Self-care is not something we were taught as children and many of us were encouraged to put others’ needs before our own. And yet, self-care is the foundation for anything else you want to do in life. If you’re not caring for yourself, it’s unsustainable to go on for long without finding yourself exhausted, depleted, grumpy, resentful, or burnt out. If you want to contribute to the greater good, you first need to be well resourced and filled up.
So, what do I mean when I say “self-care?” What’s my working definition of this idea I have been exploring, practicing, and teaching for the past 8 years?
For years I have worked with Renee Trudeau’s definition, “Self-care is the art of attuning and responding to your needs and desires, moment by moment.”
I love this definition because it makes it clear that it’s not something that we come by naturally – it’s something we learn and practice and become better at the more we work at it. It is an art. There’s a beauty to it.
The idea of “attuning and responding” is critical, because lots of times we KNOW what our needs are, but we don’t take the time to respond to them. We skip meals, over-riding the hunger cues that come and eventually go, to keep on working. We never go to the bathroom during the day despite an obvious need for that simple relief. We ignore the need to rest or sleep or the need for a break to refresh the mind… We know… we know what we need to do differently, and we can do a much better job of responding to what we know. We can become a trustworthy ally to ourselves when we begin to listen inwardly and respond accordingly.
“Moment by moment” is also key because it reminds us that self-care isn’t something that only happens at the scheduled appointments or classes. It’s not something we will get to once a week or once a month. It’s something we can offer ourselves throughout each day, in each moment, when we are tuned in to ourselves.
For the past 8 years I have worked deeply with self-care. It’s amazed me how vast the concept is and how my understanding of it has deepened and expanded as I work with it, embody it, bring it into my daily life. It continues to grow in relevance and meaning. Mostly I have learned that self-care isn’t so much about what you do as how you are with yourself. It’s about cultivating a loving commitment to yourself. It’s about coming home to yourself and having that home be a safe, kind, and welcoming place.
In simplest terms, here’s what resonates with me at this moment:
“Self-care: Being true to and gentle with yourself, one moment at a time.”
~ Barb Klein
Being true to yourself means honoring yourself, the needs of your body, mind, heart, and spirit, knowing what works for you and what doesn’t (because, let’s face it, not everything is a good fit for everyone), knowing what your boundaries and limits are (moment by moment), and knowing what your capacity is and what’s sustainable for you.
Being true to yourself means saying “no” when that’s what you mean, even if that might mean disappointing someone else. Being true to yourself means stepping away when you need some quiet time, even if people might want you around. Being true to yourself means following teachers who resonate with what feels right inside your heart and gut and not letting yourself get talked into something just because someone says you should. Being true means trusting your intuition, your inner hunches and knowing and following your sparks of inspiration. These are just some ways we can be true to ourselves. It is so freeing the more true we are!
For example, I have been down on myself about my weight… the “Covid 15” is real in this body. I was revisiting the idea of trying the South Beach diet again (which I did years ago with some success and subsequent weight gain), eliminating sugar (and maybe a bunch of other stuff) which immediately throws me into a need to chow down on all the things I think I’m not going to eat again – deprivation mode… does not work for me. It also doesn’t work for me to be beating myself up, calling myself harsh words, or feeling guilty or ashamed for how I look, that my clothes don’t fit any more, or for what I eat. Enter the idea to “be gentle with yourself.” I realized that most of the diet tactics I’ve tried don’t work for me and that they all feel pretty aggressive and harsh… I needed to find something that allowed me to be true to myself.
I am so grateful I pulled out the book Eat to Love by Jenna Hollenstein (who, in addition to being an anti-diet dietitian who helps people struggling with chronic dieting, disordered eating, and body image, was also one of my meditation instructor teachers and someone I trust and respect). With the support of this book I am taking a much more gentle approach in regards to food, eating, and my body. Through the book, Jenna is helping me learn to trust my body’s wisdom, tune into its signals for hunger and fullness, as well as respect what and when I want to eat. I am realizing how conditioned I have been to not trust and honor my own body. It’s refreshing to begin to love myself in a new way.
Being gentle with yourself means that we recognize that being harsh or punitive is rarely motivating and that beating ourselves up only wears us down. Being gentle means treating ourselves with grace and compassion, letting go of the idea of perfection, and offering the same love and care that we would offer to those we love and care about. When you are gentle with yourself, you have permission to try something and decide you don’t like it. You can play with things, experimenting to discover what works for you and what doesn’t. You can adapt your practices to fit the reality of your life day by day rather than holding onto rigid expectations. You can bring in a lighthearted approach to the way you move through life.
One moment at a time is the best way I’ve found to approach life. When I remember it (key notation!), it allows me to stay in the present, to not get too far ahead of myself in projected stories or ideas of how things are going to turn out. It allows me to face what’s here and to respond based on what’s true for me in this moment. It allows me to avoid overwhelm by taking on too much at once.
We only need to deal with this moment, right here, right now. That doesn’t mean we don’t think about the future consequences of our choices… but it does mean that we only need to make the choices that are before us now. It means we can adjust… we can change our minds or our course as needed. We don’t need to try to take on the next week or year or twenty years all at once. One moment, one breath, one choice at a time, we treat ourselves with respect and gentle loving care.
Self-care is an ongoing practice
When we remember that self-care is an ongoing practice…not something you do and check off your list as done or mastered, we can be gentle with ourselves when we forget what we know or when we don’t do what we wish we had. One moment at a time reminds us that we can choose differently in that next moment. The number of fresh starts we can take is unlimited.
What are your thoughts? How do you define self-care? How are you true to and gentle with yourself? What gets in your way? Please share! Let’s learn and grow together.
**Sidenote: If you’re interested in finding out more about being true to your body and trusting its wisdom, I invite you to check out the book Eat to Love and Jenna’s website. Also, Glennon Doyle and her sister, Amanda, had a recent episode on “Our Bodies: Why are we at war with them and can we ever make peace? “ on their We Can Do Hard Things podcast which was a refreshing exploration of this topic.