What is self-care?

What is self-care?

Why is it important? How do you do it?

Self-care is one of the things that gets talked about too much about, we tend to not do enough of, and don’t understand either.

Quite simply, it is about taking care of yourself.

Why self-care?

When we think about looking after someone, like a friend, what do we mean? Maybe bringing them some soup, cleaning up space, having a laugh, going to the movies, getting a massage, eating some good food, going for a walk together.

When we are so willing to be there for others and encourage them to care for themselves, why do we not do that for ourselves?

“The expectation that we can be immersed in suffering and loss daily and not be touched by it is as unrealistic as expecting to be able to walk through water without getting wet.”   ~ R. N. Remen.

As changemakers or agitators, we are often in the midst of the most painful problems that exist in the world. We feel the issue so strongly that we are pulled to dedicate our time to it. But being so intertwined with the issue can mean that we carry a heavy burden made up of the pain of others.

Not only that, but we are also often stretched to limits we didn’t even know existed. Long hours, unable to disconnect from email and work responsibilities, even long after we have left the office. Travelling to dangerous places, living far from family. Low pay and challenging employment opportunities. We put ourselves under a lot of stress in our mission to change something in the world while having to make a living.

Why do we look after ourselves?

Well, apart from the fact that it makes us feel good, it is especially important in our line of work because of the negative end of the line that can await us. Many of us will recognise burnout, but it is also sometimes called compassion fatigue or secondary trauma. Or there is what Dr. Jim Guy calls moral injury, where you have been exposed to conditions that are at total odds with a value that is important to you, and perhaps has required you to take action that does not fit with your moral compass.

“Taking care of ourselves while taking care of others allows us to contribute to our societies with such impact that we will leave a legacy informed by our deepest wisdom and greatest gifts instead of burdened with our struggles and despair”.  ~ Laura van Dernoot Lipsky

Whatever it is that has led to it, basically you’ve hit the end of the road where you can’t care anymore. Not just not care, but not do anything. Sometimes getting out of bed can be difficult. For me, knowing that these conditions exist and recognising them in myself was the first step to helping me get back on the path of feeling balanced, joy and be able to carry on working for change, without carrying a bitter chip on my shoulder.

Let’s smash some preconceptions

Self-care isn’t expensive

Self-care isn’t difficult

Self-care doesn’t require heaps of time

Self-care isn’t about doing something ‘special’

Painting your nails? Haircuts? Massages? Long walks on the beach?

Self-care isn’t only about big things that you have to save up for or take leave for.  It isn’t about girly or fancy activities either. Maybe you want to treat yourself, go on holiday, or get a new outfit. Those things can help you feel good, but they aren’t the be all and end all of feeling good.

Good self-care is made up of little things that you do regularly. They help you feel loved, well, balanced and connected.

Christy Tennery-Spalding put together a long list of examples of self-care that she practices. It includes things like putting Epsom salts in a bath, getting outside, playing with animals.

For me, self-care looks like starting my day with half an hour of yoga, and not beating myself up that I’m not doing more. It looks like trying to remember to drink water, walking to work holding hands with my husband, reading lots of interesting stuff, and enjoying listening to music whenever possible.

Self-care is a compassionate and flexible practice. It changes as you change, and we don’t beat ourselves up when things don’t go as planned or hoped.

Chase Jarvis compared how we care for ourselves to how we care for our cellphones. We can go to great lengths to ensure that our cellphones are protected and always ready to go – carrying extra batteries and chargers with us. Self-care is no different – making sure that our batteries are always charged and we are ready to go.

What does self-care look like for you?

I believe that self-care takes into account seven different aspects – sleep, food, nature, connection to community, spirituality, movement, and inspiration.

If you think about these different areas, how do they stack up for you? Maybe they don’t all matter to you the same way. For me, movement, spirituality and nature is super important. What is important to you? What makes you feel good? What are you feeling a longing for?

Importantly, remember to start off slow. Pick something easy. A friend of mine started with flossing. I started with reading interesting blogs.

What will you start with?