I find myself speaking with clients about self-care regularly in my counseling office. I provide internal Employee Assistance services in the hospital where I work. My clients are helpers, nurturers, shift workers, and are always at risk for compassion fatigue. What I know to be true as a social worker, mother, wife, and human in general is that you cannot pour from an empty cup. I’m less engaged, less empathetic, and less helpful if I’m neglecting my own needs. Self-care is necessary.
When I say self-care I am not only referring to massages and bubble baths…don’t get me wrong, I’ll take a massage literally any day someone offers one, after 7 years of pregnancy, nursing, or co-sleeping I’m pretty sure lower back pain is a part of my personality. Spending some time treating yourself may be exactly what you need, or it may be slightly less luxurious. Self-care may look like creating a budget so the weight of financial stress seems more manageable. Self-care may mean introducing more home-cooked meals or fruits and veggies in your diet if you’re a serial consumer of all things fast food. Self-care may look like getting in nature, feeding your spiritual self, working out, having a GNO (or boys night out,) reading books FOR FUN, writing a blog, or anything else that nourishes your mind, body, and soul.
In an article on Psych Central, clinical psychologist Roberto Olivardia, Ph.D, describes self-care as
“essential for achieving his goals. These include being present for his family, engaging fully and empathically with his clients and staying healthy…self-care is anything that affirms and strengthens [his]physical, psychological, relational, emotional, and spiritual well-being.”
I love this explanation of self-care. But what I also want to draw attention to is the value of self-awareness when determining what your self-care regimen will look like. When is the last time you really checked in with yourself? Are you feeling frayed, overly sensitive, exhausted, insecure, negative, disconnected? Often these feelings disrupt our ability (or even willingness) to have and maintain healthy relationships. It’s takes away pressure to blame other people or our circumstances for these emotions. It feels good to numb our negative feelings with unhealthy coping skills. It takes sincerity, honesty, and vulnerability to truly determine what is lacking and what aspects of your life require attention and energy. Sometimes recognizing your needs may come easier if you have open communication with your loved ones. Let me set you up for success wit this though…if Cody (my hubby) just approaches me out of the blue and recommended some self-care, it may not be received how he intends. I may react with frustration or become defensive. That’s where “permission slips” come in. This is another profoundly perfect recommendation by Dr. Brené Brown. Give someone you love and trust the space to have a meaningful conversation with you if they recognize that you are overly stressed. Discuss with this person what you look like under more stress than you can handle. I am usually irritable and crave cheese…if I am making microwaved nachos and biting your head off, it might be high time for me to take a moment to check in and see where I’m lacking in the self-care department. If the permission slip conversation happens ahead of time, it will make you feel empowered and in control rather than embarrassed or judged. And the reality is, sometimes the people closest to us see the impact of stress on our personalities and bodies before we even realize what is going on.
Let’s talk about another hugely important reality of self care…it is NOT selfish! As I mentioned before, you CANNOT pour from an empty cup. I am more successful at work and more present at home if I am a healthier version of myself. I need to remind myself of this often. Mom-guilt is real and can hold some seriously irrational space in my brain. It can make me feel anxious and preoccupied with guilt for spending time on me. This robs me of much needed peace and relaxation. My love language is Words of Affirmation, so sometimes (similar to the permission slip i just spoke of) it helps for someone I love to reassure me that it’s meaningful and necessary to take time for myself. The more I learn about the value of meeting my own needs and the more in tune with my unique rhythm I become, the less reassurance I need. I recognize the beauty of feeding my own soul and take opportunities to do so.
My sweet Maya is still in the hospital. We are hoping to head home today but this experience has been tough and exhausting. She was dealing with an excessive amount of pain that robbed her of her otherwise dreamy, magnetic smile. Yesterday was the first day she was more like herself. I was tired and needed some moments alone. I also desperately needed to venture out of the hospital room. I, without feeling guilty or obsessing over the potential of missing a doctor or nurse, left Maya is the very capable and loving hands of her Daddy. I walked around the cheerful and busy hospital and eventually found their meditation room. I spent some time here to practice mindfulness, talk to Jesus, and gain some energy in the best introverted way possible. I knew Maya and Cody could hold down the fort and I also knew that Cody would be headed home to be with our older kiddos that night so the refueling of my engines was needed. It may seem insignificant but it made such a difference for me. I felt more control over my emotions and the ability to continue to extend kindness to wonderful nurses caring for my baby despite my severely limited sleep over the last 4 nights. Here is the beautiful and relaxing space provided for quiet, personal time at Cook Children’s Hospital:
Self-care does not have to be ground-breaking to be profound. Listen to your instincts. The more opportunities you take to truly know yourself, the more meaningful your self-care regimen will be. I hope that you will spend some time figuring out what self-care could look like in your world!
Peace, Love, and Laughter,