I interrupt September’s Wedding Recap Month to bring you a post today (and one yesterday) about self care. I was going to wait until November, but with work and school in full swing and the holidays approaching, I feel now is the time to work to get to a place of balance, gentleness, and peace.
It pains me to say…almost brings me to tears, actually…that I can only now write this post, authentically. I have struggled all my life with taking good care of myself, even in the most simple ways. I’ve gone weeks just eating one meal a day because I was “too busy” to find time to purchase or prepare food. I used to stay up far too late at night because I convinced myself that something just had to be done (even when the deadline was weeks away). Even though I feel so much better when I shower, blow dry my hair, and apply makeup, I would leave the house feeling (and looking) run-down because I didn’t want to make time to get ready. I would even go as far as to drink a big cup of water (or iced tea, or coffee), and then “hold it” for hours because I had “more important things” to get done than take a three minute potty break!
And those are just the ways I’ve neglected myself physically. That’s not to mention the emotional ramifications. Criticism would settle into my self confidence before I really took the time to filter through it and decide what was true and what was not. I would feel guilty or ashamed when something didn’t feel right with a friend, but didn’t usually take the time to ask whether or not anything was wrong. I would feel anxious and stressed out, but wouldn’t think it important to analyze my anxiety and come up with a plan to address it.
Suffice to say, I’ve struggled with self care in a big way. I didn’t realize how deeply this lack of attention impacted me until the past few months. Now that I have a much simpler life than I’ve had in years past (thank you God! More on that here.), it’s significantly easier to take care of myself the way I need to each day, and just as clear how poorly I’ve taken care of myself in the past.
I feel pulled, almost obligated, to share my journey of learning the art of self care in the hopes that I can encourage you to take the time to take care of yourself, too.
(By the way, it is my firm belief that pouring into people, genuinely meeting needs, and unselfishly helping others AND taking care of yourself are not two mutually exclusive ideals! I actually believe the latter enables the former in nearly every way. A dry cup can’t pour over!)
This post is entitled “The Lost Art of Self Care” on purpose. It really is a lost art! Think about all of the people you know. Now, name ten of those people who really take care of themselves. Who consistently nourish their bodies with wholesome food, a good night’s sleep, and exercise of some kind. Who are engaged in healthy, uplifting, and positive relationships. Who know when to pull back and pray, meditate, journal, etc., when life gets busy so that they can find balance and peace. If you can’t name ten (I can’t), can you name five? How about three? Just one?
Do you see how rare it is for a person to really take care of themselves? The hustle of life trumps the gentleness of self care so, so often. But there is abundant peace and breath in the quietness of caring for the mind, body, and soul that we’ve been given.
I remember sitting in a church pew in college when the pastor said, “You need to be gentle with yourself as Jesus is gentle with you.” I wrote down the thought in my little journal, pondered it for weeks, and haven’t shaken it since that day so many years ago.
Even with that truth, my adult life has been full of more seasons than not where I haven’t been gentle with myself–physically or emotionally. I come from a family of achievers, and we are do-it-until-it’s-done-right-and-don’t-stop-until-it-is people. That achieving mentality has served me well and given me great drive, it really is something I’m thankful for. But it is also absolutely, unequivocally exhausting if it’s not balanced out.
It’s true that I’ve been specifically gifted and equipped to accomplish certain things in my life (as have you!). It’s true that I should use those gifts to bring hope, make Jesus famous, and be a light to others. But friends, another truth? I must be balanced to bring balance. I must be at peace to bring peace. I must be contented to bring contentment. I must be well to bring wellness. Otherwise my sincerest intention to improve a situation or relationship becomes an accidental furthering of the imbalance, lack of peace, discontentment, or sickness. How can I look at an unbalanced friend and authentically say, “You need to slow down. Unstructured time isn’t time wasted. You need silence and quiet to function. Say ‘no’ to good things so that you can say ‘yes’ to great things…” if I am completely unwilling to follow my own advice? It starts with me.
A lot of this learning (but not necessarily practice) came from my time working in ministry. When I first started working at church, my boss warned me, “Ministry will suck you completely dry. You need to take days off. You need to take care of yourself–or you’ll get burned out really, really fast.” I wish I could say that I completely listened to him and made the time for self care…but I definitely did not. It was hard! (Once, I took a Sunday off to spend time with my family–my first break in months–and three different volunteers were very angry that I had taken time off!) I ended up crumbling into a pit of anxiety and exhaustion that took months to climb out of. (Praise God for His never-ending redemption!)
So, here’s what I did:
I saw a counselor (here’s a video about that). I learned some critical tools as well as the importance of applying them. I took good care of myself physically and emotionally post-counseling, but I decided that when I moved, I would take great care of myself. I had the opportunity to clear my schedule completely since I moved to a new place. Not many adults get the chance for a truly clean slate, and I praise God fervently and often for giving me that chance.
