Self care is something that I had never really heard of until about a year ago. I was sitting in my support group and one of the girls made the goal to practice more self care that week. I thought, what the heck is that? Are you really going to sit at home and color in one of those new adult coloring books? Couldn’t you be doing something more productive with your time? It sounds so crazy now, but the idea of intentionally taking time to care for myself was foreign. I have a job, I’m fighting an eating disorder, I have a husband and a dog and dinner to make and bills to pay and deadlines to meet and youth to serve, and a house to clean, who has time for coloring and slow walks through the park?
I mean, obviously I know that I need to take care of myself when I have a cold or get more sleep when I’m exhausted, brush my teeth and exercise, but that was kind of the extent of my “self care.” I had always been taught that you put others first and yourself last, so this idea of self care felt a little self indulgent. I mean, isn’t putting my needs first, selfish?
I think the word selfish sometimes gets a bad rap. Yes, being completely consumed with yourself, always wanting what benefits you with complete disregard for others is not cool. Is it possible though that sometimes being selfish is ok? Not sinful? Not “bad?” Is it possible that deliberately taking care of our mental, emotional and physical health is OK? That maybe we judge it as being selfish but it actually isn’t selfish at all? I know. This is REALLY hard for me too. As a Christian woman it’s been confusing at times to decipher if I’m being selfish or just taking care of my self.
When I first started practicing self care I had a mixture of feelings. It was wonderful! I also felt kind of guilty. Was it really ok for me to not do the dishes and instead go on an evening stroll to clear my mind? Is it truly not bad if I step away from editing photos at a normal hour so that I can read a book and drink some tea? I’m I really being selfish if I say no to volunteering at that church event because I have too much on my plate and truly need a night off? Am I being lazy and immature if I color and watch a movie once in a while?
I think we get so wrapped up in our jobs or roles or pleasing and caring for others that we don’t stop and simply take care of ourselves. I have no problem telling others to take the night off, or encouraging them to relax and get a massage, but I can't seem to justify it for myself. I have a to do list a mile long….putting that off would be terrible! We all have our limits though. Maybe we can stop judging ourselves for meeting our own needs. It’s not selfish to take care of yourself.
Call me crazy, but I have started to notice that when I practice self care not only do I feel better, but I am better able to take care of others and deal with things more appropriately. I have more energy. I feel more alert and less burnt out. I am able to release some stress and refocus on what I need to be doing and less on how tired I am. When I show myself some love, I am more able to also show others love because I am not bitter and exhausted because I’m ALWAYS on the go.
Self care has played a huge and crucial role in fighting my eating disorder. When I am run down and depleted of energy I am vulnerable to giving in to ED behaviors, thoughts and even worse, relapse. When I am exhausted my eating disorder has the largest opportunity to take over and run the show for the day, which in the end leads me to be even more mentally drained and depressed. This has happened to me many times. I will be in therapy, completely depressed, tired and at my whits end...and then my therapist says, have you been practicing any self care??
I have found that when I am at my lowest. When I have those days of extreme swelling. When I let my current situation get to me and a million trigger darts are speeding straight towards me....these are the times I need self care the most. When I practice self care I have the energy to fight my eating disorder. I am firing on all cylinders and I am able to easily challenge thoughts, practice my coping skills and have a pretty good day!
I think self care is hard for those of us recovering from eating disorders because we are actually use to harming and depriving ourselves. We haven’t treated out bodies and minds right for a very long time, so doing it now is actually defying our eating disorder. It’s saying, no, I’m going to take care of myself now. I’m going to intentionally carve out time to love and treat myself in a healthy way. I’m worth it.
So how exactly can one practice self care? Is it only getting $200.00 massages, taking vacations to Bora Bora and getting pedicures? NO! I’ve learned I can practice self care in many different ways! Here are some that work for me. (These are not the only ways to practice self care, these are just my ways. Find what’s good for you!)
Take a walk outside :) Sometimes I take the dog, sometimes I just go myself!
Listen to music. While I’m editing or working I put on music that is uplifting and that I love!
Read! I’ll take a little time in the evening or during lunch to read.
Turn off your phone. It’s hard to take time for myself when my phone is constantly buzzing.
Facials. I put on a face mask, lay down and listen to music, or a sermon, or a meditation.
Warm heating pads. While I work or even in the evening I will put a heating pad or bag on my neck and feel cozy!
Treat yourself. I will treat myself to my favorite tea at Starbucks! Peach tranquility is amazing and I feel so happy when I go and get a tea!
Get pampered. If I have some extra cash and a little window of time I like to go get a mani/pedi. I turn off my phone and just relax.
Go to a movie alone. For the first time this year I went to a movie by myself! It was wonderful! Now they have those recliner chairs and you can get a glass of wine. Fabulous.
Color! This one I really do have to make time to do, but it really is therapeutic. Coloring is not just for kids.
Get out in nature. I like to go for a hike or to a park and look at flowers. They are so beautiful!
Try out new products. Sometimes I will go to Ulta, Sephora or even Target and buy a new lotion, lipgloss or soap to try out. I get excited having something new and treating my body good!
SLEEP! There have been studies done that say a quick 15-20 minute nap can help us be more focused and improve our brain function! It’s hard to go to bed at a reasonable hour, but at times I force myself to get in bed a little early so I have the time to relax.
Exercise :) This one can be a little tricky because of my exercise bulimia. I’ve learned that exercise can be anything that gets my body moving. Yoga, a walk, lifting some weights, zumba, hiking, whatever gets you moving and feels good!
Vino! Have a glass of wine! For me sitting down with a friend and enjoying a glass of wine while catching up can truly make me feel less stressed and isolated.
Prayer and Meditation. Sometimes it’s nice to just sit. Quietly. Alone and pray. It connects me to God, refocuses my life on what is important and is restful.
Journal. Sometimes I just need to get my stress and anxiety out of my head and onto paper.
Podcasts. There are so many amazing podcasts out there. Some of my favorite are This American Life, Serial, How I Built This, Generation Why.
Eating something yummy. This is not saying that you treat yourself to your "bad" foods. I don't believe in good foods and bad foods anymore. It's saying, you know that cheesecake you like from that certain restaurant? Swing by and grab it!
Craft! Sitting down an doing my cross stitch is such a wonderful break from the day. My brain can only concentrate on those little x's.
Light a candle and lay back for 15 minutes and rest.
Compliment yourself! We are so busy worrying about what we aren't doing that we rarely let ourselves know how great we are actually doing.
SAY NO! This is the hardest one for me. Saying no feels like I’m letting other people down or being selfish, but sometimes saying no is exactly what I need to do.
Does self care mean that I don’t get anything done and sit around painting my nails jamming out to my favorite tunes every day? No. It means I intentionally take out some time in my week to take care of myself, especially when I’m starting to feel mentally drained, physically stressed and emotionally overwhelmed. Recovery is crucial for me and it won't happen if I don't take time to take care of myself! I'd rather give up 5% of my time to rejuvenate my energy, emotions and body, then give up 0% and be constantly drained.
I think we can all use a little more self care, don't you?!?!
- Sara -