WHY IS SELF-CARE SO HARD?
One of the topics of conversation that I seem to revisit over and over again with clients (and friends, and anyone else who will listen) is the difficulty of self-care.
As a holistic nutritionist, I guide my clients and teach them the skills and tools necessary for taking care of themselves, insofar that they can feel confident and empowered to make their own unique health choices and find optimal wellness. Sounds simple, huh? Mmyeahnah.
We can eat well and get adequate rest, move our bodies and exercise, but why do we still feel lousy, live with symptoms, and lack energy and vibrance? There's something going on under the surface and we need to dig deep.
Why is self-care so hard?
Self-care isn't simply about eating well and clocking a certain number of hours of sleep every night. Don't get me wrong, these are valuable habits to instil as part of our everyday and most definitely help to support a healthy well-being — but, what I've learned from first-hand experience and by working with clients, is that self-care (though it can be found in practical efforts such as nourishing ourselves with good food) has less to do with getting a killer mani/pedi and more to do with a cultivating a healthy mindset. It's the same mindset that practices gratitude and kindness. It's the mindset that gives us a reason (and in fact, urges us) to apply self-care practices. It's the mindset that helps to uncover the root cause for why we might not practice self-care in the first place. The self-care mindset is one of feeling worthy and the desire to flourish. It's about wanting to be better, and in doing so, taking care of ourselves on the most simplest of levels. I'm not even talking about nutrition, I'm talking about the power of the mind. Tell me more.
Self-care has gained a lot of popularity in the past few years. And, while I'm thrilled by its buzz-worthy status — as it's such a great part of the current conversation in wellness — it's important that we acknowledge what's below the surface, what comes after the epsom salt baths and ylang ylang essential oils. Self-care is difficult because (1) it requires effort, most of which I'd argue is mental and emotional; (2) it brings up feelings and not always good ones — often, feelings of shame or guilt: "I'm indulging and I don't deserve this" or "I'm unworthy and selfish for putting myself before others;" (3) it can reveal truth bombs we've been avoiding, depending on how much we surrender to self-care (yes, even the superficial self-care, like baths and face masks, which can make us feel good and then we wonder why we don't feel that good all the time). Why do we feel shame and guilt surrounding self-care, for taking care of ourselves? What's actually going on beneath the surface?
We're really good at talking about self-care, yet we have such a difficult time practicing it.
Common responses I get from clients when implementing holistic wellness practices (which always involve self-care, even as simple as eating nutritious food):
"I'll do it eventually."
"I should have done that..."
"I didn't have the time."
"I could have, but..."
We've all been there. I've been there. Sometimes, I still catch myself denying self-care. It's easy to not always give ourselves what we need, first.
However, instead of guilting ourselves into "doing better next time" or insisting that the well-being of others is more important than our own, let's practice self-care by way of self-worth. Let's eliminate self-sabotaging excuses and start doing what's best for us, taking care of ourselves like the strong, deserving humans we are.
The KIKAN of self-care, in my opinion.
Self-care is about listening to yourself, your body, your mind, your feelings. They all matter. But, I think a lot of the time, we have a hard time actually believing that these things matter, and I know it can be difficult putting yourself before others. Self-care is hard. When I discuss this topic with my clients — all of whom happen to be women — a common thread that I witness is this lack of deserving or worthiness for self-care. Self-care isn't selfish, and it's certainly not something we don't deserve. We're only as good to others as we are to ourselves.
Self-care is about fulfilling your needs. This may be nutritious food, this may be rest, it may be time with close friends or family, or time alone; it may be trying something new, being spontaneous, or being more organized and diligent. What do you need in this moment, right now? For those who are used to putting others before themselves, discovering what your basic needs are can actually sometimes be really difficult. I recommend spending time alone in order to figure out what it is you really need, as an individual, uninfluenced by anyone or anything other than you and your inner self. I began this process in my mid-20's and still today find it to be an incredibly rewarding catalyst for self-care and self-improvement.
Self-care is about creating boundaries. Self-protection, of your energy, your time, your self-worth. I only really entered the territory of setting personal boundaries a few years ago, and it's been truly life-changing. At that time, I was going through a significant life transition, and I consciously made the choice to remove myself from toxic relationships, and in time, also distanced myself from an environment that was no longer serving me. Creating boundaries may mean actually eliminating people, things, or ideas from your life. It may also simply mean creating a healthy boundary between you and those people, things, and ideas. You do you.
Self-care is about experiencing joy. We need to give ourselves permission to seek more joy. These are the more tactile, evidence-based self-care practices (maybe it's soaking your feet in rose petals or taking up singing lessons). These very real activities offer positive feedback, simply because we enjoy them. They can help us gain confidence and reassurance, which are important for reducing stress and optimizing our health.
Self-care is about the big picture, of you + your expression. This one is always a bit more difficult of a conversation I have with clients, because it's really an ongoing discussion, one that is colourful with growth and change (and hurt and setbacks). It's ongoing, because we're constantly recreating ourselves, from a biological standpoint, but also psychologically and spiritually. Who we are at our core may remain the same, but how we choose to express those core values may change and shift over time, as we are faced with new experiences. Who is your best self? In order to be your best self, what kind of self-care do you need to practice?
Self-care: it's a lifestyle.
Practicing self-care can be difficult, because it comes down to doing what's really good for you. And sometimes it can be hard to put yourself first. I've been there more times than I can count, and sometimes I'm still faced with this challenge. But the most important piece of self-care comes from hours, days, months, years of mindful work that we might not be able to notice unless we look carefully and deeply.
I'm not discrediting the definition of self-care that seems to be plastered all over the internet these days. I'm certain that spending time in nature and a honey face mask can elevate my mood. I'm simply suggesting that we understanding what's at the root of self-care: the 'why.' In addition to the more practical acts of self-care — nourishing my body with nutritious food, getting adequate rest, mentally giving myself a break, and doing things that bring me joy — self-care requires turning inward, self-connection, and understanding our inner workings, mentally, emotionally, holistically.