If you’re not able to move to a new city and start fresh, I totally understand and respect that. However, I urge you–take a long, hard look at your calendar, your schedule, and your responsibilities. What can go? If nothing can be cut now, what would have to change for you to be able to start cutting? If you know that you need more white space in your life so that you can take better care of yourself, pray that God will show you how to create more space. He loves space in our lives because it means more time connecting with Him! (When have you ever connected with the Lord in the middle of a hectic workday? In contrast, you’ve probably connected with Him many times taking a long walk at night or watching the sun rise!)
Since my schedule was cleared, the next step for me was to identify how I was neglecting myself and what I needed to do to start practicing better self care.
Here are the positive changes I’ve made:
- I make time to spend time with the Lord. I try to journal and read my Bible (and/or a devotional) each day and listen to worship music when I need to be energized instead of slumping on the couch to trashy TV. Riley and I pray together several times a day (not just at meals), and I bow my head in prayer individually as well. This is the single most important change I’ve made.
- I go to bed and wake up at the same time each day (+/- one hour) and I get a full night’s rest. This usually means lights are out between 11pm and midnight, and I wake up between 7am and 8am. Hooray for sleep!
- I eat three meals a day, every day. I try to make breakfast the most heavy and filling, but that can be challenging on some mornings when I want something light. Lunch is usually leftovers, and dinner is whatever I make for Riley and I! (Lots of dinner pics on my Instagram feed!) When I’m going out for an appointment or other commitment, I either schedule time when I’ll eat or bring food with me. I often sit in a parking lot for lunch if I’m out! (In the past, I would have just skipped it!)
- I shower every other day religiously. My skin is dry and my hair isn’t oily, so I’ve always been able to get away with showering every other day. I love a good hot shower, but I used to skip out on them frequently when I was busy and throw on a baseball cap instead. Not anymore! (I promise, I’ve always cared about personal hygiene 😉 )
- I do my hair and makeup most days of the week–and put on a real outfit. Clearly there are times when it doesn’t make sense to get fully ready, like if I’m deep cleaning our home, or I’m going to get dirty/sweaty. But most days, I get completely dressed with hair and makeup. I feel so fresh and pulled together, and it makes last-minute dinner plans or grocery runs super simple because I’m not in ratty sweatpants with greasy hair and an unwashed face.
- I take walks and move my body often. I’m not a hardcore fitness gal, but I love a good old fashioned long neighborhood walk with Riley and our dog, Charley. We take one almost every night after dinner, and it always feels so nice to breathe in the evening air and move after working at my desk most of the day.
- I treat myself when I can! This looks differently each week, but sometimes it’s a bubble bath, sometimes it’s stopping in the gas station for a bag of candy, sometimes it’s a pedicure (which I usually do myself), sometimes it’s a new candle…the list goes on.
- I hang around people who are uplifting and positive. (That’s not to say that friends/family can’t have a bad day…we all have bad days! But I’m not interested in spending copious amounts of time with someone who hates people, hates the world, hates everything. Life is too short!)
- I try to have intentional and meaningful conversations whenever I can. Small talk is so exhausting to me anyway, but it can also leave me feeling distant and disconnected from other people. I talk to friends and family on the phone a lot for this!
- I try to do one thing at a time. Sure, I can cook dinner, talk on the phone, and half-heartedly watch the last episode of some TV show…but I just cook dinner. When Riley and I eat any meal at home, we turn off the TV and put our phones away. At night, we leave all technology charging on a table outside of our bedroom. Just simplifying to do one thing at a time is so, so helpful.
- I practice gratitude. It’s much easier to complain than celebrate, but celebrating is so much more fun! I share celebratory news with my loved ones, post happy Instagram posts, and talk about how much I love my life instead of how I wish this or that were a little different. Celebrating is fun!
- I get rid of clutter and junk. To me, an organized and clean home is a happy home! When I come across something I don’t use, I donate it or throw it away. There’s no reason for excess stuff, especially in our little home.
- I sit still. Sometimes I lay on the floor, sometimes I sit in my car, sometimes I lounge on the couch, sometimes I sit in the tub while I’m taking a shower. And I just sit and breathe and relax. I put my phone down, I turn the music off, I just sit. It’s so important to be still!
There are surely other tweaks I’ve made, but it’s hard to pinpoint each one. My life is completely different. Overall, it’s been about recognizing that there was a problem and allowing God to use people (like my counselor) and circumstances (like moving) to make major life changes.
As I said in yesterday’s video, I feel so free and alive. It took time, energy, and effort to get here, but now that I’m here, it’s hard to ever imagine sinking back into the sludge of neglecting myself. And that is a beautiful thing!