A lot of times, we conflate self-care with self-indulgence. Which it totally can be! Hey, I love candlelit baths as much as the next person.
(If you have access to a tub, take a bath RIGHT NOW. Preferably with a colorful bath bomb that you watch unfurl like a psychedelic, aquatic fireworks display.)
But self-care that’s the most useful on an everyday level is the kind that focuses on your basic needs, albeit the ones that are somewhat beyond Maslow’s hierarchy, that pyramid of essentials like food and shelter you may have learned about in school. The things that may not be directed toward keeping a roof over your head, but that keep you sane, moderately stress-free, and healthy — both mentally and physically.
One way to figure out what these basic self-care needs are so that you can start fulfilling them is to reverse engineer your self-care.
What do I mean by that? Figuring out what your primary stressors are in life, and then doing things to prevent them from happening. This is a practical, compassionate approach to the way you move through and relate to your life, in a way that could potentially impact your entire day, as opposed to the occasional treats that we indulge in as self-care when we just. can’t. take. anymore.
Think of your self-care as preventative medicine as opposed to a cure you take when you’re already sick.
The first step toward doing this is just noticing what stresses you out. What’s getting your goat as you move through the week? I don’t even want to guess at what your triggers are (I’m not giving you guys any new ideas to get irked by, I know how easily we latch onto things that annoy us, we monsters), so I’ll tell you one of mine: feeling rushed.
I started paying attention to the times I felt most riled up or anxious in life, and realized that often, it was when I felt squished. When I looked at my journal and saw I had a lot of things scheduled, I felt constricted and antsy. When I had kind of blah-ed around during the day and then realized I only had an hour to get things done. When I had told my brother, I’d be over to record our podcast at 8, and it was 7:45 and I still hadn’t taken out the dog.
Sure, I meditate in the morning, tres self-care-y, but does that really matter all that much if I get up and then set myself up to freak out multiple times a day? Not really.
The second step is taking preventative measures by avoiding creating situations that will stress me out. So I say no to plans that sound fun, but that I know will have me scrambling from work to home and back out.
I pretend that when I’m down to 2 bars on the gas gauge in my car, THAT’S what empty is, not the blinking ‘E’ that I usually get down to and then clench my buttcheeks all the way to the gas station, hoping I make it.
And you know what? My moods have been a lot smoother because of it.
Like many worthwhile things, reverse-engineering your self-care is simple in concept but takes a little effort to execute. I find that at first, that effort comes in the form of simply remembering that it’s a thing you want to do. Which, of course, could make it feel like a burden, another bullet in those darn journals of ours. But it may be helpful to remember that you’re doing this to care for yourself, to save yourself from aggravation.
Try to think of it in terms of what you’re saving yourself from. What sounds better to you: UGH, you have to pull off leaving 5 minutes earlier than you usually do? Or, you don’t have to be scrambling, stressed and feeling guilty?
You can still take soaks with a eucalyptus sprig hanging from your shower head (this is aspirational for me, by the way), but it may be beneficial to your daily life to remember what self-care is at its pure, sweet core: taking care of yourself.
There are days and periods of life when getting out of bed, taking a shower, eating something or brushing your teeth are acts of self-care, and they’re no less valuable than going to a Korean spa.
Let yourself feel pride and satisfaction in knowing what you need and giving it to yourself, in whatever small dose you can manage, no matter how unglamorous it may seem.