3 tips for making it a daily practice
I used to think getting a massage every four months was enough self care for me. But after a few severe fatigue episodes landed me on the couch— completely unable to stay awake or do anything for anyone—I got the wake up call I needed to make a change.
Here are 3 things that helped me make self care part of my everyday life:
Positive self talk is a form of self care.
I had two therapists tell me this. And as I reflected on their statements, I realized I was failing miserably in that department.
A little back story: I’m an enneagram 1, a personality type that’s characterized by a harsh inner critic. (Not familiar with the enneagram? It’s a type of personality assessment and we wrote about it here on the blog.)
Once I understood how often I was berating myself for a. not doing enough self care, b. not doing enough as a caregiver, and c. not being the perfect caregiver I thought I should be, I understood just how important it was to change the way I talked to myself…
…To show myself the compassion I so readily showed to others.
…To redirect my thoughts from the “not enoughs” and “should haves.”
…To tell myself “Congratulations!” when I did a good job and not just “Commiserations!” when I messed up.
Think about how far a kind word from a friend, family member, or even a stranger goes: it helps you feel seen, it boosts your morale, it makes you feel good. And we do still need those kind words from others.
But now, think about doing that for yourself. In the past, I’d say things to myself like, “Your daughter is ten and should be dressing herself…you really should do better as a caregiver to help her meet that goal.” That wasn’t helpful. Or kind.
So how does positive self talk become a form of self care? Instead of the above, I could say: “Michelle, that idea to help your daughter get dressed without assistance was really creative. That’s something you’re really good at, coming up with creative solutions for daily challenges.”
It’s taken time—and I have to be intentional about it—but I’ve come a long way in speaking more kindly to myself. And by taking that burden of unnecessary criticism off my shoulders, I’m making my caregiving load lighter. AND I’m caring for myself.
Self care is selfish—and it should be!
The definition of selfish is “(of a person, action, or motive) lacking consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure.” Pretty far from the caregiver’s MO, right?
As caregivers—whose daily life is built on selflessness and service to another—we reject anything that feels selfish. Of course it feels unnatural to do something for yourself when you spend so much of your time and energy doing for others. But that doesn’t mean it’s wrong, or that you shouldn’t do it.
I actually think it’s problematic when people say “self care isn’t selfish,” at least when they’re talking to caregivers. Because caregivers tend to become so focused on others that they lose themselves. They forget how to be selfish; they forget what makes them happy; they forget to prioritize what they want.
I also think when you look at the definition of selfish, there’s a good way to be selfish—and it’s a way that many caregivers push aside because it just. feels. wrong.
But what if we thought of our own profit or pleasure, and not in a way that degrades or ignores the needs of others? What if we thought of “being selfish” as a way of caring for ourselves so we can keep giving selflessly to others, to keep resentment and burnout at bay?
If you haven’t been intentional about self care for a while, “being selfish” even in a healthy way is going to be uncomfortable at first. But start small.
Think of simple micro steps, like buying even just one thing you like when you go to the grocery store (i.e. your favorite chips, chocolate, cheese, or other treat). Something that’s just for you, something you don’t have to share with others.
I’m not suggesting a shopping spree where you blow your budget for the week and end up with stuff that no one really likes or needs. That would be selfish in an unhealthy way. But to spend a few extra dollars on a bouquet of your favorite flowers to brighten your nightstand or dining room table? That’s a good kind of selfish, and that’s good self care.
Self care is personal.
If the idea of going to a spa or doing a mud mask at home doesn’t inspire you, it might not be the right type of self care for you.
But check in with yourself: if your inner dialogue is saying, “Sure that sounds nice, but I don’t have time or money for that,” then you’re probably still struggling with the idea of doing something nice for yourself. But if your thought train is more on the track of “I’d much rather watch football or a favorite TV show for an hour,” then spa treatments are not the right self care activity for you.
Self care isn’t just about pampering yourself at the spa (although that’s a perfectly acceptable form of self care if it brings you joy). It’s more about connecting with the things that make you “you.” It’s about filling your own tank. It’s about actively and intentionally doing the things that make you—and only you—happy.
In fact, if caring for others makes you happy, there are ways to honor that in your self care.
For me, if I have the time when my daughter is at school, I love watching my nieces and nephews for a few hours. Even when they cry or fuss, caring for them feels easy compared to caring for my daughter 24/7.
I love holding babies and had looked into volunteering that way before my daughter joined our family. I love buying gifts that would make a special person in my life happy. I love filling up the bird feeders outside, then watching the birds eat.
Over time, I’ve learned that I feel fulfilled in providing things for others that bring them joy, and that meeting others’ needs makes me happy. But there are ways to care without burning myself out, ways to meet others’ needs without adding more to my caregiving load. I just had to figure them out.
Bottom line: Self care is not a once-and-done thing. It’s not an event or a destination—it’s a habit. And habits take time and practice to develop.
- When the guilt comes—as it probably will—push through it.
- When the thoughts of “This is selfish!” or “I don’t have time for this!” come to mind, reframe them: “I need this so I can keep caring!” or “It’s OK to want this time for myself!”
Because caregivers, you are worth it, you are valuable, and your needs matter.