Self-care. I knew I “should” do it, but I don’t always have time. I set an intention to take care of myself. When I couldn’t get around to it, I felt guilty. I knew full well that prioritizing others’ expectations and needs at the expense of my own puts my health and well-being at risk. I was stressing about not taking care of my stress!

I recognized that pattern years ago, after an episode of severe back pain slowed me down enough to see what I was doing.

Since then, I’ve been experimenting with ways to make self-care a regular thing, integrating it into my daily life, in addition to creating special set-aside times for self -care.

Here’s what I’ve Learned

Self-care as a set-aside activity is great – time for journaling, a special retreat, a yoga class, a vacation, or an acupuncture appointment. Those are wonderful, things to do, but these infrequent events aren’t enough.

The keys to sticking with self-care are:

  •  making it a part of my being, or how I am, and
  • choosing self-care activities that I enjoy and feel drawn to. This is about what I do. 

Both how I am and what I do are important.

How I Am

Instead of allowing my Inner Critic to dominate, I put my Inner Encourager in charge. That’s easier said than done, so I’ve reminded myself patient with myself with this process. I stay on track because I enjoy it. The steps I follow are pretty simple, even if the process itself takes time.

  • Awareness: Catch myself thinking unfairly self-critical thoughts. It’s easiest when I verbalize them and hear myself saying “That was dumb!” or “You’re so clumsy!”  As I write this, I’m thinking “Wow, that’s harsh!” I’d be horrified if I caught myself saying things like that to someone else. Why would I permit myself to say them to me?
  • Acceptance: I don’t criticize myself for having these thoughts, though. They came from somewhere. That wasn’t my own choice, but I can choose what I tell myself now. This is where my Inner Encourager steps up to help out. She says, “You made a mistake. We’re all human; we all make mistakes.” She asks, “How could you avoid that in the future?”  I acknowledge it when I’ve done something  wrong. We do all make mistakes, cause misunderstandings, or inadvertently  offend or hurt others. I am accountable for learning from such mistakes, making amends and taking care of the consequences as best as I can. But I can do these things without an Inner Critic attack, which helps me feel safe. That’s an important form of self-care and one that I enjoy.
  • Nurturance: I think of how vulnerable babies are, how dependent they are, and how they thrive on acceptance and loving care. We were all once that very young child, and we carry that tiny human within us. I use that image to help me remember to offer my adult self those things that babies need, because we continue to need them throughout our lives.

Some of the best tools I’ve found for cultivating awareness, acceptance and nurturance are metta meditation, writing, and mindfulness practices.

What I Do

What I say and do are influenced by how I am.

My Inner Encourager helps me do things that I enjoy. That’s important, because I sometimes have trouble permitting myself to do that. She encourages me to

  • Protect Time for Myself. When an important meeting comes up, we fit it in. When a friend or family member needs our help, we’re there. I’ve realized I have to make showing up for myself as important as showing up for others. This can be a lot of fun!
  • Take a Break. I have learned to schedule some time off every quarter. This can be a single day, a long weekend, or a vacation.
  • Leave Some Breathing Room. I make sure to leave myself time between a day’s appointments and tasks. I plan at least one quiet day each week, where I have no work appointments and my time is flexible. This lets me bring a sense of fun, curiosity and excitement to my days, most if not all of the time!
  • Be Active, Doing Something I Love. Bicycling tops my list, and there are other things I enjoy, too. Walking, dancing, Zumba, yoga – each of these offers a variety that is fun, and good for body and mind.
  • Make Time for What Matters. This has been big for me, as I realized that I’m not doing some of the things that are important to me. I keep deferring them until I have the time, and/or the money. Denying myself those things erodes my sense of well-being. Permitting to do them brings opportunities for joy, fun and delight.

Others’ Self-Care Approaches

Take five minutes to listen to the Happiness Spells podcast. You’ll hear beautiful music and an entrancing short list of happy memories. Listening to them is meditative, peaceful and joyful.

Read Mark Hyman, MD’s ideas for cultivating gratitude.

Check out Alicia K. Anderson’s thoughts on taking care of herself by cutting her to-do list in half, and showing up for what is truly important.


Photo by Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

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