Recently, in a desperate craving for some semblance of peace and normalcy amidst a particularly chaotic September, I signed up for a “self-care” email series.
When the first email arrived, suggesting readers take more bubble baths with scented epsom salt, my jaw dropped, and my heart did a bit, too.
Scented epsom salt baths are lovely, as a form of relaxation and pampering.
But for a self-care proponent to suggest, as a first level intervention, something as simplistic as a warm bath seems almost irresponsible. Allow me to explain.
For generations, women’s magazines and self-help books have presented bubble baths as the epitome of home-based self-care. A “mini spa retreat” with scented products and 20 minutes of peace and quiet is proposed as an, “easy and inexpensive!” way to practice self care.
In reality, this type of pampering or relaxation barely scratches the surface of a truly effective self care approach. A full-blown spa day barely scratches the surface.
Pampering and relaxation are a component of self-care, but I would argue that they are the least important parts. Pampering may be the icing on the cake of a self-care approach, but no amount of pampering in the world will make someone who is stressed and dissatisfied with life feel content.
In psychological research, self-care is often researched from the lens of preventing provider burnout- “healer heal thyself.” Doctoral students and clinicians are reminded to incorporate practices that keep them feeling stable and healthy while providing care to others. These suggestions often include some of the relaxation and pampering interventions I mentioned, but they go beyond that. The suggestions for clinicians include setting boundaries, managing one’s own health, disconnecting from work and other holistic interventions that go beyond the bubble bath.
There are implications for this truly integrated, systemic form of self care that everyone should understand.
Self-care, to me, is about being a steward of the life you were given. It means respecting and caring for your body, mind and soul, as if you were your own loving parent. Self-care includes building habits that create a life that makes you feel blessed.
Self-care to me, is:
-Choosing your own priorities
-Standing up for yourself
-Eating nutritious foods
-Keeping your body active (active enough; but not over-exerting your body on a regular basis)
-Saying “no” when you mean no
-Aligning your resources with your values- spending your time, money and energy on the things that truly matter to you (so many “self-care” articles will urge you to buy things to “treat yourself.” This backfires in a big way if debt or financial instability are a concern for you.)
-Living within your means
-Speaking your truth and
-Maintaining your privacy
-Doing work you love
-Going to therapy
-Incorporating a spiritual practice
-Taking care of your living things (be they children, pets or plants)
-Resting. As often as you need to.
-Unapologetically claiming your life as your own, without the pressure of trying to please everyone
Please don’t read this and create a giant “to do” list for yourself. Instead, see it as a way to incorporate sustainable changes in your approach to how you care for yourself. From the suggestions above, if you were to select 2-3 to really commit to and focus on, you’d find yourself experiencing life in a different way.
Adult Children of Alcoholics, a 12-step program for adults who were raised in dysfunctional families, urges members to, “become your own loving parent.”
To me, that’s the crux of self-care.
Regard yourself as you regard those you love, and set your own health and wellness as a non-negotiable priority. Throw in a bubble bath here and there, and then come back and report on what’s working and where you’re stuck.
Thanks for reading!