what self-care is: human maintenance.
You deserve to have top quality maintenance, lovely human!
Secondly, you have to commit to it.
Maintenance isn’t something you do once and then everything is back to working order again. It’s regular, it’s scheduled, and it takes effort.
Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t mean that you should add a heap of random things onto your already full and precariously balanced plates. That wouldn’t help, and it isn’t what self-care is about anyway.
What I mean is that you have to give equal importance to your human maintenance as your household or financial maintenance.
You are important. You matter.
Therefore, putting the effort into your self-care matters too.
And if you think well I don’t have time for that, I’m gonna point you to the last thing on the list.
Thirdly, make sure you’re doing it right.
Okay, so that sentence might be a bit controversial, but it was short and snappy. The alternative sentence is: “it’s really important to make sure that the things you’re doing are actually contributing towards this top quality, regularly scheduled maintenance, and not conning you and, ultimately, making you feel worse”. (Hence why I went with the short snappy one!)
Things that are not helping you work towards your self-care goals:
- Keeping the peace with everyone/trying to please everyone
- Trying to do all the things
- Forcing yourself to drink the smoothie made of grass when you don’t even like smoothies because iT’s GrEeN aNd GoOd FoR yOu (and other things of this ilk)
- Perfectionism/holding yourself to unreasonably high standards
- Bollocks motivational phrases
- Doing things to excess
- Overthinking! (I’m so guilty of this. Mental machete please, for this ridiculous twisted mess in my brain!)
- Mistaking self-comfort for self-care
That last bullet point is the bit I’m going to focus on because I think it’s one that doesn’t always get expanded on in the way I feel like it should.
What are the most common things that people generally think/suggest about when self-care is the topic?
Have a bubble bath, take a walk, make a cuppa, get a shower, listen to some music...
Of course they do. Those are all lovely things. I’ve got a whole list of them further down this post and they all make me feel squishy happy feelings inside.
But they’re not self-care; they’re self-comfort.
Self-comfort is the stuff that makes you feel nurtured. It provides you with much needed breathing space, a quick pick me up. It helps you get through the individual days and weeks, providing little blips of joy that you can look forward to. It raises your oxytocin, makes you feel safe and comfortable, and is vital for your day to day equilibrium.
I honestly don’t think we should do without it!
But it’s not really self-care.
Or if it is it’s like surface self-care. It’s not enough by itself; you need more, you need to go deeper.
In my opinion, true self-care is kinda hard. It’s often not very fun to do, possibly even something which makes you uncomfortable for various reasons – perhaps it’s something that you’re not particularly adept at doing, or that leaves you a bit vulnerable, or that you don’t really like much.
The pay off, though, is worth it.
To really look after yourself, to get that proper, top quality maintenance, you need to be looking after your whole self. The surface stuff AND the deep stuff.
Pretty wallpaper won’t hold up a house that is cracking apart.
And a bubble bath won’t cut it if you’re struggling with fatigue because you keep forgetting to take your medication until after you’ve gone to bed and then thinking “meh, I’m comfy now, it’ll be fine”.
Just like there are various categories - physical, emotional, mental, social, financial, hygiene, spiritual, professional, educational, medical (I’ve run out of ideas but there’s probably more) – and it’s important that we don’t neglect any of them, it’s also important that we don’t just do the surface stuff and neglect the deeper stuff.
Because the deeper stuff - that’s where the proverbial gold is. Those are the things that make a huge difference to your life when you get them right, and cock everything up when you don’t bother. This is why it isn’t ‘adding random stuff onto your plate’ – your self-care will be things that are vital to you, and might be useless for other people.
To show you I’m not just saying this because I like the sound of my fingers hitting laptop keys, here are ten things I consider to be self-comfort and ten more I consider to be self-care:
- Reading on a daily basis.
- Wearing warm, comfortable clothing and shoes. Sometimes that means I’m wearing leggings under my jeans, or that I attend interviews in a hoodie. Sometimes it means I cut the labels out, or refuse to buy something at all because the fabric feels wrong. Sometimes it means I take my slippers to my friends’ houses and put them on as soon as I get through the door. It means I pretty much only ever buy Skechers footwear!
- Having a hot drink in a café by myself. This is becoming harder... I’m not a fan of coffee and I confess to being a bit of a tea snob! It’s not easy to find hot chocolate that doesn’t have sweeteners in – pretty much all of the mainstream cafes now use sweeteners as standard. I quite liked the hot spiced apple that Costa had in over the Winter Holidays – I’m sad now it’s been removed from their menu.
- A long chat with a friend. Could happen over the phone or, like this week, it could be lunch and a catch up with someone who I haven’t seen in years. It could be a regular thing. I find it’s especially good if there is food involved.
- Speaking of food, eating a yummy meal. Sometimes it’s nice to have it prepared by someone else (especially when you’re the one who does the cooking), but equally it’s very satisfying to prep a meal and then have the joy of eating it.
- A hot shower, and enough time afterwards to be able to air dry on my bed. For some reason the air drying is really important to me?
- A long hug. Bring on the oxytocin.
- Listening to music. I have a variety of playlists depending on how I’m feeling.
- Getting a massage.
- A hot water bottle on my feet.
