Today during my routine morning walk I began to ponder the many self-care skills that I use regularly. Over the years, I have learned that I feel better when I make time to:
- Eat right
- Practice gratitude
- Practice prayerful meditation
- Practice yoga
- Have fun
- Plan enjoyable activities
- Spend time with friends
This may seem like a no brainer to some people, but personally it has been an evolution of self-acceptance and self-compassion. Healthy habits that are so natural for me today were nonexistent several years ago.
I remember the first time I received a self-care list. It was about 10 years ago. I was fatigued, stressed out, and pushing myself harder and harder to be perfect. I could not go on this way much longer. I was at a breaking point. I found Nancy, a therapist who began to help me process how I found myself at this point and how to move forward. During one session, she gave me a self-care handout that addressed physical, emotional, and spiritual health. I had never seen anything like it. What a radical concept!
As a child, I received a version of a “Christian” message that I should always sacrifice my own needs on behalf of others. Somewhere along the way I learned that my needs were not only unimportant, but that it was selfish for me to express my needs. I was told that whenever I felt empty and exhausted I should pray harder and God would provide. But years and years of emptying myself for others wore away at my physical and emotional health. Moreover, there was not enough of me to go around, and my children and husband sometimes got the short end of the stick. This approach was not sustainable.
When Nancy handed me the self-care list, I began a journey of learning self-care and boundaries. In the beginning, I carried the list with me wherever I went, especially when I found myself around difficult people who suck the life out of me, treat me like I do not matter, or that they should always come first. I needed a reminder that it is okay to respond to myself with care. At one point I even carried my self-care list to a challenging family gathering in another state. I referred to the list several times as a support to say “no” when needed, or to allow myself rest when I was tired. I began to experience a positive difference.
“When you doubt your own importance, you’re allowing the manipulations of difficult people to gain a foothold. However, when you understand that your time, money, dignity and needs are vital to your well-being, it’s easier to tune out people who want to break your boundaries.” (Margarita Tartakovsky, 5 Ways to Maintain Boundaries with Difficult People)
Now I practice responding to myself in the same way that I want to respond to others: with love, compassion, kindness, gratitude, acceptance, and gentleness. I continue to learn what it is to be a compassionate and loving person every time I practice compassion and love with myself. I am a recovering perfectionist, so I often have to start my compassionate practice over again daily.
“Rest and self-care are so important. When you take time to replenish your spirit, it allows you to serve others from the overflow. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.” (Eleanor Brownn, Self-Care is Not Selfish)
I write about my own personal journey because I know many who find self-care challenging. You may have received the message that your needs are unimportant, or that you are selfish when you take care and nourish yourself. If self-care is a radical concept, or if you feel like there is not enough of you to go around, you are not alone. You can start with baby steps, adding one or two things and noticing differences in how you feel. If you feel overwhelmed, Jennifer Louden’s article, “Minimum Self-Care Requirements” is a great place to start. Be gentle with yourself. There is no hurry and no right way to do this.
For me, it has been almost ten years, and I am still experimenting and learning, even adapting Nancy’s original list. I feel excited just thinking about the adaptations you will make as you begin to explore and create your own list:
Nancy’s Adapted Self-Care List
- Eat (mostly) healthy foods in moderation
- Exercise regularly
- Drink plenty of water
- Get adequate sleep
- Practice good hygiene (bathe, brush teeth, etc.)
- Obtain medical care, as needed
- Nurture yourself regularly
- Use compassionate self-talk
- Learn and use relaxation techniques
- Use healthy boundaries
- Express your feelings appropriately
- Identify your feelings
- Share them directly with someone who will treat you with care
- Talk to a friend
- Use ventilation techniques (punch a pillow, throw ice, etc.)
- Allow yourself (& others) to make mistakes
- Respond to your negative self-talk with self-compassion
- Ask for what you want
- Say “no” when you need to
- Use “I feel …” statements to express your emotions
- Avoid being passive, aggressive, or passive-aggressive. Be Assertive.
- Spend time with people who make you feel good about yourself
- Accept compliments without discounting (just say “thank you”)
- Make time to laugh & play!
- Make a daily gratitude list
- Open yourself to the beauty of nature
- Continue to learn something new
- Be open to different points of view
- Engage in activities that connect you with God and others