Self-care is a simple concept that can be life-changing, but too often it's used to market bubble bath and massages to busy moms. For example, sometimes we say self-care when we really mean indulgence, escape, or even a way to numb ourselves. But it's most powerful – as a phrase and as a tool – when we define it literally. Self-care is taking care of yourself physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Easy, right?
One of my clients got a gift certificate on Mother's Day for a manicure and pedicure. It came at the perfect time. She was spent. Done. She had been giving so much for so long that she had nothing left. After struggling with postpartum depression for more than a year, she had recovered and come to a stronger place. But now her children's voices were starting to grate on her nerves. The rage was bubbling back up. "Take some time for self-care," advised her friends and family. So she welcomed the gift and spent an hour in a massage chair being polished and pampered.
But when she arrived back home, she couldn't get out of the car. She dreaded the thought of going inside. Just looking at the door was ramping up her anxiety. She texted me from the parking lot, "Why doesn't self-care work for me?"
I knew the answer. My client hadn't taken the time to think about what she actually needed. Since she recovered from postpartum depression, she rarely thought of herself at all. When she did, it was what she felt she 'should' be doing to take care of herself: She should lose weight, should dress better, should find time for a date night with her husband.
Gift givers are well-intentioned (and I’m not knocking a good mani pedi), but one hour of pampering simply will not make up for the hundreds and hundreds of hours spent giving to others and ignoring yourself. As a life coach, this is the message I work to impart daily to my clients, to the members of the Facebook group I host, and, yes, to myself. Our role as mothers is not more important than our mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health. We are as important as our children, our partners, and anyone else in our lives.
And in your life, you are the most important person. I say that to moms every day. Think of it this way: The relationship you have with yourself is the only one that will span your entire lifetime. It is the only one that you cannot leave, and it is the only one where you are in control of both sides. The relationship you have with yourself is the most powerful and intimate relationship that you will ever have, and it is the one that has the greatest impact.
That means you need – and deserve – to care for yourself with the same thoughtfulness, dedication, and time that you commit to caring for everyone else.
This is the real beauty and power of self-care. You take care of you not because it makes you a better parent or a better partner, and not because it will make you more effective at work or strengthen your family. Take care of yourself simply because you are the most important person.
Of course, I know the simplicity of this message does not make it easy to do. But there are so many ways to begin. I suggest sitting down and answering a few of these questions:
- What do you need?
- What is missing in your life?
- What do you wish you could do?
- What do you wish you could stop doing? What would you do with the space that would leave?
- How can you make a little more space in your life?
- What was your favorite thing to do when you were 6 years old?
- What is your favorite song? When was the last time you listened to it?
- What makes you feel truly relaxed?
- Do you have a bedtime routine for yourself?
- Where can you fit in 15 minutes just for you?
- Is there a friend you have been missing? Could you make a regular time weekly to talk to him or her?
- What would you do on a date with yourself?
- Think about a time in your life when you felt strong or at peace. What were you doing?
- What can you say "no" to in order to say "yes" to yourself?
You don't have to know the answers to all these questions. Just start by asking them to see what it could look like if you took care of you first. And then begin to do it.