It seems like the words “self care” are on everyone’s lips right now. The last two books I read, Own Your Life by Sally Clarkson and The Fringe Hours by Jessica Turner (you should probably stop reading this post right now and go read both of them), emphasize the importance of self care, of intentionally building in time for it on a regular basis.
But what is self care, exactly? What does it look like? Is it pedicures and indulging in a pair of new earrings and the occasional deviation from our Paleo diets in favor of a doughnut (I’ll take a glazed old-fashioned, thanks very much)? Maybe.
Self care is the practice of incorporating into our busy schedules the things that make us healthier (mentally and emotionally as well as physically), happier, and more satisfied with our lives. Self care means deliberate rest and relaxation. It means physical activity that provides a sense of well-being (not the grueling, miserable kind). Self care means engaging in hobbies and pastimes you love, even if those activities are not lucrative or overtly productive for your household (reading a good book, scrapbooking, writing, baking cookies), even if they detract from the pile of laundry on your bedroom floor and the dust bunnies in the corners of your living room. Self care is indulgence in a healthy way – not gluttony or slothfulness, but pausing to fill your own tank with what makes you tick, with what refreshes you, whether that’s a Venti Caramel Macchiato, Jane Green’s latest novel, or your 3,754th viewing of the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice, the one with Colin Firth.
What self care is not: Cleaning. Grocery shopping (which, admittedly, can sometimes feel like a lovely escape from chaos if you do it kid-free, but don’t be deluded into thinking this is real self care). Laundry. Ironing. P90X (unless you are one of those rare people who just gets pumped doing P90X – to each his own). Mowing the lawn (although gardening might be considered self care, if you find it truly therapeutic).
There is a veritable outcry that we are in desperate need of self care. We are burned out, unhappy, dissatisfied, depressed. We need more naps on the couch, more walks in the woods, more Gilmore Girls re-runs. We need more date nights. We need to worry less about whether the house is clean and our families are getting a homecooked meal seven nights a week (order pizza, for Pete’s sake).
In Jen Hatmaker‘s new book, For the Love, which releases this in coming August (yes, I got to read it early – don’t hate), there’s an essay about how we as a culture are trying to fit too much stuff into our crowded lives, like a gymnast trying to carry a bunch of unnecessary crap while performing on the balance beam. You simply can’t have too many things “on the beam,” or you’re going to meet with disaster. Jen’s challenge for all of us is to get rid of the extra stuff that’s cluttering up our lives – to boot it “off the beam.” She’s not talking about dumping the necessities, like cleaning and cooking and caring for our families, but the other stuff, the stuff we don’t really love but seem to keep doing anyway. Committees and serving opportunities and the PTA. We need to get this stuff off our beams to make room for the stuff that actually fills us up. More self care.
I try to carve out a little time for self care every day – a walk outside, a few minutes of yoga, a chapter of a good book or a few rows of knitting before bed, an episode of Parenthood during my lunch hour. But I’ve found I need self care in larger chunks, too.
In the interest of better self care, I’ve taken back Friday afternoons. I’m using half of a vacation day every week to carve out time for my own passion projects, most of which involve writing. I did the same thing a year ago, from New Year’s until Labor Day, when E got his new job and went away for training. Let me tell you, those Friday afternoons were consistently my favorite hours of the week. Not that I don’t love being with my people, but getting away and spending a chunk of time on the things that uniquely satisfy me enables me to love my people better, because I’m filling my tank, refreshing myself. I’m making room in my life to just be ME.
Granted, not everyone can take Friday afternoons off. But what can you do? What chunk of time can you reclaim for self care? Saturday morning? Sunday afternoon? Thursday evening? If you had an extra three or four hours, what would you do with them?
Go – figure out your options. You won’t regret it.
As for me, this Friday thing might be the best self care decision I’ve made in a year. I’ll be sure to let you know.
Photo credit: Ahmed Hashim. License: Creative Commons 2.0.