Self Care is Easier Said
Updated: Aug 15, 2020
August 28th, 2012. The air was steaming. The sun was burning. The subway cars were unforgiving. Despite the summer heat, I felt empowered and ready to change the world as I entered through the doors of the Silberman School of Social Work, Hunter College. I recall part way through my first class the term/phrase/what have you. "self care". thrown out like we were supposed to know what it meant already. It hit me; leaving a permanent question mark on my forehead. A question mark that still dances above my eyebrows till this day, eight years later. My professors, field advisers, and colleagues reiterated this phrase so much throughout our two years of social work school, you would have thought we all left being experts in the ominous "self care". If only...
Self care, according to HabitsforWellbeing.com, is actively taking a part in meeting our basic and higher level needs on a daily basis. As I like to call it 'Adulting 101'. The added layer of this is that, through taking care of ourselves, we are able to show up for others more readily. Therefor, self care is by no means selfish.
It is all about being mindful (yes, another ominous term). Have you ever put off a teeth cleaning? Forgotten to schedule your routine physical exam? Bailed on your friends to catch up on work? Stopped writing in your journal because there was just too much to do? Then you, and me, and almost all of us, have not practiced 'self care' or turned 'inward' in order to create a conducive reality 'outward'.
I like to break down self care into the following categories: physical, emotional, social, spiritual, environmental, financial, and vocational/educational care. I work on these with my patients. However, I'm not here to lecture you on how to practice self care. I'm here to figure out with you why it is so dang hard for us to do it in the first place! I have some theories, so indulge me as I ramble on:
Theory #1: We don't feel we have time to nurture ourselves.
I began this website about a year ago. The idea was to do a post a month. Here I am nearly a year later after my first post finally writing my second. I love writing. I also love achieving and being as near to perfect as possible. Often times, these perfectionist tendencies get in my way. I'm so overtly concerned about my other responsibilities and being perfect to those I love, that I tell myself "Writing? Ain't nobody got time for that!".
Our time is so precious and so fleeting. I have always thought, "I don't know why I convince myself it would be better spent getting all the things I have to get done, done, rather than giving just a little bit of it to the things I enjoy." In all actuality, I do know. It's because I am constantly expected to show up even at my own expense (more on this in a moment). Even though I may want to spend my lunch break eating, I cannot. I have to go pick up groceries or make appointments for my son, respond to voicemails, finish homework for a course I'm taking...the list of to-do goes on and on. Now, I don't want it to come off as if I wish I wasn't responsible. That's not it. It's simply just that I wish I could actually eat on my lunch break and not let responsibilities take me away from something good for me, like eating in the middle of the day.
While I am a beast at time management, I am not a beast at prioritizing myself in the slightest (we will touch on priorities, don't worry!). Bringing it back to mindfulness, I have found that even 1 minute a day of a Mindful SNACK (Stop, Notice, Accept, Curious, Kindness) can be a way to start to honor myself just a little more when the responsibilities are also stacked against me.
Theory #2: We don't feel we are as important as everything else in our lives.
Here's the thing about responsibilities, they exist, whether we like them or not. However, responsibilities are not the same as expectations. Expectations are a whole other ball game and often times we care more about what others expect of us than what we expect of us. I could and likely will write a post on expectations (stay tuned! & maybe it won't be a year from now...). One of the problems with expectations is they are often born from presumptions of what, who, and how we should be. Rather than being born from what, who, and how we are as individuals. For example, often times women are still expected to reproduce. I won't say all the time because that would be presumptuous right? I mean, God forbid a women chooses a life filled with adventure rather than motherhood...and also God forbid a mother cannot still have a life filled with adventure...
