Self Love Hack #6 & 7: Self care isn’t selfish

Today is the last day of August and I have one more self love hack to share with you.  Self care is a necessity, not an indulgence.

When I first learned about the concept of “self care” I thought it sounded more like self indulgent pampering and required lots of beauty products (my relationship with which is another story for another day).  I totally saw it as a luxury and definitely not as something that should be prioritized.

Meanwhile, I felt so behind (and guilty about it) in my work, that I would negotiate with myself about taking breaks.  I would try to force myself to finish a task I’d been putting off, or a task that kept being pushed to the back of the priorities because it didn’t have a specific due date, before I would allow myself to take a break, or get up for lunch, or even a snack.  The bargaining never worked out in favor of getting the task done, and the usual outcome was that I’d get so hungry my head would start to pound and my focus would drift away and I’d basically just sit at my desk pushing priorities back and forth, getting nothing accomplished until I was so hungry and useless that I’d end up bingeing to soothe the hunger and the shame.

The irony of this is that I work in marketing and operations in the service industry and we tell our stores ALL THE TIME “you can’t sell from an empty wagon” or “you can’t pour from an empty cup” or “you can’t get water from an empty well” and all of the other variations on this cliche. If we didn’t invest in new inventory, we would eventually run out of things to sell and would ultimately go out of business.  This is as true in physiology and psychology as it is in business.  We might already know and accept that athletes need fuel.  Body builders know when they need to eat protein and fats and carbs before and after workouts, and when they need to rest, to help build up and heal their muscles.  Body builders don’t eat because they have somehow rationalized that they *earned the privilege*  and they don’t rest because they are giving up/lack willpower, but because they know they will not be successful in their physical endeavor without proper amounts of fuel and rest/rejuvenation.

This is also 100% true in recovery and life in general.  If we don’t give our minds and bodies fuel and rest, they start to shut down non-essential systems, in order to keep us alive.  Bodies are brilliant at adapting to circumstances, but when they lack resources, they aim to survive, not thrive.  You might be thinking (I know I did for a long time) that you don’t have the energy to do self care, you don’t have time to take care of yourself, but it is absolutely critical that you build it into your schedule, because if you burn the candle at both ends, you’re eventually going to flame out and then you won’t just not be able to take care of yourself, you won’t be able to take care of anything or anyone.

Once I got to the point of believing I could better take care of my work, and the people who counted on me, when I was sufficiently taking care of myself, I still needed to figure out what that meant for me and how to go about it.  This part is all about trial and error.  After spending most of my life filling idle time with out of control thoughts and process addictions (and there were many, maybe I’ll dedicate a post next month to my cross-addictions), I had no idea what kinds of activities I actually enjoyed that also made me feel full, alive, satisfied, rejuvenated, etc.

In addition to not knowing what would be helpful to me, I also have a difficult time making decisions in general (especially when I’m already mentally tapped out), so even if I had a strong desire to go and do SOMETHING for myself, I’d end up too overwhelmed deciding what that something might be, which just resulted in spending the day on the couch watching a Law & Order marathon and feeling guilty about it (spoiler alert, guilt and shame are pretty much the opposite of self care).  It helped me to sit down and make a list of ALL the things I might enjoy (open ended opportunity to add to it later) and then just close my eyes and put my finger on something to do, so I didn’t have to make a difficult decision in the moment.  You can also make yourself a self care calendar and schedule things.

Make a calendar and keep your commitments, even if they are “just” coloring for 5 minutes a day and washing your face once a week.

They might even be things you do anyway.  Consider the things you already do that might have self care value for you.  One of my dear friends LOVES to mow the lawn when she needs a break from work/thoughts/life.  It’s a chore that needs to be done, but she uses it to her advantage.  I don’t have a great history of taking care of my skin, so following a nightly face cleaning regiment is deliberate act of self care.  Side note, thoughts are SUPER IMPORTANT in this process.  If I decide to make face washing part of my self care routine and then I spend my face washing time thinking about how it’s a waste of time and I hate it and I shouldn’t be doing it, then that’s going to have the opposite outcome than what you intended.

Again, self care doesn’t have to be a big, time consuming undertaking.  Sometimes I like to paint my nails.  Sometimes self care is just walking away from my desk and watching a 30 minute episode of something that makes me laugh out loud.  Sometimes taking 5 minutes every hour or two to paint a few more sections on my calendar is just as refreshing as a day at the lake.  The important part to remember is that you are doing something, intentionally, for the express purpose of taking care of yourself.

Commit to the things you’ve scheduled for yourself the same way you would commit to an appointment, or a date with a friend.  Think about how you feel when a friend keeps cancelling the plans you’ve made together.  I tend to feel abandoned, unloved, undervalued, sad, etc.  Think about the message you send yourself, when you cancel your self care… I’ll wait.

Lastly, and I guess you could call this hack #7, because it applies way beyond self care specifically: ACT AS IF.  It’s a chicken and egg situation.  If you wait to treat yourself as if you have value until you feel like you have value, then you will never get to feeling like you have value.  Act as if you believe you deserve time spent on yourself.  Act as if you think you are worthy of the resources you require.  Keep treating yourself the way you would treat someone you love, even if you don’t love yourself yet, and you might just start to feel different.

I’d love to hear what kinds of self care activities you come up with, or already incorporate into your days and weeks.  Leave a comment below, or join me on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/recoveringgirl/

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