Soaking in a bubble bath with relaxing music?
Getting your nails done?
Catching a bit of “me time” with a favourite film or program?
Is this what you classify as self care? You may not like this, but I would argue this is the tip of the iceberg, the cherry atop the cake and the tinsel on the tree of self care. We all see visions and ideas of self care like this portrayed on social media all the time, whether it’s via advertising or just the bits friends are choosing to show. These look instagrammable and are certainly desirable by many. But attainable? I’m not sure they are to many people; and this actually contributes to a toxic narrative around self care which is that it is not achievable for most people, particularly women, particularly mums, and definitely not working mums or entrepreneurial mums.
It has become just another stick we can beat ourselves up with, that we aren’t achieving. That, even though we might buy into the idea of it being important, we just can’t factor it into our lives. This in turn makes us feel like a failure AGAIN, and we see that illusive self care as even further from the reality of our lives. So effectively we end up spiralling away from our goal and deeper into feelings of resentment, overwhelm and dissatisfaction.
No matter what we desire in our lives we need to view ourselves of worthy of it, and for it to be possible. It is very difficult to feel both of these things if we tie them up in the unattainable. Just so you know, I’ll let you in to a little secret… YOU ARE WORTHY.
We can examine that more on another post, but today, I’d like to focus on what we think about self care, what it is and what it is not.
Self care is the act of taking care of your own needs at it’s core, and when we begin to expand out of that a bit, we begin to understand that the PURPOSE of it is far reaching. The easiest way to think about it is to imagine the opposite. Not looking after yourself.
Imagine Safia, she is a single mum of 2, runs a business and then she breaks her leg falling down the stairs, whilst balancing the washing and all the stuff she needed for the day on top of it. She is there at the bottom of the stairs, thankfully her kids are old enough to be able to get help. But then what happens? She is back from the hospital, but now she can’t drive, or walk easily, she struggles to stand for long periods… you know the story. How is she going to show up for her kids in the way she was before this, whilst her leg is mending? To do anything other than rest and recuperate is ridiculous, and counter productive. But the thing is, this is exactly what we do when we keep going without looking out for our own needs.
Self care is fundamental. Without it, we would literally die… as we wouldn’t eat or drink, or anything else for that matter. But to be a fully functioning human doing things, with goals and ideas in mind, we need to do a little more than the basics, so we need to accompany this with additional self care strategies. These look different for everyone at different times and depend on specific circumstances. When we are recovering from a burnout or mental health crisis, this looks different than someone who is “ticking over”. So when our functioning level is low, self care means things like simply eating and drinking water. The next level up can include washing, and then we might add our own brain needs like distracting our minds to prevent ruminating (spiralling downwards in unhelpful negative thoughts.) When we have a greater level of capacity we can begin opening ourselves up to thinking about our clothing, and environment. Sometimes having someone to support us in these activities can be really helpful in expediting the process, but only if that person isn’t hurrying us or minimising our situation.
We need to give ourselves permission to do what feels right and good for us in the moment. We aren’t always in a situation to meditate, do yoga, go on walks, focus on nature, call a friend or [insert your favourite restorative activity here].
That is not to say that working towards those things isn’t helpful, but leapfrogging this step is always going to be harmful. We need to integrate our experiences into our lives so that we can learn, develop and grow. Without this recovery step we cannot achieve what we are ultimately trying to achieve.
Let’s get back to Safia. So in her situation, what advice would you give her to support her healing? Would you suggest that she get up and continue as normal as soon as possible? Or perhaps go on a hike because she needs to challenge herself? Of course not. In all likelihood you are going to suggest she rests as much as possible, seeks as much physical support as possible to help her family and her get through, and then only return to full activities after a period of adjustment.
My point is, that ALL the steps that she would be taking from the point of doing bare minimum to full operation would be acts of self care, and because this isn’t self care as we know it, I refer to it as Radical Self Care, the term I got from the incredible work of Sonya Renee Taylor https://www.sonyareneetaylor.com/, is Radical Self Love, and I’ve shifted the narrative to Radical Self Care, which is an act of Radical self love in itself. The radical element is pushing the boundaries of what we currently believe. Whether it is when we begin to differ from our current definition of self care or simply doing it in spite of our circumstances and of our beliefs of what is possible. Radical self care requires that we engage with ourselves in the conversation of self worth, and examines what we fundamentally need in our lives to be okay. This is my definition of Radical self care.
In my life the core elements of self care are:
Boundaries: identifying, communicating upholding and reminding others of them.
This looks like recognising that the reason I am holding onto resentment around my partner doing an activity they desire is actually because I have not communicated that I have a desire to do something for myself. Additionally, that they are not recognising the things that I am doing, the unseen labour I’m putting in day to day, which means I am sacrificing the thing I want to do. And that they are simply bypassing all this and just doing the thing they want is pushing me to this feeling. However, if I look at it from a different perspective, I may start to effect some changes… Like, have I fully communicated with that person about the unseen work I am doing. About how I feel, what I would really like, and the things that are holding me back.
This looks like a truly fair distribution of the mental load and activities in the household so the burden is not left on the default parent.
However, now as a single parent, I have no choice around carrying all the mental load, but I do have a choice around how I handle it… and that is by division of labour with the kids, and fully communicating with them about how important this is, and what it means for them when they engage. This is about working as a team. And as part of that I have to let them “behind the curtain” into the things that I’m doing, so they can have a bit of understanding of what it takes for me to keep the family going, and that the support they can give in whatever capacity is appropriate for them, is vital for our collective wellbeing. It’s not, of course, about blaming when they fall short… we all do that, but instead calling them “in” not “out” so they can feel good about being part of something, not feel bad if they forget. This is not an easy process, of course. This takes time, commitment and a lot of communication; but it’s imperative in my family.
My radical self care includes factoring in my needs when organising activities on an irregular or regular basis. If I want my kids to go to after school clubs, but doing so means that I’ve always got a stressful dinner time and never get any family time, or time to myself to do what I desire, then I take action accordingly. This weaves into all sorts of decision making. I give myself a voice equal to that of the kids, and sometimes, more valuable than them. This is because, if I can’t handle it, then I’m not doing it.
Several years ago I went camping with my 2 year old, 9 year old and 11 year old. It did not go well. I was exhausted, frustrated and frazzled. Whilst they loved the experience, their joy of it was not worth the cost to me. So I decided that I wouldn’t do it again until the kids were all of an age where they could have a decent level of independence. We finally did it again this summer, 4 years on, and it was perfect. I got a rest, and all the kids enjoyed themselves and got to be independent.
So my key areas of radical self care are boundaries and upholding my needs when making decisions. I have loads more, and I’ll go into those in future posts. My question for you today is what are you doing to engage in radical self care… are you fulfilling your basic wellness needs on a daily basis?
What is a non-negotiable, that makes your life infinitely better when you do it?
The final question is, what steps can you take that can support you on track to making it part of your life? (oh, not final, I have another… WHEN?)
Blessings to you, Beth
If you are struggling with the issues in this post, you may like to get my FREE 6 steps to prevent burnout training. If so click here.