Learning the importance of self-care
I first began hearing the term “self-care” being used liberally while in graduate school for psychotherapy. Professors would end classes stressing the importance of self-care, especially in our field, and while they didn’t necessarily explain what it was, we were urged to practice it.
But I didn’t understand what the words meant for me, at least not entirely, and chalked it up to attending an alternative, holistic school, where I imagined said professors on their weekends, tending to gardens or smelling lavender and making tea. “That’s great for them,” I would say, smirking with my fellow grad school students.
We were in a newer cohort at the school, and placed value on being in a more “hardcore” program, doing on-the-ground work with some of the most vulnerable people in the city. Self-care was, in a word, silly. There was no time for that; we had important work to do.
It is years later, and I can now chalk up my dismissal for self-care to pure inexperience and lack of personal awareness. Self-care has now become extremely important for me, almost a separate sounding board to bounce ideas off of when I am feeling stretched, tired, cranky, or unsure of what I need.
But what I have discovered that has been the most revolutionary, is that self-care is so much about each individual person and what they need in any given moment (and yes, smelling lavender can be on the list; I do it myself from time to time).
It is one of the most radical acts of care, and once we create and hone our very own care list (and believe me, this is the fun part), we can really start to cultivate a more meaningful relationship with the person we are caring for our entire lives: ourself.
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Getting Started on Your Self-Care
How do you know you need to practice self-care? Is it something someone told you that you “should” do? Are you feeling stretched, tired, uninspired, or out of touch with yourself? No matter.
If you’re curious, having a few “go-to” strategies or activities at the ready can be very helpful – and empowering. There are of course a staggering number of resources with lists, suggestions, and strategies for self-care. This article from Psychology Today highlights some basic ways to care for yourself, from getting better sleep, to eating better, to spending time with animals.
Perhaps what you need to feel better resourced is to get a solid eight hours of sleep, or to drink more water. Making what are seemingly basic tweaks can enhance your well-being considerably.
The myth that self-care needs to be about “doing” something can end right here, if that is not something that feels caring for you. In our hyper-driven culture, we can often feel that if we’re not doing something, we’re not productive, or of value. The beauty of self-care is figuring out what you need.
Asking ourselves, “What do I like? What makes me feel good?” is a great jumping-off point. Do you need to rewatch your favorite movie? Listen to your favorite song? Listen to a relaxing podcast? Go out dancing? Or stay in your pajamas and not leave the house?
For me, reading about what others like to do is part of my self care. For example, this article written by New York Times writers showcases the myriad of unique ways we can care for ourselves, whether it be drawing, journaling, cooking, looking at beautiful photos, or something we haven’t even thought of yet.
Need help getting started?
It might be helpful to bounce ideas off of a friend, talk with a therapist, or do your own research. It can be a living list that you add to, take from, tweak. But make your self-care your own, and let it take care of you.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Elena White is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist at Well Clinic in San Francisco. In Elena’s words, “I want to understand clients in their own contexts and cultures, and I believe that our healing is our right.”