Since self-care has become a wellness catchphrase lately, I decided to ask a few clients and friends what it means to them. Answers ranged from “taking a peaceful shower” to “a 5-day yoga retreat in Costa Rica”. Everyone seemed to have a different opinion about what self-care looked like.
According to psychcentral.com, self-care is “any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health. It is not something that we force ourselves to do or something we don’t enjoy doing”. It also does not have to be synonymous with indulgence. Our society tends to praise and value the person pulling an 80-hour work week or the self-sacrificing mom who never takes a break. The glorification of these behaviors has trained us to ignore our bodies signals and can lead to illness, resentment, and frustration.
To me, self-care was something that I never really practiced until I got divorced. I thought, If I’m going to be by myself, I should take care of myself, right? As a single dog-mom without human children care for, this should be easy. Well, it wasn’t. I quickly realized that I had been wired to feel guilty about taking time for me when I could be or should be doing more “important” things. I tried taking naps but the voice inside my head said, “why aren’t you working?”, “shouldn’t you be focusing on your business?” I tried reading interesting books but those voices in my head were asking the same questions. So I would get up and find something productive to do instead. How do we turn off that guilt and stop equating self-care with selfishness? They are not the same thing.
When you reconnect with yourself and identify the areas that need attention, you are not the only one who will reap the benefits.
Many divorced women are so focused on the essential needs of their families, their households and balancing their work and personal lives that they ignore their own needs. These things are important of course, but if you are not taking care of yourself, how much good can you be doing for others? When we lose ourselves, we end up feeling bitter, exhausted and short-tempered. When you reconnect with yourself and identify the areas that need attention, you are not the only one who will reap the benefits. Your mood will improve, your anxiety may decrease and you may even have increased patience for people and situations that can normally be difficult. Taking care of your emotional, physical and psychological needs is as vital to your wellbeing as those around you.
So now that you know some of the benefits of self-care, how do you actually put it into practice? Well, I wouldn’t book that spa vacation just yet. There are plenty of other (non-indulgent) ways to care for yourself. To begin, you need to know yourself. By really looking inward, you can uncover the path that will lead to the most joy and satisfaction in your life. I have found that there are many different categories of self-care and each one (or a combination) has its place during times of stress.
The first one that comes to mind as a divorced woman is the emotional. Through many tears and sleepless nights, I have found that expressing my emotions rather than suppressing them, has helped me to let go and release negativity. Writing in a journal and reading (countless) self-help books has also become part of my regular practice.
Next is the category of physical self-care. As a personal trainer and fitness expert, working out was always part of my daily routine; until my husband left. Then, all of my energy was consumed with being depressed and there was no room for exercise. Quickly turning that around by re-introducing exercise was critical to my health and my sanity! I can happily say, I am a very active gym-goer again.
Social self-care is also important. What does that mean? For me, the loneliness and isolation of being single was self-imposed. I didn’t want to see people, go anywhere or speak to anyone. I was content to live under my covers indefinitely. Luckily, my friends and family would not let that happen. Connecting with others is a huge part of caring for yourself. So let people in.
Eventually, I found more and more guilt-free ways to incorporate self-care into my daily life. I wake up each morning and close every evening with a 10-minute meditation. It helps keep me calm and centered and better able to handle everyday stressors. I listen to books on Audible while I’m commuting to work and see a Shaman once a week. These things don’t take much time (and very little effort) but they make a huge impact on reducing stress in my life. Of course, I indulge in the occasional massage and retail-therapy once in a while (shhh) but those are not critical components of self-care.
The point is, there are many options for self-care but it’s important to make the time to practice them. I urge you to value your health and wellbeing by recognizing your own needs and prioritizing YOU. Ask yourself these three simple questions whenever a stressful situation arises:
Maybe you just need to pause and take a few deep breaths. That is self-care. Maybe you need to say “no” and establish boundaries. That is self-care. Maybe you need to close your eyes for a moment and clear your mind. That is self-care. You get the idea.
Be kind and compassionate with yourself, nourish your body and your mind. You will find the benefits will far outweigh the guilt.
Jennifer Giamo is an NSCA Certified Personal Trainer with a Master’s Degree in Nutrition Education, and the founder of Trainers in Transit LLC.
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