Of course, this list is by no means exhaustive, it could also include: going for a walk, having a nice bath with bubbles/salts/candles, petting a soft furry thing, drawing, singing, gaming, but you’re hardly going to find stroking a cat soothing if you’re allergic, or walking fun if you have a duff hip. (She says, glaring at her hip while necking antihistamines.)
- Meal planning. I find this so tedious. I genuinely have to force myself to do it every week. It helps that I’ve scheduled a time to do it, and that I found an app which I use to rotate through 5 different weeks of meals. Setting that up was a major stress, but now it’s done I can just open the app, see what week we’re on, slot the meals into different days and write a shopping list. When I don’t plan, we end up having the same handful of meals over and over. Holding 35+ meal options in my head is impossible so I go for the ones that occur to me easiest, and it gets dull fast.
- Maintaining a financial spreadsheet so I always know what money we have coming in, going out, being saved, etc. I try my best to update it at least once a week. Again with the tedious. On the other hand, I never worry that I won’t be able to afford to fix the car when it breaks, because I have money in savings specifically for fixing the car, and suddenly being without a car is massively anxiety inducing when you’re about to go on-call for a client who lives 30 miles away!
- A pilates class every week, even when I’m in pain or don’t feel like it. Especially when I’m in pain or don’t feel like it. I’ve been going as often as I can for over two years now. I never expected that I would enjoy it; when I was a child my favoured forms of exercise were swimming and cycling, and the odd game of netball. Stretching and stuff, well that was boring and pointless. But I genuinely love it, most of the time. I’m stronger and more flexible, and I’ve only pulled my back once since I started going and that was when I missed 7 weeks in a row. The achey muscles and the hurty hip and the walk home... they’re prices worth paying.
- Seeing my chiropractor a few times a year. She was the one who put me on to pilates. She also indulges my griping about my hip, and reminds me that my skeletal issues cannot be improved overnight. Paying the fees is a bit of a gulp, and I do come away from the appointments wondering why I let her torture me, but it’s so worth it!
- Asking the difficult questions. Questions like “while I was supporting you, was there anything you feel I phrased badly or handled badly, or any time that I did or said something that made you uncomfortable, or that I could have done better for you?” This one is a hard one. I hate asking those questions. It takes courage to open yourself up to potential negative feedback. Of course it’s a wonderful ego boost when someone says “no, you were perfect” but actually, the real improvement comes from being told “actually, it would have been better if X” or “I really wish you could have done Y” or “I found Z really unhelpful”. I can’t be a better doula if I never ask where I’ve gone wrong.
- Taking my medication, every day. Especially the days where I have just gotten comfy to go to sleep and really can’t be bothered to put the light on again, and I think “meh, it’ll b’reyt”. No. It won’t b’reyt. Take the damn pills and stop being a plonker. On this note, I wrote a haiku for my friend Anna who also struggles with this:
Please take your tablets,
They literally exist
To keep you alive.
- Understanding my cycles: my monthly ones and my yearly ones. I feel awful in the winter – I want to hide in my bed, surrounded by soft warm things. I’m like a lizard – I want to bask in the sun so I can feel warm and happy. I feel more depressed, more complacent, more apathetic, and I try not to let those feelings influence my decisions to go out places. I try very hard not to make any big important decisions in the winter because I’m liable to make bad ones. I also started using an app to track my hormonal cycle, which has resulted in some interesting/odd observations, like the fact that I get sensitive to sound at certain parts of my cycle, and after ovulating I crave salt and protein and usually end up eating lots of salami.
- Tackling my emotional issues. Of course I have issues; everyone has issues. What I really hate is when you don’t realise/deny you have them and then they come out of the blue and slap you in the face. Sigh. On more than one occasion I have been suddenly felled by an emotional suitcase I didn’t even realise I was carting about with me, and then had to stop to unpack it and deal with everything I find in there. It’s hard work, but I really believe we can’t grow as people if we’re laden in this way. I owe it to myself to lift that weight off my shoulders, and so do you!
- SLEEPING! Sometimes I take naps in the middle of the afternoon. And no, I don’t feel bad about it. This isn’t really comfort stuff I don’t think; sleep is vital for optimum human functionality. Also, and this is delightful, she says grumpily, I now get hangovers if I’ve been out all night at a birth, which is directly related to the lack of sleep rather than anything else (I certainly don’t booze it up at births – I actually don’t drink alcohol at all!). Nobody likes a hangover, not even after something as wonderful as a birth. 8 hours sleep for the win.
- Eat good quality food that you love and drink more water. Yeah yeah, I know I had that whole BuT iT’s GoOd FoR yOu thing going earlier and said don’t do it. I genuinely don’t think it helps to force yourself to eat stuff you don’t like. I don’t force myself to eat pulses (vom!) even though everyone bangs on about how great they are for you. But I can still make better choices about what I do eat, even if it’s just being more aware of the ingredients in the foods you buy. Turns out, I do like salad, but I don’t like iceberg lettuce, so I make it with other lettuce varieties. I’m not adding any lentils to my soups though!
As you can see - the second list is very different. Not doing self-care, for me, results in anxiety, back pain, feeling tired and sluggish, emotional stumbles and stagnating both professionally and as a person.
What do you do for self-comfort and self-care? Leave me a comment below!