Taking time for oneself is absolutely critical. As much as we need to eat to nourish our physical body, we need to honor our needs of how we want to spend some of our present moments too.
That is what self-care means to me: freedom to be present in the moment doing something that brings you joy. You don’t have to know “why” that “thing” brings you joy – you don’t have to be able to explain it, or justify it. Rather, there is just ‘something’ inside you that is relishing it … and allowing that time to be your experience is enough.
Sometimes, we can find it in things we are already doing… for instance, I have found I can take a shower as a to-do list: I can be in there washing a list of things that need washing in order to not be dirty (while thinking about a thousand other things) OR I can spend those same moments actually appreciating how wonderful it is to have fresh, clean, whatever-temperature-I-want-water flowing over my body and rinsing clean anything built up. The difference is purely the frame of reference of my THOUGHTS and whether I am keeping them on the present moment experience OR letting them run wild. It is a conscious CHOICE – one that admittedly I often still forget as I am swept away by other thoughts of time and obligation .. but at least I’m *aware* it is an option. That is step 1.
But other times, we actually have to set aside time for it. Setting ‘aside’ time MEANS that you are recognizing its value as ‘more important’ than something else. This is where a lot of people struggle – struggle to justify its value. Many people seem to come from a place of ‘pure service’ where they cannot do anything they see as ‘selfish’. However, I don’t think everyone is blocked from self-care due to feeling self*less*. I’d like to offer a different perspective, one that has the same result (e.g. block/resistance) but from a different thought-loop:
I was depressed for much of my adult life. I also did not make time for ‘self-care’. However, this was not because I was focused outward on others. Precisely the opposite, I was hyper-focused inward. However, this was not from vanity or ego – quite the opposite – I was hyper-focused inward because I believed I was so flawed and so inadequate that it took dedicated-and-unrelenting effort to make me barely acceptable. Self-sufficiency and being a strong contributor of value to society was the ultimate goal, so I was constantly trying to make my life and my choices ‘better’ so that I would not be a ‘failure’. Especially for all my twenties, my focus was not ‘being of service to others’, but nor was it actually focused on ME – rather, it was focused on what I thought I “should” be (career, accomplishments, etc). I was often concerned and questioned if I was “selfish”, because I certainly didn’t want that. I was aware of how much I was focused on myself, but I truly believed that if I stopped that the precarious edge I clung to would crumble and I would fall immediately into “lazy” and “burden” and an arsenal of other labels that I feared even more. I certainly did not allow myself the freedom to find out what I enjoyed, because I didn’t trust myself. I read much in self-help about a “life of service” and longed for the fulfillment that the brochure said it provides 🙂 Career focused people never get the perceived credit and kudos of being of ‘service’ because there isn’t a ‘person’ on the other end. And yet, we are equally consumed and ruled by something outside of ourselves. We give and drive ourselves because we are not enough, our performance is not enough — essentially, that is Imposter Syndrome. And then we wonder eternally if we are ‘selfish’ because we hear all this stuff about people that are ‘in service of others’ and hear what a rewarding thing that can be. But I wasn’t; I was in service to a THING, an objective, a business goal, or a never-ending series of life goals….
I find it interesting that this thinking is very different than living a life being addicted to pleasing others, and yet, it is equally prohibitive to actually doing what is right for you. When you are obsessed with constantly “doing more” to be seen as “of value”, then it feels very ‘wrong’ to just relax, or to do anything and everything that has no ‘value’ – e.g. all art and all music and relaxation and hanging out with friends, among many other things. If it doesn’t serve a ‘purpose’ it was rejected because it wasn’t making me a ‘better person’. I had to do a lot of work to realize all these judgements that I put on my time were preventing me from finding out what I actually enjoyed.
I was doing things ‘for myself’ because I was always focused on improving myself and my career but NOT in the way that the concept of ‘self-care’ really intends. If you do something because you ‘should’, because you feel inadequate as you are, because you need to be doing more or being better, that is not self-care. Not really. That is following another rigid set of rules. Self-care, I’ve found, is more about allowing. About permission. About freedom. About spending TIME doing something purely for the way it FEELS, rather than what you can justify about it.
My biggest lesson? That I had to intentionally CHOOSE to “waste” some TIME. Challenge that voice. Challenge the rules you live by in your head. If I never stepped into that discomfort, I never would have found out what a lie it was ruling my life. I discovered that it did not turn out to be a ‘waste’ at all, but I had to challenge it and find out. We really are here to do things we enjoy – to find what lights us up. By allowing ourselves time to do that, we will light up those around us by direct result.