I want to clear the air on self-care. I feel like self-care has become confused with the coping strategies we use to justify hitting the emergency button on life. Life can be challenging, I totally get it. I’m the first to acknowledge that you need strategies to help get you through when life becomes too much. There is a better way though, so let’s understand what real self-care is and how to look after ourselves. You are here, you are now and you need to show up because the world needs you. Start taking an active role in protecting your own health and happiness as a daily expression of self-love rather than a life emergency.
self-care is not a coping strategy
Are you mistaking your coping strategy for self-care? Here is what a coping strategy might look like . . .
- calling in sick and hanging out at home in your pj’s for days on end because you just can’t face the world right now.
- having that glass of wine at the end of the day (every day) to congratulate yourself for getting through it all.
- spoiling yourself with that new dress when your bank account would say no.
- deciding to stay at home and watch Netflix instead of joining your friend for a workout.
- needing to go on regular yoga retreats to recover from your life.
Coping strategies are completely normal and you may have adopted them from people you know, your friends and family because they give you a short term pay off in the form of comfort, familiarity, safety or power that you feel you need. We all need a plan for when life gets too much, but coping strategies are not to be confused with real self-care. The difference is usually that there is a price to pay for these strategies, especially if you are choosing a coping strategy as a way of living. They often rely on something external to us to bring ourselves back into balance, and can become a dependency if left unchecked and unacknowledged for what they are.
So next time you are tempted to hide away from it all, I want you to ask yourself whether you feel happier and healthier? Or are you numbing yourself to how you really feel, ignoring your better judgement or distracting yourself so you don’t have to deal with the realities of your life? Is this genuinely the solution you need right now to ensure you protect your health and wellbeing now and in the future?
Often coping strategies are a form of procrastination from taking action on a daily basis in order to look after ourselves. We all need rest, and incorporating rest as a priority, rather than making it the last resort is self-care. It’s a harsh truth, but it’s time to stop with the coping strategies and start caring enough to show up for yourself and putting your need for rest first rather than last. It doesn’t have to be a life makeover, just making small decisions to put yourself first and taking meaningful actions every day can make a huge difference to how you feel.
why do we need self-care?
Self-care and self-worth are inextricably linked. If you value yourself, your time and have a strong sense of who you are you are less likely to compromise your health and happiness for someone or something else. Self-care is overcoming that vicious cycle of overwhelm and exhaustion followed by needing to ‘treat yourself’ to come back into some state that resembles balance. Do you spend all of your time rushing about trying to be someone you are not, or trying to be everything? this can completely drain you of your time and energy, preventing yourself from making time to rest because you are too busy trying to keep up with your expectations of who you should be.
what does real self-care look like?
- knowing you are enough
- living your life for you and no one else
- being comfortable in your own skin
- taking responsibility for your own needs
- having a balanced approach to giving and receiving
- nurturing your body and mind with daily practices that support your health and well-being
You do not need anything external to who you are to be able to care for yourself. You are enough as you are and that you can step off that expectation treadmill any time you want. I totally get the fear of not being able to keep up, or feeling like you are going to be left behind. I have known that feeling and felt that pressure to be everything for everyone and exhausted myself running in circles trying to stay on top of it all. It’s stressful, painful and usually ends in face-planting in front of everyone. I can tell you right now that if you aren’t paying for it already, you will feel the effects of the often self-destructive coping strategies at some point and it won’t look pretty. Funnily enough, it also creates the opposite outcome to what you are searching for – that recognition or approval from others that you are enough.
So how do you choose conscious self-care? Well, you might have to take some time out to get to know yourself again. Understanding those essential needs and how to make them a part of your life on a daily basis is the first step. Think of that feeling when you have finally done something that was on your to-do list for a whole year, the sigh of relief, the immediate space that seems to open up in your mind and the new energy you have to knock another life-admin task off the list. Daily self-care creates a beautiful buffer zone that can protect you from the everyday stresses of life and any detrimental effects they could have on your health and happiness. You’ll have more time and energy and will actually feel invested and purposeful in how you spend your time. The more time I take to look after myself and my well-being with daily self-care practices the less likely I am to feel anxious or stressed, become overwhelmed or get sick.
The challenging part of self-care is having the courage to look at yourself in the mirror and admit where you are creating your own problems and making life harder for yourself because of your own expectations of what being enough looks like. Having the courage to accept you are not a victim anymore and that you are the only one who can truly take responsibility for your own health and happiness. Acknowledging that you are enough and are not a DIY project or need to be fixed and that takes time. Learning how to protect your time and energy can be uncomfortable. It often involves saying no to the people, things and circumstances that aren’t supporting you and yes to what you really need. It takes practice. But just start simple and try taking care of yourself one day at a time . . . and maybe you will find a lot of the problems you were trying to fix start to dissolve away or seem insignificant in the scheme of things.
Choosing yourself can lead to the ultimate freedom of being yourself, living your own life without the measuring stick of other people or societies expectations. It’s time to just be you. That is the heart of real self-care.