Self Care: Luxury or Necessity?
When my husband relapsed into active alcoholism about four years ago, I felt like I was on high alert all the time, looking after someone who couldn't look after himself, let alone me. The vigilance and worry seemed to take away all my energy, and yet it was still hard to relax or even sleep.
Fortunately, I found great support within the recovery community, who told me that I had to take care of myself first. I could be no help to him if I was unable to think clearly or react calmly or even carry out my daily activities. I took this to heart, and right around the time he checked in to Hazelden, I subscribed for a monthly massage. When I was on that table, I let everything else go. I turned my phone off, and I had someone focusing solely on what I wanted and what made me feel good. I always felt better when I left, no matter how bad of a day it was when I walked in.
When I had my first daughter, the same vigilance, worry, and exhaustion came back, in an even bigger way. Here was another person who was entirely dependent on me around the clock. And even though I knew the importance of caring for myself, it was hard for me to even shower. I would spend the whole time wondering if it was a cry I heard over the sound of the rushing water—if I even made it into the shower at all. Because there were so many other things to do: laundry, feeding the dog, catching up on e-mail, making dinner, nursing the baby. The massages fell by the wayside.
Perhaps it was thinking about how many paid massages I'd lose if I cancelled my subscription that got me back to the table, leaking breasts and all. But once I started going back, I realized that the calmness it gave me lasted long after I got home. It also helped with my self-confidence, which was pretty low as my once-organized home descended into a debris field of baby gear and dirty laundry - a physical reflection of the chaos my life seemed to have become. Taking that hour reminded me that I was important. That I could still feel good, that I deserved to feel good, even when everything around me wasn't perfect.
The tricky thing about self care is that the times we need it most are the times when it's easiest to let it fall by the wayside. We're over scheduled, so let's take yoga off the calendar and we'll squeeze in some more work. Money is tight, and the monthly massage is an easy thing to cut from the budget. OK, I hear you. That one-hour class is really 40 minutes of driving, 20 minutes of changing, and 10 minutes of showering on top of 60 minutes of downward dog, and you can buy a lot of groceries with that massage money. Maybe that's what you need to do. But we also need to stop thinking about all self-care as a luxury.
The way I see it, self-care is all the things you would do for another living being to make sure they're mentally and physically healthy- but you provide them for yourself. You feed your kids nutritious food - so eat healthy. You put a wheel in your hamster's cage so he can run - so tie up your tennies and get out the door. You call your friend when she's having a rough day and you tell her you're there for her - so take a deep breath and tell yourself the same thing. You really don't have time for yoga class or the means for monthly massages. Could you watch a 15-minute yoga video instead? Rub some essential oils on your temples and take a few deep breaths? We owe it to ourselves and to the people in our lives to do what we can to be our best selves.
Here are some ideas for cheap or free things you can do to pamper yourself. Bonus points for making a regular habit out of one or more of them!
- Wake up before everyone else and enjoy a cup of coffee or tea all by yourself.
- Use YouTube to look up free yoga and guided relaxation videos.
- Take a bath. Throw in some Epsom salts to ease tired muscles, light a scented candle, and grab a book you've been meaning to read.
- Spend some quality time with your pet, walking or just cuddling. It's a proven way to reduce stress, and if you're chronically busy, chances are your fur baby is missing you.
- If you like manicures or pedicures but don't want to pay full price, look up the local beauty school to get one from a student.
- Close the curtains, turn up your favorite song, and have a solo dance party.
What are your favorite ways to spend your precious me-time? Please share in the comments!