Ever feel like you’re getting this self-care thing wrong?
Not doing enough or doing too much.
Not wanting to do it, not enjoying it enough or doing it with so much guilt.
Not being consistent, not sticking to your plans or not starting at all.
Not doing the right things or not doing the things that everyone else is doing.
Feeling like you don’t deserve it anyway.
Isn’t there enough pressure in motherhood?
I think of self care that feels like this, as anti self-care.
It’s the opposite of self-care!
The purpose of self-care is to feel refreshed and recharged. To unwind stress and tension and to support your short and long term wellbeing.
Resentment, dread, guilt, unworthiness, lack, feeling like you’re failing, self-criticism and pressure are not going to result in any of those.
Self-care isn’t just another thing we have to do, or get right.
It’s the way we support ourselves through the ups and downs of life. It’s fundamental, not an add on. It’s vital, not a luxury. It’s part of your life, not something you need to earn. And importantly, there is no right way to do it. There’s only what works for you and what you need. Self-care needs to be realistic (for you), flexible and worth it (i.e. it makes a difference to your wellbeing).
Making self care an achievement
In modern society, women have been told that in order to be successful they need to be constantly doing, planning, striving, giving and achieving. Self-care doesn’t seem worthy of being labelled this sort of achievement, so it gets pushed to the bottom of the to-do list or we do it in a way that makes it more of an accomplishment.
We make self-care rigid, setting strict standards or schedules and reprimanding ourselves when we don’t stick to them. We set goals so we are pushing ourselves in the things that are meant to help us soften and release tension. We compare our self-care to others’ to see if we’re doing it as well as everyone else. We feel we have to earn the right to self-care by ticking off all the “more important” things first. We believe that we need to be disciplined and consistent in our motivation and execution, and wonder what’s wrong with us when we don’t feel like doing the thing we were so passionate about yesterday (note: there’s nothing wrong with you).
Self-care doesn’t need to be an achievement. You don’t need to earn it. There’s no right way to do it.
I also want you to know that it’s not your fault that self-care feels so hard. We’ve been told that good mums continually sacrifice themselves (i.e. neglect their needs and self care) for their family. We need to have a career, say yes to everything and be everything to everyone. We need to be constantly busy. It’s no wonder we feel guilty when we care for ourselves and that self-care feels like just another thing we have to do.
Within this context though, we have the power to choose something different for ourselves. And when we do, we show other women what is possible.
Release the pressure.
Uncouple yourself from all the expectations and what is “right”.
Allow your needs to be important.
Use self care to meet your needs.
Do it your way. No particular standards or strict requirements. Just what you need.
Making self care about your needs
I’m a firm believer in starting with your needs when you are thinking about what you will do for self-care.
My favourite self-care question is “what do I need right now?”. The inclusion of “right now” is purposeful. Our needs change in response to what’s going on in our lives and what’s going on within us. We don’t feel the same every day and we enjoy different things at different times.
One day I might really need to organise that cupboard that’s driving me crazy but another day I might need to be alone in my bedroom for a little while. In the morning I might need to move my body and exercise, but by afternoon I just want to spend time snuggled on the lounge watching a movie with my son.
Self-Care and Soul Modes
In her book, Soul Modes, Carlie Maree offers a beautifully needs based approach to self care, which honours our feminine nature and energy. She explains that while women often feel like we are on an emotional rollercoaster, or “all-over-the-place”, we cycle through four modes (energetic states) in a predictable order, and in each mode we need and long for different things. Different things will make us feel nourished and filled up. (There’s so much I could tell you about this book and the modes, but I’m going to keep it brief for now and I encourage you to check out this fantastic book for yourself here.)
In wild mode we are on the lookout for anything that isn’t working well in our lives. We want to create change and remove clutter (physically, mentally and emotionally). Self-care might involve decluttering, starting a new project, rearranging the furniture, creating a vision board or buying some new clothes.
In bear mode we need stillness, quiet, rest and a chance to clear our heads and go within. We probably have less energy and need to focus on healing and self-love. Self-care may include having a nap, wearing pyjamas all day, journalling, being alone, getting takeaway for dinner, leaving the to-do list, watching a movie with the kids, meditating or taking a bath.
In super mode we want to take action and see results. We love to-do lists and learning and we want to get things done. Try self-care activities like tackling that to-do list or making a new list, solving a problem, exercising, learning something new or sorting out that life admin.
Lastly, in sparkle mode we want to connect. We feel grateful, playful and nurturing. Self-care may involve spending time with your loved ones, dancing, writing down what you are grateful for, practicing mindfulness, doing something fun, doing your hair and makeup or wearing something beautiful.
The speed at which each of us cycles through these modes varies. You might spend a few days in one mode, or experience a few modes in one day, but Carlie Maree explains that the quicker you meet the needs of that mode, the quicker you will move to the next one. Understanding these modes can really help us identity what we need. It can also expand your definition of self-care to include things that you might not typically think of. What I love most about these modes in relation to self-care is that it clarifies why we don’t always feel like doing the things we plan to do, and why we long for different things on different days. This “inconsistency” as the world might perceive it, is actually normal, healthy and even predictable!
By bringing more reflection and awareness of your internal state to your self-care practice and selecting your self-care based on your needs, you will enjoy it more and see more of an impact on your wellbeing.
Of course, there are times when scheduling, planning and goal setting are helpful in self-care, for example, you may have longer term health goals that need consistent action. This isn’t about stopping those things altogether. It’s about finding a balance and always coming back to how you can meet your needs. Your body and emotions are giving you signals all the time about what you need. Learn to tune in and respond. Then self care will be worth it.
Making self care flexible
When we feel like we need to get self-care right, we find it hard to be flexible. It’s frustrating when we have to change our plans because someone needs us, when we can’t do what we really want to do because we aren’t alone, or when we need to shorten the time we have allocated. Life with children is unpredictable and we can’t control it, so flexibility is really important for our sanity and so that it doesn’t take away from the positives of self-care.
When your self-care needs to change, remember it’s not failure on your part. If you miss a day of exercise, it doesn’t mean your whole exercise regime is over or useless. If you do 5 minutes and get interrupted, it’s still 5 mins you wouldn’t have done otherwise.
Adjusting is ok. Keep your expectations realistic and don’t let it mean that you give up on looking after your needs.
Allow yourself to celebrate what you have done rather than focusing on what you haven’t done because every little bit counts. I used to feel like I wasn’t journaling right if I didn’t do it every day. I’d feel like giving up and I didn’t know how I would ever be committed enough. But one day of journaling is better and more nourishing for me than none. Two days of journaling is 2 days more than I was doing before. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
You don’t have to get self-care “right”
So, lovely, release the pressure to get self-care right. Start where you are, tune into what you need, do it your way and know that every little bit counts towards your overall wellbeing. When things don’t go to plan, know that adjustments are necessary and normal and don’t reflect on your commitment, ability or worthiness. Allow self-care to feel good and be nourishing for you. You absolutely deserve it without earning it.