No, You Aren’t Selfish :: The Myths and Realities of Self Care

Ah, self care. It’s a hot topic in the mental health world, and has gotten more popular in the mainstream over the past few years. Just search it on Pinterest and you can find tons of suggestions on ways to practice self care. Since May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and self care is imperative to mental health, let’s explore some of the myths and realities surrounding taking care of ourselves. 

Myth :: Self Care is Selfish

Reality :: Self Care is Self Awareness

Let’s just get this one out of the way. I have read so many blog posts and articles about “Mommy Guilt” and feeling bad for taking time away from family in the name of self care. There are also probably some sanctimommies or non-parents who might judge someone for getting a babysitter just to take a nap, or go for a walk without a child touching you. Sing it with me now “Let it gooooooo, let it goooooo!”.  Self care is NOT SELFISH. It is NECESSARY. You have to know yourself well enough to know when you have reached your limit, know what you need, and when you need it. You. Mom {and Dad}. You are the captain of this ship called your family. Take care of yourself. If you go down, the ship goes down. Self care is keeping the ship afloat. Aaaaaand I’ll get off my soapbox now.

Myth: Self Care is One Size Fits All

Reality: Self Care is Personal

When we as moms think “self care” I think a lot of us envision a woman in a relaxing bubble bath, with dim lighting, soft music playing, candles flickering, sipping on a glass of wine. Sounds nice huh? Maybe, maybe not. The thing about self care is, what is right for you might not work for someone else. Take the scene above. What if you hate baths, or don’t have a bathtub? What if drinking makes you sleepy and sluggish {I’m looking at you, sleep deprived mommas}. What if you just don’t have time for the whole set up? You self care has to be right for you. So pick something you know will fill your tank.

Not sure what does it for you? Lauren Smith Brody, author of The Fifth Trimester: The Working Mom’s Guide to Style, Sanity, and Big Success After Baby, recommends taking the Via character strengths survey in order to pinpoint what motivates you personally. You can find it at www.viacharacter.org. Brody’s argument is that if your chosen method of self care doesn’t fit your personal motivations, it won’t do much to rejuvenate you. I’ll use myself as an example. I took the survey and my top character strength is judgement. This mean that “thinking things through and examining them from all sides are important aspects of who I am”. Basically, I love me a pro/con list. In translating this to self care, I utilize my bullet journal to lay out my week, my to dos, appointments, and reminders so I can see everything clearly. This is calming to me. It may make you want to poke your eyes out. See how it’s not one size fits all?

Myth: Self Care is Special

Reality: Self Care Should be Routine

Getting a pedicure or massage. A night out with the ladies. A vacation to the beach. These things all sound great, but they aren’t always realistic in our day to day lives. And the reality is that if we are waiting for a special occasion to take care of ourselves, we are much less likely to make it happen. Alternatively, self care can be built into a daily routine. That might mean spending five minutes before the kids get up savoring a cup of coffee and silence, or taking three deep breaths in the middle of the chaos. It might be calling a friend just to hear someone tell you they love you and you are doing a good job. For me, it’s making time in my week to exercise, since that is my main stress reliever. Oh, and going to bed around 8pm because with a four month old right now sleep=life. It doesn’t have to be special, or take a whole day, or even an hour. Find what works with your daily schedule, and do what you can. Just do something.

Myth: Self Care is Stagnant

Reality: Self Care is Ever Evolving

So you have your self care routine set, and you are following it. Well done Mama! Everything is going pretty smoothly, and then BAM, you have a crazy day or week and it all goes off the rails. Do you drop it and pick it back up when things calm down? Unfortunately when things are at their most hectic and we are at peak stress is when we need self care the most. How, you ask? Lower the bar to fit your current life. When life is calmer and I can do more, my routine might include quiet time reading, drawing pretty layouts for my bullet journal, getting a pedicure, having social time with friends, running, doing yoga, and lifting weights. When I am in survival mode, that switches to something more like repeating affirmations to myself like “This season will not last forever” and “What I do today will be enough”, drinking as much water as possible, and trying to go outside, even if it is just for five minutes to see the sun. Overall, I try to do at least one thing every day that helps take care of me. 

Bottom line…you deserve to take care of yourself. Everyone does. A mama whose tank is filled has the ability to be fully present for others. So really, you’re taking that nap for the benefit of your children, right? Now get out there and take care of YOU!

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