Self-care is something therapists constantly talk about both for themselves as well as advise their clients to do. Even though it’s constantly discussed many people have misconceptions about what self-care is or is not. Frequently people tell me, “That seems so selfish”. As fall begins and things start to get busier it’s a great time to address what self-care is and is not. An understanding of self-care helps you be a whole person and function at your very best.
Self-care is about being in-tune with your own needs and how your own body and mind are doing. When you start to notice your individual signals that you are running on empty physically or emotionally then self-care steps in to make sure you don’t push beyond your limits. This is all about knowing the limits that are unique to you; including body, mind, and spirit and respecting what those limits are. We all have limits and sometimes they keep us from doing things we’d want to do or thought we could squeeze in. Self-care is all about saying no when that limit is hit and protecting your body, mind, or spirit.
An important aspect of self-care is not forsaking your obligations, responsibilities, or areas where others depend on you for more pleasurable or interesting activities. It’s not self-care to cancel on your volunteer or work shift last minutes to get your nails done or go shopping. Self-care is about meeting your obligations, responsibilities and caring for those you’ve committed to caring for and then doing what you need to do to refill yourself after pouring out for others. Self-care is the constant process of helping ourselves refill after we’ve used our mental, physical, and emotional resources for the betterment of others or the world. Self-care is also about addressing and healing our own hurts whether they are physical or emotional.
One of the aspects of self-care, that is often overlooked, is when done well it is work. Going to therapy and talking about and healing past hurts is self-care. Going to the doctor and dentist and dealing with any problems head on is self-care. Exercise, a good diet, and a healthy sleep schedule are all self-care. The essence of good self-care is awareness and attentiveness to your own physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.
It is especially important not to overlook the spiritual aspects of self-care. Just like no one can force you to eat healthy or get enough sleep no one can make your relationship with God for you. Only you can be aware of the needs of your spiritual life and then attend to them. Ignoring your spirituality does not make it go away either. As Solomon said “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart” (Ecc 3:11, NIV). We have a natural yearning for things bigger and grander than ourselves and it is our obligation to seek his truth.
Finally, self-care can be fun. It is good to laugh, spend time with friends, do something extra for ourselves or treat ourselves with kindness. In all these things we are caring for our needs, but it is important to keep the above in mind as well. Unselfish self-care is about seeing and meeting our own needs so that we can continue to pour into others. In this way we continue to be able to do the good works prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).