I’ve spent many years hating the term “self-care.” I think this came from a mostly good place: I want to be a selfless, Christ-centered person, and “self-care” sounded like weekly mani/pedis while sipping mimosas. Ultimately, this was a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept and a soured perception from the indulgent example of a few bad apples.
Until last week, I considered self-care to be something that lazy people use as a banner to avoid pushing themselves. I imagined dull, direction-less souls saying things like, “My job is just so draining,” when they really only work part-time and spend most of their life on their mother’s couch earning Olympic medals in Netflixing, or “I just needed a day for myself,” when they really spend every evening buying themselves pretty things off Amazon and stuffing their faces with sugar. To me, it was an excuse to bail on obligations, to wrack up credit card debt, to blow your diet, all because “I deserve it.”
Wow, harsh, Lane.
Yes, I know. Can you start to see my intense fear of slipping into mediocrity?
So, I avoided the term “self-care” at all costs. But then, last Thursday, I was asking my group of really phenomenal ladies how they avoid burnout and counteract self-sabotage, two plagues I have suffered from in the past. The entire group– down to a person– of powerful, disciplined, driven women said, “Self-care.” Flummoxed, it was all I could to resist rolling my eyes. But then they explained.
Turns out that self-care is really an intense exercise in self-awareness. Instead of an excuse to buy tchotchkes, it is about recognizing when you are stretched too thin emotionally to take on a new project. Instead of an excuse to break diet, it is about utilizing the word “no” when neat opportunities come your way that aren’t fitting in your schedule, your goals, or your identity. Instead of an excuse to indulge, it is about performing a heart-check in the still quiet before moving from appointment to appointment to event.
It is the self-awareness to realize when you are at the breaking point, when you are exhibiting the tell-tale signs of a breaking point around the bend, when you are feeling empty and need to refill your cup.
So I now more deeply pondered how to practice self-care in a way that glorifies God, stays far away from selfishness, but still equips me to continue soldiering the way I soldier? How do I “indulge” in soul-maintenance when those around me are living their life on blur?
Friend, I am just starting. I have learned, though, that there is a wellness achieved when you have a healthy respect for who God made you to be. Whipping yourself into endless productivity to deserve the oxygen you use is not healthy and it is not fitting for your soul. God designed you: you are worth it. He poured the gold in to your heart mold. Can there be some impurities that have made their way in? Of course. But the presence of these impurities, defects, stumblings does not negate the perfect design that is You. So you, even You, need self-care. You need rest. You need love.
I’ve been watching, changing, practicing, and embracing in the time span between that revelation and today. Now, even though the journey is unfinished and my discovery here is like a perennial flower, I have implemented a few recharging, uplifting habits, that are, maybe, possibly, ready for sharing.
My first practice in self-care is habitually resting on Sunday, not out of any law or commandment but out of a respect for my heart and a respect for God’s providence. (Watch for a video on this topic on my YouTube channel. Coming soon…)
My second practice in self-care is an early morning routine that includes prayer, exercise, reading God’s word, reading for pleasure, browsing Instagram, penning quick notes of encouragement to friends, sipping warm mugs of coffee, writing poems, and (my personal favorite) staring out the window in silent contemplation.
My third practice in self-care is the permission to take an “Irish exit” from my schedule. Even though I am a hard-worker, an impassioned employee, a dedicated creative, I have days where I “just can’t.” (Entry two in the Phrases I Hate list.) Some days, my soul will not have the bandwidth for normal life. It won’t happen often, but when it does happen, I need to be listening to my heart and my body so that I can grant myself rest when it is called for.
My fourth self-care practice is to block out a solid 8.5 hours for sleep every night. That is the number consistently shown in studies to be “good.” I know that I physically suffer when I go multiple nights with little sleep and I’ve found that 8 is a nice, clean minimum. Do I miss a lot of evening activities this way? You bet I do. I had a friend in high school whose mom was up at the crack of dawn every day, cooking breakfast, scrubbing the already spotless house, teaching the children, running kids to and from practice, meeting with book club, etc., etc. Once a year, nearly to the day, she would experience a physical crash, in which she would literally, literally sleep for 20+ hours. The way she ran her life and her body was so unsustainable that she, a grown woman, could not get out of bed one or two days a year. Honestly, I always envied her. I wanted to run myself so hard, to be so disciplined, that I only crashed once a year. What’s one day of rest if I can get by on only 5-6 hours of sleep per night for the rest of the year? But, no, love. Now I know that is not healthy.
When I take care of myself in these simple, even superficial ways, I prioritize the soul that God gave me and steward it in a worthy manner.
How do you feel about self-care? What are your natural rhythms? Do you need to make a change in your lifestyle to incorporate rest?