Expectations are dream killers. They set us up to feel that if we do not meet others needs/the needs of society, then we are doing something wrong. If we do not bake the best cupcakes for our kids birthday, then we failed as a mom. If we do not go all out for our best friends promotion, we are not an attentive friend. If we don't sacrifice our well being for those we love, we are selfish. Ultimately, this all leaves us feeling that we are not as important as the million other things and people in our lives. In my time as a therapist, I have heard this sentiment time and time again, in so many different ways. I like to take the metaphor of a cup with water. If we only fill others, our cup will be left dry, unable to continuing filling those in our lives. If we allow our cup to be refilled (working out for 20 minutes, reading our favorite book, meditating, practicing our Mindful SNACK, listening to our favorite song, dancing around our living room, allowing ourselves time to see our best friends more than a few times a year) then maybe, just maybe, we can start to find some balance.
Theory #3: We don't believe we can be a priority.
As you can see, all these theories bleed together. #3 is this... between time and feeling less important, our priorities are so heavily focused on those million other things and people. Focused on work deadlines, PTA meetings, and whatever else you have your hands in. This is what happens, in my opinion, your self and your needs is wrapped up in things that don't always leave YOU feeling accomplished, feeling whole, or feeling recharged. By the time you get to a free moment in your day, you are exhausted. You would much rather troll Instagram mindlessly than work on self improvement. Can't say I blame anyone for that. Even the most mindful of us get caught up and before we know it an hour goes by of liking a photo here, a photo there. By the time we get snapped back into reality, it's other priorities that have our attention. I have found that setting boundaries around certain activities (like social media) can be very beneficial (more to come!). I've done this recently and because I have I am finally finishing my second writing post on here. I feel content knowing that my energy is going more toward something I care about.
Theory #4: We are distracted!
I have been trying to write this post for dang near a year. UGH. The distraction is real. After baby goes to bed, I get into my writing groove and dad gets home. Do I need to watch an episode or two of Blacklist on Netflix? I mean, no. Do I like the binge watching time we spend together? Of course! It is what it is. Sadly, that's not always my distraction. Often times it is Instragram or Facebook (yes, all these things gooooo togetherrrrr). Social media is the worst distraction of all. I swear before Facebook became a thing when I was 17, I did not waste my time on the computer. Before the first iPhone came out, I had my eyes in books rather than a screen. Social media in and of itself, while connecting, is also very much disconnecting us.
I tested myself over the summer of 2019. After giving birth to my son in January 2019, I found myself on Facebook and Instagram constantly during my maternity leave. I turned to a lot of mom support groups as I had very few friends who were mothers and found myself yearning for more connection with fellow mothers. When I went back to work four and a half months later, I still noticed my social media time was way to high. I decided to take a two week hiatus. It was the best two weeks of my life. I felt like I had time for everything and anything. I felt more present. I felt more aware. My social media throughout the year began to creep up though. Here I am again a year later, Facebook is now permanently gone and with Instagram I am only posting 1-2x's a week on my Professional Page (@empoweredpsychotherapy - sorry couldn't help the plug). I think it is valuable to take inventory of the things distracting us from real life. Write down all the things you do for a few days and circle the ones that are distractions. Then pick at least one to do without for two weeks and see how you feel. It may not be the 'answer' and yet it could be the beginning.
Theory #5: We are unmotivated, especially for ourselves.
Motivation...motivation...where are thee? This is hard. I mean, really hard. At the end of the day, we are all tired. Sometimes, we need a week were the house remains a mess. Sometimes, we can't stand the mess and clean like we never have before. Brene Brown has given me a lot of insight from her podcast, Unlocking Us. One insight I have really taken to heart is asking myself what percentage am I at today? The way I have formulated this in my own life/view is to say, today I am at 50% so I will do (1) smaller task or nothing at all...either way, both are okay. It's hard to not revel on the days were we aren't doing "more" and it's also really important to listen to ourselves and honor ourselves when we are barely holding our head above water. In the Mindful SNACK, I find accepting without judgement and kindness to trip me up very often. I spoke about this in a group therapy session yesterday. Both are so tricky and yet so valuable. To accept things for what they are without judgement is to let be and to be kind to ourselves is to let go of this notion that we are not good enough. You are good enough, I am good enough. Perhaps if I tell myself that enough, even through mistakes, I will begin to embrace all of me and all of those around me through a healthier lens.
© Alexis Cate, LCSW, CCTP, CASAC-T