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Let’s talk about self-care, lovelies.
10 years ago I’d never heard the word, now it’s everywhere. Generally it’s used to describe (or let’s be honest, sell) things like massages, bath bombs, or manicures. There is of course nothing wrong with any of those things. But I think more and more of us are realizing that they fall far short of effective self-care; at least by themselves.
The prevailing vogue seems to be to run yourself utterly ragged, then “self-care” with some scented bath products, and then go right back to running 100 miles an hour. Shame on you if that leaves you sick, or depressed, or stressed to the point your eye twitches randomly. Frankly I’m done with that bullshit. It’s rubbish, and it’s creating a world full of strung out, stressed, angry, self hating people (especially women.) And we’re all sure there is something wrong with us just because a 20 minute manicure didn’t solve our crushing urge to crawl into bed and never come back out.
There is not enough chocolate, massage, or pedicures in the world to make up for the fact that you are working 60 hours a week to make ends meet, raising two kids, and hold down a second job as executive assistant and chauffeur to your children. Oh, and you still have to somehow keep the house from becoming condemned, or featured on an episode of Hoarders. And you might like to speak three words to the love of your life in there somewhere. It just isn’t realistic. Then someone comes along and utterly screws up your whole state or country and you need to add calling your Congress-critters and making protest signs to your list? No wonder as a society we’re perpetually grumpy.
The best self-care ever invented is the word “no.”
But let’s back up. The idea of self-care is the novel idea that you aren’t any good to anyone else if you aren’t OK yourself. But it goes deeper than that, because we are all role-models to someone. If you are a parent or spend any time with children this is especially true. Little people pay far more attention to what you do than what you say. They’re smart little beings. Their values are formed early by those around them. If we want our children to be healthy, happy individuals we’ve got to start with ourselves.
Even if you don’t have kids (I don’t, which is a gift to kids everywhere) you probably have friends, relatives or a romantic partner . And those people are also better off if you are well and whole.
In an emergency we imagine that it’s all hands on deck, everyone working until the emergency is over. But my short time with a search and rescue organization was a wake up call for me. Before we were allowed to do anything we had to answer simple questions: how much sleep have you gotten in the past 24 hours? When did you eat last, are you ill? If we hadn’t eaten, or slept, or if we were battling an illness we got sent to take care of that first. After all rescuer who falls asleep behind the wheel isn’t any good to anyone, and might just create a whole other emergency themselves.
Maybe you aren’t rappelling into ravines from a helicopter, but you still have deeply important duties to fulfill. And those duties need you in peek condition.
Boundaries build health
Which is where “no” comes in. “No” will look different for all of us. But the best summary I ever heard was this: if we don’t say “no” to some things we are less able to say “yes” to the truly important things. In other words, we’ve got limited resources and energy. So learning to prioritize our values and put our energy where our passions are makes us more effective, and healthier.
Which means that everyone’s boundaries are going to be different, because our values and priorities are different. So are our requirements. There are things you can’t say no to, like paying the mortgage and doing the work that lets you raise those funds.
All too often we put too many things into the “can’t control” category, because of shame, or social pressure, or our own need to be useful, or loved.
Over the years I’ve developed my own set of boundaries to help me chosen when to say “no.”
Only two nights a week away from home and family. (Or hell even if we’re out as a family, no more than 2 nights a week out, because that shit’s exhausting!)
Strict boundaries around work and no work outside of work hours. (That’s a hard one given my part time job can involve a phone call at 2am because someone is dying. But it’s a vital one if I don’t want to snap back angrily to the poor person whose loved one is dying. Since at least part of my job is on call I do have to be flexible about what “work hours” are. But after that 2am call? I’m not going in at 9am the next morning. I’m taking some comp time.)
Keeping a gauge on my mood, relationships, and energy levels and zero guilt for saying “no” to something fun when what I really need is quiet snuggle time with the hubby.
A healthy balance of work, rest, and play. This might seem obvious but if you made a pie chart of your life would it be balanced?
Eating at regular times and real meals. (Seriously. It is amazing how much better this will make you feel. This should not have been such a revelation to me, but it is!)
To do those things I have to say no to stuff. Sometimes it’s good stuff, or fun stuff. Sometimes it’s stuff that honestly needs to get done.
Are you good at boundaries? Do you say “no” easily? Do you have more trouble knowing when to say “yes?” I’d love to learn from you all, let’s make each other’s lives a little better.