You Have to Nourish to Flourish
When self-care is mentioned, perhaps the image that is conjured up is of a Kardashian getting hair and makeup done by professionals while sitting in the comfort of their luxury homes, sipping matcha or drinking champagne, and scrolling aimlessly thorough their phone. Not that there is anything wrong with that. When I talk about self-care and recommend it to others, I mean something a bit different.
Self-care is often not exciting. It’s definitely not literally or figuratively intoxicating. It’s not about being pampered while Ryan Gosling is feeding you grapes while giving you all the “Hey Girls” you could possible dream of (the more power to you if he does!). It is about keeping promises to yourself to do those things that YOU KNOW are good for you, that empower you, that keep you healthy, sane, and strong. It about is getting enough sleep, eating well, working out, engaging in healthy relationships, having proper mental health care, and practicing mindfulness. Just ask the badass Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, author of The Deepest Well and recent appointee to be the first ever Surgeon General of California. She will tell you. It is about putting your needs first- your basic needs! We are talking the equivalent of first two levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
I know if you’re reading this, you’re likely a woman. I am a professor of social work, like my home-girl, Brené Brown. (I say this like we are friends, since we are both women and social work professors. I like to pretend we are good friends and in my mind, we also hang out with Cheryl Strayed, Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, and Elizabeth Gilbert while chillin’ with Oprah at her home in Maui. Hey, there’s Stedman!) Okay, I digress… I’ll start again. If you’re reading this, you’re likely a woman because I am a social work professor and social work is a female dominated profession. Most of my students are women. Most of my clients are women. Most of my friends are women. So, there you have it- you’re probably a woman. Men and any gender you identify with are welcome here too because being a human is hard- it’s a shared experience. The roles we are expected to play are vast and overwhelming and they are positively reinforced when we are self-sacrificing. Do you ever see someone being praised as a mom for modeling good self-care? No. They are praised for putting themselves last. “Look at her! I don’t know how she does it all!” I think of the mom from A Christmas Story. The narrator of the movie says while she’s preparing the infamous turkey, that she hasn’t had a hot meal for herself in 15 years! That line is still funny, even after watching it a hundred times, because it’s so relatable… and true.
One of the most effective forms of self-care is about taking a break from saying yes to extra commitments that are unnecessary but you will “feel bad” if you say no. You may not ever actually get a chance to feel bad because just the thought of feeling guilty (or thinking you would look like you are not committed to work or your family) prompts you to say yes. According to my badass friend who is also social work professor, Dr. Brandy Maynard (I am lucky that she is my friend and not a figment of my imagination), when you say yes to something, you say no to something else. According to me, that something is usually self-care. I put it here in bold because it’s that important. Think about it. When is the last time you said yes to something that really served you, your well-being, and your health? And said yes out of intentionally wanting to be gentle and kind to yourself? When did you say yes to more sleep? More downtime? A commitment to working out? Calling a therapist? Preparing that healthy meal plan you’ve been considering? How about more time to… yeah I’ll say it because it’s important… “Netflix and Chill,” with your partner? Not out of obligation but out of caring enough about yourself to move from doing-mode to being.
We all know what we need to do. There are no shortcuts. If our motivation is to take good care of our loved ones and engage in the best work we can, this begins with taking care of ourselves. And when we have a hard time taking care of ourselves or others, extending ourselves unconditional self-compassion is also a great start at self-care. No one else can self-care for you. Only you can do this for you. I recommend that you put it in your schedule and make it a hardline item. I tell my students and clients to think about it like brushing their teeth (making the assumption, of course that this is something they do a couple times per day). We don’t whine and complain about having to brush our teeth. We do it because we understand the implications if we don’t. A former client of mine likens self-care to taking care of a car. If you knew your car was the only car you’d ever have for your entire life, you’d take care of it like a MOFO. You’d make sure it constantly was washed and waxed and had all the required preventive maintenance. You wouldn’t hesitate to bring it in or work on it if there was any sign of a problem. You’d take such good care of that bad-boy because you’d want to preserve what you’ve got. We need to approach our overall wellness this way.
Think about how we make promises to our friends and keep them but the self-care promises that we often make to ourselves fall under the wayside. Treat yourself as you treat your friends and your loved ones! Take your own advice. And while you’re at it, get out of your own way. You’ve got this! You have successfully lived this long and likely have taken amazing care of others in both your personal and professional life. I admire you! Thank you for that. Now, get out your calendar and schedule yourselves some time to say no, to get to the gym, some unconditional self-compassion, and some “Netflix and Chill” time while you’re at it.