As we’ve talked about, self-care is fundamentally a frame of mind. It’s an attitude toward ourselves—one of responsibility, but not a burden, and definitely not neglect. It’s a willing, or even joyful, acceptance of the responsibility for seeing that our bodies and minds and spirits have what they need to thrive. The same way we would take care of our own precious children—if we had the happy circumstances of emotional maturity and material support and that famous village it for sure takes.
(Which I, for one, didn’t have when my kids were born. As a therapist friend once said to me: “I feel like I did all the work on myself that my kids needed me to do after they needed me to do it.” Me too, friend. I tell ya, when those spiritual teachers advise you to treat yourself the way you would treat an innocent child, or ask you if you would talk to your 4-year-old self the way you talk to your 44-year-old self, I just burn with shame at some of the things that have come out of my mouth. Still, no matter how late we start on the self-care, it’s a help and a relief to those around us.)
Past, Present and Future
So it’s good to take that mindset and put it to work in the form of actions. Actions beyond pedicures, as we’ve said before. And when choosing a course of action, one of the first things I like to ask is, Who is this self I’m taking care of? Which part of me could use a little attention?
One aspect of self to consider is the continuity of past, present and future. (The blogger Havi Brooks introduced me to this idea.) Taking care of Past Me can be very good for Present Me and Future Me. For example, if I am feeling very sad and I notice I’m thinking about how my youth was so much more about hearth-scrubbing than time to dream, maybe I could take care of Past Me by letting myself have an hour with a book in the window seat. That also gives Present Me a nice break, and recharges Future Me’s battery.
Or if I’m feeling overwhelmed and unequal to the work on my plate, I might take care of Future Me by prepping some meals for the week. Or creating a night-time packing list to insure that the me of Monday morning has a charged phone and lip balm and enough reading for her commute. Knowing this is taken care of lets Present Me relax now.
Body, Mind and Spirit
Another way to think about self care is the different needs of body, mind and spirit. I make a habit of self massage with scented lotion, because I find it very hard to hate my body while loving on my body. We all have aspects of self that are easy to pay attention to, and some that are easier just to neglect. So it’s good to spread it around—and lovely to serve all those needs at once.
Something that feeds body, spirit and mind for me is being on vacation or retreat in a beautiful natural setting, when I can swing it. (Preferably in a place where massage is offered.) Retreats are restful for the body and mind, nature is restorative to the spirit.
No- and Low-Cost Self-Care
Retreats generally require time and money, though, which brings me to cost. What kind of self-care can we do for no or low cost? What do we need to plan for that requires more resources? And what is so luxurious that it stays in the realm of fantasy—but that might have some accessible components? I would so, so love to go to that crazy Aman resort in the Utah desert—but I don’t have to spend my retirement or even leave New England to burn piñon incense and eat some healthy green chile.
Aside from health care, much of self-care can be done for free or nearly free. Living on earth does cost money; that was the set-up before any of us arrived here, but still: a lot of the “self-care” products or experiences being sold to women are bundled with things that add to the price: luxury, exclusivity, ego-stroking, fancy packaging. (See above. But I actually consider beauty to be a necessity, and I’ve been known to pay extra for a pretty package. Which I then repurpose.)
Nothing wrong with any of those things, really, if you want add-ons. But the self-care piece can stand alone. Which means that there are always more affordable alternatives.
Self-care does not always look like scented lotion and fancy lingerie. Sometimes self-care looks like being told you need to do 40 minutes of uncomfortable knee therapy. Every day. For the rest of your life. I was told such a thing recently, and guess what? It turns out I don’t have the strength of character to embrace that order joyfully. Not alone, anyway.
So another dimension I like to think about is what kind of self-care do I perform on my own, and what kind do I need backup for? My mentor Kelly Diels offers the idea that a lot of women’s self-care is better done in community. Sometimes that community for me is digital—I really need the ladies of the Call Your Girlfriend and Another Round podcasts to get through my knee exercises. Sometimes it’s real-life friends doing an at-home retreat together, with phone check-ins throughout the day. Even though some of us are in America and some of us are in Asia, and we’re all doing it a little differently.
The Time Factor
Finally, what about time? If we work or have children or run a house, or all of the above, it may seem like we could spend eternity on self-care just to reach a level of Not Haggard. A weekend escape is a respectable chunk of time. An extra hour of sleep can be heaven.
Sometimes I get the biggest results (read: most cared-for feeling) from the things I can do in no time at all. My favorites in the category of a minute or less are: Saying No (or “no, thanks”—that only adds a second); reminding my freaked-out self that Adult Me has things handled, or will pretty soon now; putting on a sweater or going to the bathroom, instead of ignoring discomfort; buying myself time by saying things like “Let me get back to you on that” (a phrase like that should come more automatically to the lips than that old female favorite “I’m sorry,” which we utter when nothing could be further from the truth, or less appropriate, like when someone else bumps us).
Truth-Telling: It’s Good for You
And speaking of truth, my best self-care technique is admitting the truth to myself, silently, which serves in any situation you can name to give relief to that crazy feeling women get (maybe you’ve heard: women are crazy) when caught between something the world wants from us, and something we want to give to ourselves. Sometimes there’s no obvious good course of action in that kind of conflict. And sometimes the action is obvious, and it seems costly.
But no self-neglect is worse than telling myself to just shut up today, that I don’t even want to hear how I feel about something or what I want. I don’t have to take any action, not now, not later, but admitting to myself how I really feel about something, telling myself the truth so I don’t have split part of myself off and send her to the corner with a gag order, no pressure to do anything about it, just staying with myself: that is the ultimate act of self-care, and I hope I’ll always have the resources for it.
The Menu Part
Now for the menu part!
It’s really for playing with, though. I’ve started it off with ideas for self-care of all kinds. I hope you’ll use it to come up with your own ideas, including aspects of the self I haven’t even thought of it. If you want to share your ideas with me, I’d love that, and you can shoot me an email at [email protected].