When the clock struck midnight on January 1st, 2015 I resolved to make a concerted effort to consciously practice self-care. What that meant to me was spending any free time swaddled in various plush blankets eating whatever I wanted without worrying about my body. I gained fifteen delicious pounds and banished anyone who dared speak to me about my beautiful body. After a time, however, I started to feel sluggish and tired well before noon on most days, and generally began to feel quite unhappy. Eating whatever I wanted and lying around watching old episodes of Felicity was glorious, but in the larger picture I started to suspect that what I was doing had less to do with self-care than with self-indulgence, and that’s when I began to really consider what practicing self-care actually means.
Firstly, it’s important to establish that self-care is not selfish. It may seem counter-intuitive as a woman to put yourself first in any capacity; it may even make you feel downright guilty. In a world where we are bombarded by commercials depicting women falling over themselves to chase after children covered in mud to clean their uniforms with the most efficient detergent, or mothers competing with each other over who does her family’s dishes the best (pro tip: any woman who is competing over who’s using the best dish soap has already lost a bigger battle), it’s no wonder we forget that we’re allowed to put ourselves ahead of others. Put down that bottle of dish soap for a second and think about what you need for a change, won’t you?
Giving yourself the things you need does not have to mean that you lose control over any sense of propriety and moderation. Don’t get me wrong, if you want to eat some pizza and Chinese food and an entire sleeve of Pringles while sitting in your bathtub on a Tuesday afternoon, #liveyourtruth. We’re all jealous that you’re giving yourself that gift. However, self-care has much more to do with your overall health and happiness than it does with defiantly indulging in the “once you pop, you can’t stop” motto, and therefore it’s important to consider balancing this with the bigger picture.
Deciding to take care of yourself is work. It’s all fun and good to go on a vacation once a year and bask in the sand and sunshine, but day-to-day self-care involves showing up for certain commitments and responsibilities that are worth investing your time and energy in. You deserve to give yourself the things you need in order to live your life without an inordinate amount of stress. In my own case, that includes saving money, paying my bills on time, and keeping my house clean. These are not necessarily always enjoyable self-love practices, but their contributions to my overall happiness on a daily basis are essential.
There is also something to be said for deciding just how much of your free time you want to invest in certain activities. I’m not necessarily suggesting you stop showing up for the responsibilities and commitments you’ve set up in your life, but rather that you may want to invest your time in them wisely and carefully. If you’ve said yes to more commitments than you feel happy being present for, that’s probably an indication that taking on too much is not for you. You are allowed to say no to anything you want (it feels so good). Alternatively, if you feel happiest with a calendar that is jam-packed with social obligations, #blessyou for having the energy that most of us do not.
Self-care can be as simple as deciding to have a bath each night before bed, giving yourself twenty minutes to lounge around in bed before you get up, enjoying a cup of coffee, or riding your bike on a preferred route to work. When you start to break down the things that you need in your day to day, minute to minute existence to ease some of the stress of being alive (mortality? ahhh!), giving yourself permission to put yourself first becomes a much more manageable task.
Buy yourself that dress that makes you look fabulous if it’s not going to break your budget, give yourself an hour a day where you don’t talk to anybody if that’s something you need, or call in sick because you really just need a day off.
It’s okay to put yourself first, unapologetically.