Real Self-Care

No self-help book these days is complete without a mention of self-care. If you want to care for others, you have to care for yourself too. You can’t pour from an empty cup, you can’t give if there’s nothing to give, yadayadayada. You get the picture, self-care is hot!

And rightfully so, to be honest. I’ve put myself at the bottom of my priority list for a long time (another one of those clichés), and forgot to take care of myself. It leads to frustration, exhaustion, disconnection from others and yourself. It’s bad, for sure.

So how do you DO self-care? What does that mean? Really?

The usual tips involve giving yourself a treat. Maybe a large glass of wine, or that nice eclair from the bakery (my favorite), or a few episodes of a new show, or a new dress. You indulge in something because you feel you deserve it. We can be forgiven for that narrative, it is plausible, highly attractive and supported by our consumerist culture. And yes, you DO deserve to be taken care of.
But not like that. It doesn’t really work.

Self-care should be something that fills your cup, that gives you more energy, that makes you feel fuller (no, not your stomach) and more vibrant. When’s the last time a Netflix-marathon made you feel vibrant? We confuse self-care with escaping our reality. (More on that in my previous post: Your drug of choice) And that only makes you feel less bleh/sad/tired/… in the moment itself. It doesn’t have effects that last for a few hours, let alone a few days.

So what does give you energy? What makes you feel inspired? More creative? Just more fulfilled? This isn’t always the behavior that is the most appealing in the moment. It’s not what you’ll most WANT to do. But it will make you feel better in the long run.

Figuring out what those things are for yourself is step 1: Think of what works for YOU, not what society says. Step 2, for me, is implementing these things at times when I know I’ll need a boost. I need to plan this in advance, or I’ll immediately go for my drug of choice when things get rough. I need to make the choice BEFORE I start feeling drained.

I’m currently planning ahead for a 3-day weekend alone, without my kids who will be with their father, and have listed the following self-care acts for myself:

  • walks in the forest
  • healthy food
  • meditation
  • writing
  • keeping my living room clean (I’ll get slumpy (that’s a word) right away if it’s not.)
  • reading
  • a dopamine detox day

Most of these activities are really enjoyable, I really, genuinely enjoy healthy food, walking, writing, … Yet, I often forego on them for something as numbing as watching YouTube.

Fingers crossed I’ll be able to steer clear of running my automatic programs.

P.S. Treating yourself with something every now and then (or often) is of course absolutely wonderful. That’s just what it is: a treat, not a treatment.

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