I am burned out. My house is a mess. My hair is dirty. My kids are napping, and I know I need to take a shower, but instead, I’m going to clean the kitchen so that the piled-up dishes stop frowning at me from the sink. I’ll feel better starting the afternoon with a clean kitchen and state of mind that actually brings me peace. And this is okay. For me.
I see those beautifully written and curated posts about self-care that are meant to encourage me to set aside other’s needs and tend to my own. Sometimes these posts do their job and I make a plan to “do something” to recharge. But I recharge by doing things for others and feeling satisfied in having met their needs as only I can.
The way we are conditioned to think about self-care affects what we do and how we feel about it. For me, it’s not a choice between sacrificing enough to validate myself as a ‘good enough’ mom, or believing that self-care is integral to my wellbeing. It is a matter of knowing I deserve it—in my way—and that should be okay.
Our culture values and glorifies self-sacrifice. “We promote the employee who works 80-plus hours a week; we idolize the mom who never seems to need a break,” according to clinical psychologist, Dr. Jessica Michaelson. “This belief that self-sacrifice is best creates a great deal of shame when we feel like we need something different.”
And too often there are barriers that prevent us from practicing self-care. In a recent study published in Midwifery, researchers examined mothers’ perceptions regarding the role of self-care, their ways of self-care, and the barriers to doing it. The findings? Whether the mothers thought self-care was essential or not, barriers like time and other limited resources—money, social support, and difficulty accepting help and setting boundaries—prevented them from actually practicing it.
But worrying that needing self-care makes you selfish or weak should not be the barrier that prevents you from obtaining it. “Self-care absolutely is not the same as selfishness. Selfishness is lacking any consideration about others and profiting by this. Self-care is about making sure that we are well and healthy so that we are more available to help others,” explained author, therapist and Silicon Valley health coach, Drew Coster.
Self-care can be as simple as a shift in perspective that leads to a better quality of life.
Self-care can mean many different things, but knowing what self-care is *not* might be even more important. Self-care is not something you force yourself to do or something you don’t enjoy doing, either. Clinical psychologist, Agnes Wainman, explains that caring for yourself is doing “something that refuels us, rather than takes from us.” That means whatever works for you, works for you. Even if that means letting others do something for you.
So if a spa day or binging on Netflix aren’t your thing, that’s okay, because self-care actually might not be what you add, but what you take away. You can give yourself permission *not* to do something, or eliminate tasks that are draining.
One tiny bit of self-care can make all the difference.
“In a perfect world, most of us would love to get an hour-long massage every day, take a bubble bath every night, and enjoy a relaxing gourmet meal each day. Is that possible for most of us? No,” says Jacqueline Getchius, MA, LPCC, licensed professional clinical counselor and owner of Wellspring Women’s Counseling based in Minnesota. “Instead, we need to take a good look at what actually is possible. Start small.”
Some examples of small acts of self-care that can refuel you just as much as that hour-long massage:
- Allow yourself to worry about something tomorrow
- Sit down and put up your feet instead of sorting the socks
- Let your partner do an extra chore
- Go for a short walk without the dog
- Skip a workout for once and have a cup of tea
- Instead of doing a whole meditation, take five deep breaths
- Turn your phone off for 30 minutes
- Throw something out
- Don’t stay up late—let all the things wait
- Unfollow someone on social media who brings you down
Bottom line: Self-care is as unique as you, mama. However you identify it, the key is that it refuels you in *your* way, however that looks.