We all know how important self care is for our mental health and well-being. We instinctively get that if we don't prioritize ourselves, we struggle to live a fully productive life and to help others around us.
Yet, I'm seeing a dangerous trend among my clients and friends. We innocently use this thing called "self-care" as just another weapon to emotionally beat ourselves up with. I hear statements such as, "I know I need self care but I'm just so tired." "I tried to do a routine but I couldn't stick with it." "Self care feels selfish". "I guess I'm just lazy".
That's because when we hear about self-care it is mostly described as a doing -- an action or an activity like yoga, massage, or taking a bath-- that will bring the feeling of peace and ease that we seek. These activities are wonderful, but what happens when we don't have the time, energy or space to do them?
We innocently put self-care on our to-do list or in a great big pile of "shoulds" that then becomes just another failed thing that we didn't get to in our already busy, stressed out day. Ironically, not getting to do "self-care" makes us feel even worse -- more exhausted and burned out, and less excited or loved.
Wouldn't it be a relief to know that you can cultivate the feeling of being cared for, in any moment of any day, even amidst the chaos?
I spoke with a client a few months ago who was feeling fried from homeschooling her kids during the pandemic, working full-time, building a business on the side, and finding time to exercise. She was understandably exhausted.
We were on a video call and she was on her phone, sitting outside on her back porch, which was the only private place she had to speak to me while her husband was helping the kids with their online schooling inside the house.
She said, "I know I'll feel better if I just get some time for myself. I'd love to go to a yoga class, but there's just simply no way to do that right now."
I asked her if she would be open to finding the time right now, right here, while we were on the call. "Here?" she asked, skeptical.
"Yes," I said. "In whatever way occurs to you to do right now, I want you to become fully present."
She set her phone down on the table, propped so I could still see her. I watched her as she sat up taller in her chair, her shoulders relaxed. She closed her eyes. It was spring, and there were pink buds on the trees behind her. I could hear birds chirping and the tinkling of a wind chime in the background.
After some time, I said, "Can you find the feeling of being cared for?"
A smile stretched across her face. "Yes, I feel it."
"What does it feel like?"
"It feels warm and spacious. I can feel it in my chest. Like there's more room." She sighed a long exhale. "I know that I'm OK." She opened her eyes and picked up her phone to look at me. "Wow," she said, "that was amazing."
We don't have to DO self-care. We can simply BE with ourselves in a caring way.
When we show care to another human being, yes, sometimes it's through an action. We make them soup. We call them on the phone. We buy them a gift.
Oftentimes, it's the more subtle feeling of being cared for that we cultivate with the people we love. We listen. We hang out. We are just being with them in whatever way occurs for us to do in the moment.
We can do this with ourselves, too.
To me, the feeling of being cared for feels like connection, peace, harmony, presence, love, or the feeling of coming home. And, there isn't one sure-fire technique to get us there. Since this feeling is a part of who we are, there are infinite doorways into this cared-for feeling.
Now, if I had to frame it into steps it would be as simple as this:
Listen + Be
Notice the feeling of being cared for within yourself, underneath the noise
One of the most caring things we can do for ourselves is to simply stop the negative self talk that is so often stuck on repeat, and is the exact opposite of caring.
Just stop thinking about yourself in an unhelpful way for a few minutes.
We would never talk to our loved ones in the way that most of us talk down to our selves.
The feeling of being cared for is what naturally exists underneath our thinking, doing, hustling, and striving. We can cultivate a feeling of being cared for without the added pressure of the doing. We can fall back into the feeling of love, contentment, and peace from right where you are. There is no better time than now.
I leave you with a poem...