Today is the day.
Today is the day that I lose friends and alienate people.
I’m known in my circles to be the “tell it like it is” friend, and the “don’t ask for an opinion if you don’t really want it” friend. And today is the day that I become that here on this blog.
I’ve mentioned self-care before, because it’s something that comes up a lot in session. Beyond that, it comes up with my friends, family, and it comes up in general conversation.
Our society is horrible at self-care. It’s just a fact.
Somehow, we have learned that self-care should be indulgence – Netflix binges, mani/pedis, hair appointments, cake – whatever it is that you put on a list of Things I'm Not Allowed To Do, or Things I Have To Earn.
The truth is, self-care should be part of your normal routine, not something that you earn.
It is the practice of taking care of yourself.
It literally says that in the words, you guys.
If I were to give a more practical and clinical definition of self-care, it would be this:
Self-care is actively engaging in the world around you in ways that reduce stress and leave you feeling motivated and energized. Generally, these are practices that help to maintain both short- and long-term health and well-being.
While I can entertain an argument of where exactly Netflix/TV, cake, and hair appointments fit on this spectrum, and I'm not saying any of these things are inherently bad, I have long struggled with the idea that these are actual self-care strategies.
This is because most of the time, Netflix is used as a form of avoidance. Especially Netflix in binge form.
I’ll just speak for myself here, and you tell me if this resonates. Netflix, TV, and screens of all kind, are usually used to escape life instead of engage in it. I sit down to binge on a Netflix show when I have completely burned myself out doing one thing or another and just can’t think/deal with people/talk to anyone anymore.
Similarly, I often flip through Facebook mindlessly – and that’s the point, the mindlessness of it.
These things may reduce momentary stress, but the moment I re-enter the world, I have done nothing to put myself in a more mindful, energized, or motivated position – thus, nothing has changed except the passing of time.
What Self-Care Is
If you are practicing self-care, you are regularly reducing the chances of burnout before you get there. You are mindfully taking action against your stress levels before you can no longer deal.
In thinking through what this may look like, please understand that self-care is not universal, it is actually very personal. What energizes one person, may sound like horrifying torture to another (running, I’m looking at you).
When working with clients and processing through self-care, I often talk about their childhood. Most kids are a lot better at self-care than adults.
Kids don’t even have to call it self-care. They usually just call it fun.
My daughter roller skates around the neighborhood with her iPod, joining her love for skating/physical activity with her creative love for music.
My son plays basketball with friends. He enjoys both the game of basketball, as well as the social aspect of it (which is why he’s much more apt to play with others than to shoot hoops by himself).
While you may be rolling your eyes at the idea of the difference in your energy level and my kids’, don’t miss the message here.
If you enjoy being outside, be outside. If you enjoy making things with your hands, find ways to do that. If you enjoy being around people, put yourself in more social situations.
Think back to when you were a kid.
What did you do with your free time that you really miss, or really loved? What part of that particular thing did you love about that activity – the social piece? The challenge? Being outside? Working with your hands? Creating?
How can you find ways to make those things happen in your adult life? They may not look the same – if you can’t physically play a sport, think of ways that you could still be involved, or another activity that you could still get similar benefits from.
Introverts and Self-Care
Introverts! I see you! I am one of your kind. Sometimes we just want to lock ourselves in a room and pretend like the world doesn’t exist. It feels natural. The idea of putting ourselves in more social situations makes us want to scream a little and hide. I get it.
I didn’t mention that my daughter is an introvert – her skating around the neighborhood is often completely by herself. She seeks out the playground nearby when no one else is there.
Just because you want to be alone doesn’t mean that you have to escape the world. You can still do things that leave you feeling energized when the people in your life have you drained.
You can do them all by yourself, just don’t forget to do them.
I know. You don’t have time for anything else in your life. You are already burnt out. Self-care is nothing but a dream for working parents and busy professionals.
You know those hours that you spend on Netflix binges? Flipping through Facebook? Mindlessly scrolling through the internet?
Have you ever really tracked the amount of time you spend doing those things? This 2016 study says that the average adult spends 100 minutes daily streaming Netflix – and that study was released before Stranger Things came out.
That’s an hour and a half a day – what could you find time for that would energize you with an extra 10.5 hours per week?
14 Day Challenge
So – here’s the challenge.
Can you do without Netflix for 14 days?
Can you regulate mindless screen-watching of all kinds for that period of time?
Could you limit Facebook/YouTube/Twitter/Whatever else for 14 days and see how that impacts how you feel about your time?
Let me know! I’d love to hear about your self-care strategies, and how this would impact your self-care routine (seriously, I'm kind of a self-care nerd). Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know what this looks like for you.
Brooke Williams, MA, LPC, is a counselor licensed to practice in South Carolina. She specializes in making relationships thrive – whether working on marriages, parenting, friendships, or conflict in the workplace. You can read more about her here.