When recently asked about my Sunday self-care routine, I explained that I’ve learned the hard way that self-care isn’t a once a week treat, but a fundamental way of living intentionally. (That’s not to say Sundays aren’t a good day to indulge more thoroughly!)
But while there’s certainly been increased discussion around the importance of self-care, with the feminist author Audre Lourde going as far as to declare that “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation....” there is still a risk that the term ‘self-care’ is being oversimplified, and therefore misrepresented as merely running ourselves a sweet smelling bath once in a while.
As the MidLife Coach, I see women overwhelmed by the struggle to juggle unsustainable levels of parent-care, child-care, career-care, relationships care; home-care, and much more. Self-care is often the collateral damage.
That’s because self-care is seen as a stand-alone action rather than a survival technique that filters through your way of life. I see self-care as an umbrella term for a complex, layered approach to living well and with intention.
Under the umbrella of self-care there needs to be an active curiosity about:
Let’s take each one individually.
“Don’t take your health for granted. Don’t take your body for granted. Do something today that communicates to your body that you desire to care for it. Tomorrow is not promised.” Jada Pickett Smith.
This is different from self-awareness which is more about who you are; self-knowledge is about how you are. How often do we ask that of ourselves, give it thought, and then act on the answer? How is your health, how is your body functioning, how is your emotional and mental health today? Knowledge is power, and self-knowledge means you live powerfully at and towards your best.
“Know thyself” is one of the three maxims for life according to the ancient Greeks and carved above the entrance to the Temple of Apollo.
Self-awareness requires reflection, curiosity and attention to who you are and how and why you behave the way you do. From knowing your motivations to living by your core values, having (and constantly gaining) an understanding of yourself at a deep level means you are less likely to act out reactive loops of trigger and behaviour, and be investing in self-development and improvement. It is the holy grail of self-care using curiosity to explore - what are your strengths, what are your values, where are you resilient, where are you fearful? What are your triggers? What are your boundaries?
“Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
Growth begins at the end of your comfort zone. We think our comfort zones are cozy warm fuzzy places but they’re actually stuffy and stifling. The comfort zone is like a muscle .. if you don’t exercise and expand it, it shrinks, which is why people who get a bit too comfortable actually start to lose confidence. This is the action part of self-care... constantly learning, building, pushing, enabling expanding who you are.. be that facing fears, learning something new, overcoming adversity or taking a risk.
“You have power over your mind , not outside events. Realise this and you will find strength.” Marcus Aurelius
This concept is at the core of philosophy, positive psychology, and even Buddhism. This is not about being “good” at not eating the entire packet of biscuits in one sitting. It’s realising it’s not the event or circumstance that hurts us, but our interpretations and reaction to them. It’s about understanding that regardless of what happens externally, we have control of how we respond. Perhaps the most poignant example of this is Viktor Frankl in his book Man’s Search for Meaning. A psychologist who was imprisoned and nearly died at Auschwitz, he explored the idea that the power of our mind is the only power - and freedom - we really have. “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
“I always give myself Sundays as a spiritual base of renewal—a day when I do absolutely nothing. I sit in my jammies or take a walk, and I allow myself time to BE—capital B-E—with myself.” Oprah Winfrey
Caring for yourself the way you would those you love seems difficult for many, especially women. This means speaking kindly to yourself, treating yourself, nourishing yourself, resting, and investing in yourself. And yes, the odd bit of pampering too.
“To be passive is to let others decide for you. To be aggressive is to decide for others. To be assertive is to decide for yourself. And to trust that there is enough, that you are enough.” Dr Edith Eger, Holocaust survivor, psychologist, and author of The Choice, and The Gift
Being able to articulate your needs, express who you are without fear of judgement, please people because you want to, not because you think that’s your only value, and know your voice is vital for making sure you show up as you, not just who you think you should be.
"This life is mine alone. So I have stopped asking people for directions to places they've never been.”Glennon Doyle, author of Untamed
We all mostly follow the well-used signposts, but knowing we can also write our own, and follow our own path; that we have choice and options to decide how we want to life our lives - and to live our lives with intention is one of the most liberating elements of self-care.
Living a valiant and vibrate life, especially through the decades-long phase of midlife, requires self-care as a fundamental way of living. It means living with intent and curiosity. One of the things I remind my clients often is that whatever else they think their life purpose is, their purpose is always themselves. That no matter who or what they are in relation to others, knowing who are what they are to themselves is the key to living powerfully, investing in all the elements under the self-care umbrella. Sweet scented baths optional.