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What is Self-Care, Anyway?

As a Mindfulness Coach I love that I get to have conversations with people about how to manage stress and cultivate more ease in their lives. I’ve found that in our over-scheduled days many of us feel like we don’t have the time for self-care and have lost sight of how important it is for us to take time to nurture ourselves (instead of focusing all our time and energy on everyone else). You’ve probably heard the old adage, “you can’t take care of others unless you care for yourself first”.

As a mom, business owner, and yoga teacher, I’ve found this to be painfully true. When I’m feeling completely depleted because I’ve been caring for others all day long, I tend to be reactive, hot-tempered, and overwhelmed. Sound familiar?

Luckily in the midst of my busiest stage of life (when I was a corporate junkie, had a husband deployed and was learning how to single parent a two year old), I found yoga. Yoga provided me with my first glimpse into what self-care was and the impact it could have on my life. The realization that self-care was something I could integrate into my life without having to schedule a “mental health” day off work was a complete eye opener.

It has been six years since that realization and I’ve come a long way in embracing the importance of putting on my oxygen mask first, before I can help others with theirs. As I’ve witnessed the impact of self-care on my own life, I am now an advocate for how helpful it can be for others who are in the height of their busy lives.

While working with a client the other day and exploring the stress and feeling of imbalance in her life, I asked, “what do you do for your own self-care?”

I was met with a response that befuddled me but at the same time took me right back to my earlier stage of life, where I would have likely asked the same question.

She said, “I don’t understand what you are asking - what is self-care?”.

At first I thought she was kidding with me and joking about her lack of self-care, but when looking at the questioning expression on her face, I realized she was, indeed, quite serious.

Good question, I responded. “What exactly is self-care?”

I believe that self-care is an important mindset and practice that is somewhat of a lost art.

When talking with Julie Burton recently, author of the Self-Care Solution, she shared that self-care is not simply an action that we take to nurture ourselves but it is also a personal value. It is something we must believe is important and worthy of our time and efforts. It must be ingrained in our minds as something that is important for us to do for our health.

Kind of like brushing your teeth.

As a society we’ve lost sight of how incredibly important it is and in our striving to get ahead in life, feel as if we don’t have time for something seemingly invaluable as self-care.

So, why is it so important?

If you look at the technologically driven digital age that we live in, you will see that most of us are tied to our phones and are “connected” 24/7. However, it is a false sense of connectedness as many of us feel a lack of true community. Not surprisingly, all the likes, comments, and emoji’s we get on social media don’t seem to fill the void of a face-to-face, heart-to-heart conversation.

In our striving to get ahead (for both adults and kids) in our careers, schools, and sports, we have forgotten what it’s like to have a free hour. An hour to simply be; with our thoughts uninterrupted and free to explore the depths of our souls. Sixty minutes to dream, to reconnect with what makes our hearts sing and what is most important to us in our lives.

In addition to filling our hours with scheduled activities and work, many of us are caretakers as well. As parents we have children that depend on us and as daughters and sons, we now have aging parents who need care taking. We fill any extra mental or emotional energy with making sure our friends, families, and colleagues know they can count on us whenever they need us.

We volunteer at school. We bring food to friends when a baby is born or when they are struggling. We send notes of gratitude to teachers, friends, family members. We care for others.

As we care for everyone else around us and remain in a state of constant busyness, and we often forget to take care of our selves. Why? Because we don’t value it. We value the importance of being there for everyone else but have forgotten how imperative it is that we breath the oxygen in first before offering our support to those around us.

But, what is self-care anyway?

In my humble opinion and simplified definition: Self-care is remembering, honoring and practicing what our bodies, minds, and spirits need in order to feel whole.

It was difficult for me to clearly define it to my client because self-care looks different for everyone. For me it is actively engaging in things make my heart smile and my life full. It is hitting the pause button so that I can reflect and replenish. It is experiencing life fully, in the present moment, so that I don’t miss the sound of my kids giggling, the breeze on my face, or the beauty that surrounds me daily.

I also know that when I am practicing self-care and taking time out for my yoga practice, meditation, or even a few much-needed breaths, I am a much calmer person. I have the ability to respond more intentionally to the things happening in my life instead of overreacting or acting from a place of fear, anger, or frustration.

Yesterday was one of those days.

After work I came home and was greeted by my dog, Rella who had obviously had a fun-filled, adventurous day. She was covered from her neck down in dirt, debris, and from what my nose was telling me, another animals poop. Not a pleasant sight or smell.

On a bad day I would have been incredibly frustrated and overwhelmed by this. Luckily today was a good day as I had mindfully practiced self-care and was able to put the situation into perspective and plan my attack from a responsive place instead of a reactive place.

I filled up a bucket of water with soap, grabbed a leash and enlisted my kids help. We hosed her down, scrubbed her with old towels and laughed all the while doing it. At one point she escaped and ran through an open door my son had left to the house, covering all the floors with her paw prints and her wet dog smell. Yet my calm demeanor and lack of reactivity prevailed. This time.

As I reflect back, I realize that when I’m not practicing self-care and my candle is burned to the wick, I let the flame engulf me and take over. When I am taking care of myself my flame can burn steadily and brightly. In other words, I am more resilient. I can find more joy in the simple moments. I can handle life’s challenges with ease. I can be fully present with my life’s experiences.

Valuing self-care is a mindset I have learned to fully embrace. I’ve learned to find small, yet meaningful ways to fill up my bucket first so that I can then enjoy spreading my care to others outside of myself.

For me, self-care looks something like this:

Yoga. Taking a walk, Reading a book. Spending time with friends. Saying no. Saying yes. Sleep. Good food. Travel. Meditation. Journaling. Dancing. Petting my dog. Looking at the stars. Watching the sun set. Hugging my kids. Taking a bath. Laughing. More Yoga.

Hopefully now you can also answer the question: What do you do for your own self-care?

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