As a therapist I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the term “self-care.” The term has become so synonymous with indulging oneself and particularly for women in very stereotypical feminine rituals such as a facial, bubble bath, or manicures. It has become a term that means “special” me time and become synonymous with indulgence, pampering, luxury.
However, in my opinion there should be nothing “special” about it in terms of it being out of the ordinary. Self-care is a necessity, not a luxury. Brushing your teeth, eating, doing daily hygiene…these are all self-care rituals that we make the time for out of necessity. However we fail to stick to daily rituals like this that care for our emotional selves. What is emotional self-care? It is simply the act of engaging in some reflection or activity that positively impacts your mood, improves your thinking patterns, and enhances your ability to manage stressors. Think of a suit of armor that a person wears to protect themselves from attack. In a way emotional self-care practices are like armor that protects us from outside stressors, negativity, and distressing thoughts that invade our minds. We need to keep engaging in routinely in order to increase our armor’s strength.
Why do so many moms seem to struggle with self-care? We can blame it on lack of time, juggling too many responsibilities, and having too many people rely on us. But its pretty simple what the biggest barrier to self-care is: our thinking. If we acknowledge its importance we simply find a way to make it a priority. So here are 5 truths and thinking patterns you can adopt in order to commit to taking care of yourself. Pick one or two that mean something to you and use them as daily reminders to care for yourself in any way you choose.
1) Your perceptions on self-care have been impacted by your own personal experiences and may need to change. Take time to reflect on how you really perceive self-care. You may nod your head and quickly acknowledge that mothers need to take care of themselves but if you find you are never taking time for yourself then you probably have some thoughts or beliefs that are holding you back. What messages did you receive growing up or as you became a mom about self-care? Did your mom do things for herself? Do you believe that engaging in self-care impacts your abilities as a mother and in what ways (positive or negative)? Do you have others in your life that have healthy beliefs about self-care? Answering these questions may give you some insight into why routine self-care may be difficult and put you on a path to correcting your thinking.
2) You deserve time for yourself. This isn’t because your a mom and work hard to take care of others, this is simply because you are a human being. Moms are great at guilt and most of it is unwarranted. But we tend to use guilt to hide behind our discomfort with taking care of ourselves. As with most skills in life the more you do something the better you become at it. If you have a difficult time engaging in self-care try spending a lot more time than you ever would doing things for yourself. Be what you may deem as “selfish” for a period of time and see how it actually impacts your environment. You may find that your world doesn’t come crashing down when you take time for yourself. As you become more comfortable with it you can start to alter your thinking about it and find the balance that is best for you.
3) Modeling self-care for your children helps them learn important concepts about relationships. Always being present for your children at their every desire makes it difficult for them to see you as a separate individual with needs and wants. Your relationship with your child is the first relationship they have had and one of the most central to their lives. Although the parent-child relationship will be different from others in their life you must remember that this is the model they will be building upon their perceptions of what constitutes a healthy relationship. By modeling to your children that you have needs and need time away you are teaching them the ability to see other people’s needs and recognize them. When you tell your child that you are frustrated or tired and ask politely for some space you are teaching them empathy and also the importance of having time for ourselves and independence from others.
4) True self-care is intentional and mindful. We engage in self-care for a purpose. Just as when we brush our teeth we are trying to prevent cavities and achieve good oral health self-care our self-care methods have a purpose of providing an enhancement in mood, positive thinking, and decrease in stress and irritability. This means we must be careful in how we select our self-care practices to ensure that they achieve these purposes. This is where I tend to struggle most. Television and being on the internet is usually my daily go to as soon as I get time for myself but it often does not alleviate my irritability. That isn’t to say that I don’t think these methods can work for some people but I find that they don’t achieve my self-care goals. A long walk alone with my thoughts, taking time by myself in nature, listening to an inspirational podcast, journaling, and reading are self-care practices I have found to have a more profound impact on achieving balance and maintaining positive thinking. So choose whatever method you desire but make sure it has an actual impact on your emotional health. Self-care must also be mindful in that you are fully aware of the present moment. Challenge yourself to let go of any thoughts or concerns about your children that arise while you are engaging in self-care. Simply acknowledge the thought and allow it to drift away. Be fully aware of the moment and do not try to multitask while you are engaged in self-care.
5) Self-care is a prevention tool. I think what often happens with our failure to consistently engage in self-care is that we engage in a self-care practice and it may have a positive effect for a few days making us believe that we do not need it daily. Soon after, however, we start to wear down our resolve and become frustrated and irritable. This signals that it is a time for self-care practice but can often come after we have been yelling at our kids, been snippy with our partners, and engaged in lots of negative thinking patterns. It is important to remember that self-care must be daily in order to prevent irritability and negativity. So when you are planning your day ensure that you are making time for a self-care practice whether or not you feel happy and capable because you are preventing the creeping in of negative thoughts that can exacerbate distressing emotions.
So I’m sorry this wasn’t a list of trendy ways to take care of yourself and photos of a woman in a tub on the beach. I don’t think self-care needs to be trendy, have a high price tag, or involve an exotic location. What’s most important is the thinking that motivates your action to take care of yourself in any way you choose. So remember to take care mamas and keep your armor strong.
What gets in the way of you taking care of yourself? What self-care methods have you found that leave you feeling stronger emotionally?